Following on from last month we now look again at how we can use the ratings to our further advantage.
How can I improve the ratings I have?
The next step is to make additional adjustments to our basic ratings to make them more effective when we use them to generate a line of odds.
Common sense suggests that there are certain factors which will have major effects on our ratings, but which are important?
The factors below are only an opinion for you to take into consideration.
What is the most important factor to consider before you have a bet? The question often produces fierce debate, mainly due to the inevitable use of what must only be called “The V-Word”. Value. As punters, it’s important to understand that the result of a horserace, as with much else, owes plenty to randomness; just because we know who the favourite should be, it doesn’t mean we know who will win, but the absence of any other information, backing the best horse is a better bet than opposing it.
There are lots of factors which come into play when looking at a race, but by far the most important is the ability to get from A to B quickly, and that should remain the keystone for your analysis. It still makes most sense to build a book where the most talented horse generally gets the highest rating, with any adjustments made being to much smaller degrees than the score given for ability.
To demonstrate this, there are methods for producing prices based on scoring systems whereby horses score points based on factors such as class, recent form, going, distance, ground, course, trainer & jockey. This is a sensible enough model, but it almost always falls down due to the weighting of the various factors. Ability, or class is paramount, and everything else flows from that.
So far so obvious, but it’s important to build any system from first principles, as it enables that system to be refined without having to pull it down and start again.
Rory looks for the following information to factor in when adjusting a basic Flat rating, assuming that weight carried has already been taken account of:
DAYS SINCE RUN:
RUNS IN LAST 6 MONTHS:
Speed Ratings – Help to give an idea how solid a form rating is. Theoretically a horse producing a rating of 100 and a speed figure of 30 is the equal of one achieving 100 in both form and speed, but the latter will be a more reliable measure.
It’s important not to assume that a poor speed figure automatically means a downward adjustment of the form, as there are occasions when a slowly-run race merely masks the dominance of the winner, who may be underrated as a result.
That said, it often pays to oppose easy winners who achieve slow times, especially when they have been allowed to dominate. Putting a figure on this is tough and may incur the greatest degree of trial and error but is worth persevering with.
Handicap Mark – Use an average of the handicap marks of those involved in such races to get a picture of the strength of the race for its purported class.
This is potentially important, as many horses can be profiled by class, and it may be necessary for you to downgrade a race where few, if any of the runners are up to standard, but it’s rare that you will find much variance from the norm, in truth.
Class – By which we mean class of race rather than ability of the individual. One of the most useful tools you can use is to examine how horses perform in different class bands.
A horse who wins in Class 5 company will not necessarily be competitive when raise to Class 4; some need to dominate to show their form, and are better when conceding weight to inferior rivals, whereas some are best when given a strong pace, and often run above themselves granted this scenario despite being out of their natural class.
Going – Described by Timeform founder Phil Bull as “the most important consideration of all” in racing analysis, and that point remains valid today, when going reports remain stuck in the 19th century.
While minor adjustments can be made for various factors which may affect performance, an accurate assessment of the going can make a huge difference to the likelihood of winning. This is particularly true on extremes of ground but is also important in differentiating between abilities on turf/all weather. Where possible, use a separate rating for horses who switch to/from turf unless there is not enough evidence to do so. In such cases, ratings should be treated as notional.
Distance – Behind going in terms of importance, but often hugely significant. When dealing with handicappers with sufficient experience, it makes sense to throw out ratings achieved over more than a furlong further/less than today’s trip. Plenty of horses run half a stone better at their optimum trip than they do at other distances – this is particularly true of sprinters, who often achieve significantly different ratings at 5f than 6f. Do, however, be wary of horses that have achieved their rating at the “wrong” trip and may be capable of significantly better now.
Course – Not as important as it is often deemed by the “horses for courses” brigade, although course layout (right handed vs left handed, stiff vs sharp) is often of greater significance. Equate different courses with similar characteristics, with the undulating tracks at Chepstow, Ripon and Leicester being a prime example. The question you should ask isn’t “does this horse go well here” as most do, but “will the characteristics of this course suit this horse” with that question taking on greater significance when used in tandem with going and distance requirements, particularly when assessing what sort of a stamina/speed test it will provide. Don’t give much, if any extra weighting to recent C&D winners, as while this is a positive, it’s one which is already overcompensated for by many.
Draw – Sometimes crucial, sometimes of minor importance, and often wholly misrepresented. Working out the benefit of the draw can be a goldmine, and most people fail to understand the intricacies of stalls positioning and track/pace bias without which the draw tells us very little.
Even on tracks with sharp bends, a low draw is usually not the advantage it’s often painted as, and where it is (Chester), such a fact is fully factored into the early prices.
It’s often true that wide draws can be advantageous, while on right-handed tracks where sprints take place in the straight, it’s often the high numbers who are nearest the favoured rail. The advantage of the draw is almost never linear, where the lower the number the greater the advantage, but that tends to be how it is interpreted.
Base your understanding of the draw at any track to recent races over the same C&D, and to look beyond winners to find any bias.
There are some surprising results to be found and digging around will pay dividends.
Headgear – Again, this is a factor which is often overplayed, but can be significant. First-time headgear after a recent poor run is usually a big negative, but the fitting of headgear on the second start after a break, or on handicap debut should be viewed as a positive. Blinkers and a visor are more severe than cheekpieces/hood and should be viewed accordingly.
View the fitting of a hood on a debutant as a negative sign, but on an experienced performer more positively, especially in the case of a known hard-puller. Tongue ties can be beneficial but are utilised more and more as a safeguard in case of breathing problems than as a cure, so that needs to be taken on board. Take more notice of refitted headgear, especially if previously successful. That comment also applies to a lesser degree with a change of headgear (blinkers to visor, or vice versa) with proven performers.
The bottom line is to get in a trainer’s head and ask why the headgear is going on. With many, it is merely a sign of desperation, whereas a small band of trainers know exactly when to utilise the aids and should be noted accordingly.
Trainer/Jockey – In short, these factors are massively overrated. The booking of top jockeys doesn’t go unnoticed, and the reason why backing even the best jockeys blind shows a loss is because bookmakers/layers know they can offer shorter odds and still take money.
Trainer form is potentially important, but often measured so poorly that it is misleading, and jockey form is a meaningless concept. It is better to concentrate on trainer patterns rather than form, and there is certainly some significance in where certain trainers send their horses, although even that can be overplayed.
Some trainers tend to employ certain jockeys when a win is anticipated, using inexperienced riders for lesser runs, but the very clever ones will do this in reverse, knowing that they will get better odds as a result.
Latching on to such methods can pay dividends if you’re smart enough to spot them.
Working out what jockeys are worthy of a 7lb claim is also useful, and the very best apprentices are as good as the average senior rider, meaning that a rating adjustment is necessary. If you can spot a competent rider before the masses, then you will clean up – if not then you will merely be fiddling the figures to keep up with the rest.
There are plenty of riders who are worth an extra length in a race, and they aren’t always the obvious ones, so make a list of those who impress with their ability to get a horse in a good position (more valuable that strength in a finish by miles) and give their mounts extra credit as a result. Ditto with poor riders (often the more fashionable ones), and when you find one taking over from another, the 3 or 4lb swing can make a big difference to the projected odds.
Days since run – Most races are won by horses that have run recently, and while we’re often told that modern training methods ensure than most horses should be 100% fit when returning from an absence, this is arrant nonsense. The opposite is true, in fact.
Most horses returning from more than six weeks off the track will not run to their full capabilities. Many of those who run well after a break do so because they never run to the fullness of their talent due to physical or mental infirmity.
Most horses can be produced hard fit from a break, but very few trainers will work them so hard at home as to make this the norm (Godolphin an obvious exception), whereas such arduous gallops used to be commonplace in bygone days. Conversely, horses who run rarely due to recurring injury niggles are often produced at their fittest after lengthy breaks and need to be viewed separately. High-class animals often have the races which they run in determined by the racing calendar and can be expected to be ready to peak accordingly.
As a rule of thumb, a modest handicapper who has been off the course for a month or more needs his rating queried to some degree, mostly with a view to downgrading the rating in light of previous form, but sometimes with a view of upgrading that for those horses proven to be best fresh (ideally after 90+ days off).
Total runs/runs in last 6 months – The former is primarily of use as an indicator of possible improvement. Two horses with a rating of 100 are hard to separate in the absence of further information, but where one has run twenty times, and the other just three, it’s reasonable to assume that the more lightly raced individual will be more likely to produce a bigger rating than his exposed rival.
Similarly (although not expressly mentioned here), the pattern of those ratings is important, and a horse whose ratings show a tendency to decline should have that tendency reflected in any predictive rating. Number of runs in a set time period is a useful measure of how reliable a horse’s current rating might be. If said animal hits a rating 100 in three of his last five runs within the last few weeks, it’s reasonable to assume he’ll be running to that figure again, whereas the same can’t be said for one whose runs are sparser, or who shows more volatility in rating.
It’s important to understand that this is a measure of reliability rather than a positive per se and helps more with overall confidence in the race as a reliable guide.
The simple truth is that the more often a horse runs, the more accurately his rating will indicate the limit of his ability. Horses who have raced less often will tend to produce lower ratings but will often have done so without having to show their true ability. Its such horses that traditional ratings underplay the most, and in order to get a realistic book, we should always look to give extra credit, particularly to winners, who by definition can only be rated on what they have had to beat but are often capable of much better.
This is usually signified by a “p” on ratings such as those produced by Timeform, and such horses (even without the symbol) must be marked up accordingly.
Run style – Analysing run styles are not an exact science, especially with tactics subject to change, but there will be times when it is clear that a horse’s style of running (often taken in tandem with draw) will demonstrate a significant advantage/disadvantage.
The best example is finding the only front runner in a field of hold-up performers, or an in-form closer faced with a surfeit of early pace. Such scenarios should be scored accordingly, as should the overall suitability of the race scenario to individual runners, to include the eventual field size and predicted pace bias, although this can be a tricky factor to incorporate.
Incorporating the ideas suggested above is, by nature, an inexact process, but the results themselves can easily be measured against a norm such as Betfair SP – where there are anomalies, these can easily be identified, and the processes which led to them examined, which enables the exercise to be fine-tuned continually. The key is to turn a static process based on rigid and retrodictive ratings into a dynamic one where the ratings themselves are designed to be more predictive, and therefore more accurate.
The fruit should be in regularly identifying horses that are incorrectly priced on the industry tissue, and taking advantage by betting in the early markets, where the greatest value lies.
The Spreadsheet shown in Issue 90 can be downloaded here.
The method described was shared with us by Rory Delargy of the Racing Consultants service and has resulted in 8 years of proofed results, if you would like Rory’s value bets in your inbox 6 days a week subscribe to his proven Racing Consultants tipping service – Click Here