Matt Bisogno, creator of geegeez.co.uk and its premium racing form service, Geegeez Gold writes for us this month.
A racing fan for more than 30 years, he has spent half of that time online sharing his experiences with like-minded bettors. The last seven years have been dedicated to creating the most intuitive and powerful set of form tools in Britain and Ireland today: these articles draw on insights available within Geegeez Gold.
Pace Wins the Race
The flat turf season might be a distant memory but racing on the level continues throughout the winter. Better yet, the rails never move, the going is consistent and it’s largely the same pool of horses competing from week to week: optimal wagering territory.
In this article, we’ll look at the impact of draw and pace on the outcome of races. Specifically, the focus will be on handicaps of eight or more runners.
Each of Chelmsford, Lingfield, Kempton, Newcastle, Southwell and Wolverhampton has its nuances, and each presents opportunities in terms of draw and pace. Let’s dive in search of a few punting pearls.
Chelmsford is a track that often favours front-runners, especially – as with all the sand surfaces – when the weather has been wetter. The 5f distance is ‘jump and run’ territory with the horse getting the early lead going on to win almost one in four races, irrespective of draw.
The graph below shows the impact of stall position, in terms of PRB3 (the average percentage of rivals beaten of a stall and its immediate neighbours). PRB is more meaningful than win or place, and PRB3 helps to smooth the curve and make sense of what are often quite bumpy chart lines.
It’s pretty clear that inside draws are favoured – anything greater than 0.55 (55% of rivals beaten) can be considered a strong positive, and anything below 0.45 a strong negative.
Overlaying run style onto draw thirds reveals more about how the advantage plays out over the minimum range at the Essex track:
The heat map has a clear diffusion of colour from green (right hand side, led) to orangey-red (left, held up). Interestingly, the colour is similar almost regardless of draw third.
Whilst this is extremely valuable information for us bettors, the challenge is always in identifying which horse, or horses, might be on the lead. Sometimes this will be more obvious than others; regardless, favour those racing front rank in 5f Chelmsford handicaps.
We see a similar story in 8+ runner handicaps all the way up to seven furlongs, the heat map below aggregating the 5-7f data:
From a mile onwards, the pace bias at Chelmsford begins to dissipate.
At Kempton, Britain’s only right-handed all-weather track, the five-furlong sprints are raced around the inner loop: there’s a short run into the turn meaning those not close to the lead have to travel further and/or through horses. Put another way, front runners are again strongly favoured.
I’ve included the tabular version of the data this time, so you can see some good old-fashioned profit and loss data:
Note the three LED rows at the top. Horses which led over five in 8+ runner handicaps at Kempton have won 27% of the time! And they’ve been wildly profitable to follow.
Yes, we do have to identify the likely leader, but it’s absolutely worth the effort, and the wrong turns we’ll inevitably make in second guessing a herd of primed equines at the starting stalls, especially if you have insightful tools like Geegeez Gold to shortcut the process.
Kempton’s six- and seven-furlong races are run on the outer loop, which allows more of the field a chance to make an effort; but still, there are biases. Over six, early speed is an advantage, whereas over seven, an outside stall is a strong disadvantage unless leading, especially in 12+ runner fields.
The next heat map tells the 7f story quite neatly. Sometimes it is as useful to be aware of a strong negative as it is a strong positive: this is one such occasion.
Lingfield is one of the fairer AW tracks but still plays towards front end speed and against hold up horses in sprint handicaps. In fact, look at the draw/pace table for 8+ handicaps over five or six furlongs:
The task of detecting the early leader is well worth the effort: front-runners are almost twice as likely to win as other run styles, scoring at a roughly one-in-five clip and worth a profit of over 400 points on 700-ish bets.
And the each-way yield extends into prominent racers, too. Conversely, check out the triple figure red negative returns for held up runners, irrespective of draw third.
IMPORTANT NOTE: there are no universal positives or negatives.
Horses can and do win from difficult positions, but the smart punter should ordinarily steer towards the balance of probabilities.
At Newcastle, they race on a straight track from five furlongs up to a mile. Being on the lead at five and six is again beneficial as, too, is a high draw: there is often a crosswind or headwind up the Gosforth Park straight and those drawn high, nearest to the stands, get most chance of shelter.
Over seven furlongs and more especially at a mile – as with other straight miles, notably Ascot’s – we see a run style reversal: while horses at the front performed right on par, 50% of rivals beaten, those more patiently ridden have the best record.
I’m always interested in a hold up horse with previous course form in mile handicaps at Newcastle.
The table below shows why.
The fibresand is often referred to as a Marmite surface: you either love it or hate it. That sentiment applies to horses and punters alike, but there are some key attributes of the track that can turn the odds in our favour, most notably perhaps a counter-intuitive draw bias.
We’ll get to that in a second, but first, here is the straight five-furlong draw / run style heat map:
The focus is again on percentage of rivals beaten (PRB) and just look at those lamentable figures for hold up types, especially the ones drawn high.
In monetary terms, that equates to this:
That is as close to a blanket “do not bet these horses” rule as I have in all-weather racing. By any measure, they are ‘poorhouse’ material.
But what of Southwell’s turning track?
Here we start to see some interesting factors at play. The first, which is a key determinant on the straight five also, is the kickback. It’s fierce and cannot be pleasant for runners or riders alike. Those at the front are out of the sandstorm and get first run.
The second is the depth of the surface – more of a testing galloping track than the other all-weather ovals – which makes closing from behind difficult, unless they’ve gone too hard. Finally, it appears to be deeper on the inside for whatever reason, meaning wider drawn horses often have the edge.
At six furlongs the most important thing remains early speed: leaders do best and hold up horses have little chance generally. Here’s the proof:
But from seven-eighths to a mile, things get a little more nuanced. Here is the draw chart for 7f and 1m handicaps (8+ runners) combined:
Those on the inside are a step or two behind the wider-berthed horses, although being close to the front and out of the kickback remains advantageous.
Combining the two elements – a decent draw and the early toe to take advantage of it – ought to be a double mark up, and indeed it is:
Note the high to low PRB figures for high to low draw thirds in the ‘Led’ and ‘Prominent’ heat map columns. And note again the steep uphill battle faced by hold up types, especially those drawn inside.
Even in Southwell handicaps over longer distances – further than a mile, which is to say 1m3f and up – the disadvantage to low is clear.
Dunstall Park, Wolverhampton, is a fairly conformist oval, though it, too, has its nuances.
Early pace is the key over five, as it is pretty much universally on turf or all-weather, and an ability to accurately project who will lead has been the route to profit, regardless of draw:
The six-furlong distance plays reasonably fairly – slight advantage to inside and early speed – but the seven-furlong range, where they start in a chute at a tangent to the main oval, conspires against wide runners.
Note in the table below how it is also not optimal (but not a negative either) to be drawn very low; sometimes horses inside can get shuffled back as the field meets the inside rail of the main track after 100 yards or so.
Overall, however, Wolverhampton is the AW circuit least impacted by draw and pace; as such, it plays the fairest for all participants.
That’s the main reason I don’t especially enjoy betting there!
The Management Summary
Mindful that there are a lot of charts and tables in the above, below is a handy ‘cut out and keep’ summary box of the key draw and pace pointers for betting in handicaps on the all-weather this winter.