Skip to content

Narrowing Down A Big Field Handicap Using Horseracebase

HRB Handicap System

In this article John Burke demonstrates how he uses horseracebase to narrow down big Saturday or festival races, in particular handicaps, to find a manageable group of horses to shortlist

“Study the past, if you would divine the future.” Confucius.

By looking at the past we can predict the future. Even a Chinese Philosopher was talking about it 2,500 years ago. 

We can predict the weather or stock market. In both the cases, there are chances of errors, and the predictions highly depend on the purity of data.  But this is science and it’s massively used in business, medical, research, etc. And of course, we can do it with horse racing.  

If you have been reading my articles over the years, you will know that I like to find the right profiles of previous winners to narrow down big Saturday or festival races, in particular handicaps, to find a manageable group of horses to shortlist for further form study. 

On Course Profits free Horse Racing magazine

That’s why I like HorseRaceBase so much.  It has many of the tools required to carry out that task which would otherwise take up far too much of time which I should be using for form analysis.

I’m a “stats man” first and foremost and use trends to find winners. Others disagree with this approach. It’s not for everyone and I get it. But it suits my mind set and that’s what matters.

If you don’t like trending then you won’t find this article of any use. However, the rest of you will hopefully gain some insights on how to find some nice priced winners by using a database like horseracebase. 

Horseracebase isn’t only useful for trending purposes you can use it to interrogate the data and build you own systems and that’s something I will go into in a future article. But for now, let’s concentrate on those big races.

Be Cautious About Trends

As Timeform’s Simon Rowlands has pointed out there are reasons why you need to be cautious when looking at big race trends.

Here are a few that are worth highlighting:

  • Concentrating on winners alone often results in small samples and questionable findings.
  • Trends, where they exist, usually change over time, so be wary of information from a long way back. 
  • Question seriously any findings that do not seem to obey logic and common sense: they may well be down to chance. 
  • Disregard trends analysis that assumes all factors are of the same significance and which advocate filtering (e.g. Horse A qualifies on four of five criteria when the missing criterion outweighs all the others combined).
  • Understand that many writers on trends, like writers about astrology and things that go bump in the night, have space to fill for a gullible public and jobs to hold down: it is in their best interests to make trends seem more significant than they are.
  • The easiest way to make trends seem more significant than they are is to analyse them crudely, such as by considering winners only from the past ten years, with the result that chance happenings appear significant to the credulous.

All those make perfect sense and when looking at big race trends we need to be aware of the potential failings of trends analysis that Simon has highlighted. 

Used in the wrong hands they can be pointless and easy to back fit loads of rules to narrow down a field when in fact just a couple will suffice. 

What Are the Best Rules?

Let’s look at some examples.

The Supreme Novices Hurdle race at the Cheltenham Festival is rarely won by a horse aged older than six and that one stat can knock off 20% of the field in an average year but still leaving the winner within the subset of qualifiers. 

You can then look for some further logical filters to enable you to get to a position where you have 70% to 80% of the winners at a healthy strike rate, with high A/E/Chi scores. 

You will in all likelihood be left with four or five qualifiers that you can then look at from a form perspective and from which you find one or two bets in a race.

Age is an excellent one. Newbury’s Betfair Hurdle held each February has been dominated in the past ten years by horses aged five or six.

Newbury’s Betfair Hurdle age breakdown from Horseracebase

Indeed 60% of the race winners from 33% of the total runners have been aged five. 

Official Rating (OR) can also be a useful filter. If you can find a ‘sweet spot’ OR banding you can be onto a profitable angle. 

The Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival is a good example of how you can use OR’s to filter a race. The past ten years of the race have seen 10 winners from 110 runners 29 placed.  

Ryanair Chase breakdown by OR - Horseracebase

Looking at those results from Horseracebase. Not one winner came into the race with an OR of less than 161. Using that filter has kept all ten winners within the subset but eliminated more than half of the runners

Last time out placing is another filter worth further investigation. 

Looking at the Leinster National, run each March at Naas. 

Leinster National Last Time Out placing

In the past ten years, five of the last ten winners of the race had won their last start. That’s 50% of the winners from just 10% of the total runners in the Leinster National. Now this also means 50% of the winners hadn’t won their last start but hopefully you can see what I mean about trend ‘sweet spots’ that are worthy of further investigation. 

Trainer Records – I would always suggest you look at the trainer filter to establish if a trainer targets the race. 

An excellent example of a trainer’s record in a race has come in Newbury’s Greatwood Gold Cup.  

Look at the record of Paul Nicholls since 2009.  He’s had 18% of the total runners in the race but 73% of the winners. 

Paul Nicholls record in Greatwood Gold Cup

The key factor when it comes to deciding whether to use a filter or not is to consider the strike rate of the filter components.

If you are looking at say the age filter and you see that five & six year-olds have won 10 of the last 12 running’s of the race with a strike rate of say 25% and the other two winners have come from other age groups with a strike rate of 8% then don’t be afraid to discard those age groups which include the two because they are four times less likely to win. 

Other filters that I will use but they tend to depend on the race I’m trending. On the flat I will look at the draw for guidance. Again, depending on the race, I will look at wins in handicaps or career runs in the race type.

As with systems. The more filters you use the more likely you are to be back fitting. The more filters you use the less accurate the trends are likely to be. 

If I’m trending a race and I can’t narrow the field down to four or five at most then the race isn’t usually worth the effort of trending. 

Trending the Aintree Grand National with Horseracebase

For example, purposes let us take the steps through the most famous race in horse racing the Grand National. 

The results below contain 10 winners from 396 runners 40 placed. 

It’s an interesting race to trend because the modifications that took place to the Grand National fences in 2013 and the official handicappers attempt to attract classier staying chasers has changed the complexion of the race in recent seasons. 

Using some of the filters I outlined earlier


Grand National winners by age breakdown

Runners outside the 8yo to 11yo age band are – 0 winners from 62 runners 3 placed. 

Career Runs in Chases: 0 to 9 runs.

Grand National 0-9 career runs in chases breakdown from Horseracebase

24+ runs

Grand National 24+ career runs in chases breakdown from Horseracebase

Those runners coming into the Grand National with less than ten runs over fences are underperforming, as are those with 24+ starts over the larger obstacles. 

Wins in Handicap Chase:

Grand National wins in handicap chases breakdown from Horseracebase

Only 2016 winner Rule The World has failed to win at least one handicap chase prior to the race and no winner had won more than three handicap chases.

Wins in All Chases:

Grand National wins in all chases breakdown from Horseracebase

Rule The World was a real trends buster. The former high-class staying hurdler, had never won a race over fences during his career, although in his defence he had plenty of experience over the larger obstacles and indeed had finished runner-up in the previous season’s Irish Grand


Maximum Distance Won:

Rule The World was also the only winner in the past ten years to win the race having not won a race at 3m 1f+. 

Grand National maximum distance won breakdown from Horseracebase

Official Rating

The last five winners of the Grand National had an official rating of between 148 to 160.

Grand National Official Rating 148 to 160 wins breakdown from Horseracebase

Those outside that official ratings banding produced the following results:

Grand National Official Rating Not 148 to 160 wins breakdown from Horseracebase

We could have expected 6.72 winners during the period, rather than 2 and the A/E stat suggests punters backing such horses are not getting much in the way of value either.

All ten winners met the following two simple trends:

Age: 8yo to 11yo – Runs Over Fences: 10 to 23

Grand National age 8 to 100 and Chase runs 10 to 23 breakdown from Horseracebase

0 winners from 157 runners 10 placed didn’t meet those trends. 

I consider Rule The World to be an outlier as far as the stats is concerned. He may have been a maiden over the larger obstacles and yet to win a race beyond 2m 4f but he came into the 2016 Grand National with high class staying handicap chase form and in a big field. 

Taking all that into consideration and adding:

Maximum Distance Won: 3m 1f + – Handicap Chase Wins: 1 to 3

Grand National winning profile results from Horseracebase
Grand National winning profile annual breakdown from Horseracebase

Grand National Winners Profile

Bringing it altogether, this year’s Grand National winner will have the following profile:

  • Age 8 to 11
  • Have run between 10 & 23 times over fences
  • Won a race 3m 1f +
  • Won 1 & 3 handicap chases

That’s 90% of the winners from 25% of the total runners, with 75% of the field being eliminated using those filters.

Using those trends will narrow the race down to an average of ten runners which you can then look at from a form perspective.

Always remembering…


Personally, I will use those four trends from Horseracebase to find my shortlist of horses for the race. Then the hard bit begins as I use form analysis to narrow the field down further to find three or four bets in the race. 

Now you can do all this without using a database like Horseracebase but it’s taken me less than 30 minutes to achieve what would take me a day to do otherwise. That’s why if you like your race trends you can’t be without horseracebase. 

I have to stress I’m not getting any financial remuneration for highlighting how it works. I just think that it’s the best value database of its type out there. Yes, there are others like Proform which is also excellent but it comes with a heavier price tag.

I hope all what I have written makes sense and will help you to find this year’s Grand National winner. 

Until next time.


Featured Image: Image by Peter W from Pixabay