In an earlier article I posed the question, "How many times have you blown your money in the first few seconds of a race?" The reality is today, more than ever before, horse-racing is about the three P's: position, pace and performance.
Position: The in-running position a horse settles and races in during a race.
Pace: What type of race pace suits a particular horse, and will the likely pace in the forthcoming race be an advantage or disadvantage to that horse?
Performance: How a horse performs in its races. Is it a bad beginner, is it capable of obtaining the desired position or does it have a history of suffering interference?
In this article I'll be detailing how you can use actual race performance to your benefit. As well, I'll be presenting some interesting in-running tables clearly indicating which type of runners punters should be looking for as potential betting propositions.
The doyen of race-horse trainers, Bart Cummings, has trained some of the best horses to have raced in Australia in the past 40 years, in particular some of the best fillies and mares, including Light Fingers, Maybe Mahal, Leilani, Dane Ripper and Let's Elope. He has a wry wit, but when he speaks his words demand respect.
This is what he stated recently about the causes of the deterioration of the turf tracks in Melbourne and Sydney: "... Wall to wall racing now means that horses who can lead have a great advantage."
Cummings went on to state he doubled his champion mare Let's Elope, winner of the 1991 Caulfield and Melbourne Cups, along with the Australian Cup, would be able to win on the turf tracks as they are today. He added: "Let's Elope was able to win from 1400m to 3200m but swooping backmarkers like her just wouldn't be suited today."
When a horse misses the start of a race and is slowly away, just how much ground does it really lose and how much damage does it do to its winning chances?
Often the racecaller will state a horse has lost two or three lengths, or, on the rare occasion, maybe is much as six lengths. We only have to think back to this year's Golden Slipper when the eventual winner, Belle Du hour, jumped in the air as the starting gates opened with, at one stage, having all four feet off the ground, coming out of the gate some four lengths behind the second-last horse.
Very rarely does such a horse go on to win, which may say more about the opposition it raced against that day than the Herculean performance of horse and jockey.
When a racecaller states a horse has missed the start by two, three or more lengths, the reality is that such a start will mean any winning chances are gone on most occasions. It isn't the amount of ground lost that is of importance, but in all probability the loss of a favourable position in the run, particularly if the horse is a front- runner.
When such instances occur, the fallacy is that weight/class/time handicappers attempt to compensate by adjusting any resultant rating figures. Better still would be to completely forget the run, as in most cases no amount of compensation will truly reflect the performance of the horse on that occasion.
But do the facts bear out the comments made by Bart Cummings about the condition of turf tracks favouring front-runners? My oath they do, as Table 1 indicates.
This table, along with Tables 2 and 3, really do tell where the winners come from, and the type of horses punters should try to avoid.
These powerful statistics come from the results of over 18,000 races, and the runs of more than 200.000 horses. It's very likely they will be representative of what occurs in the future.
As can be seen, we should be looking for horses that have the ability to either lead or be close to the pace on settling or, certainly, 400m from the winning post. Horses that are unable to do this have a greatly reduced chance and opportunity to win. What Table 1 is telling punters is that over 51 per cent of all winners are positioned in the first three at the 400m, vet they represent only 27 per cent of all runners!
On the other hand, backmarkers represent well over a quarter of all runners but win less than 9 per cent of races!
However, when we break the distances of the races up into sprints (1250m or less), and those of longer distances, even more powerful statistics emerge, as can be seen in Table 2.
In sprint races, being positioned in the first three at the 400m is crucial to a horse's winning chances, with more than 56 per cent of winners coming from less than 28 per cent of runners, an overall Relative Frequency (RF) factor of 2.03!
Table 3 contains the statistics for races longer than 1250m and while less significant than sprint races. they clearly
demonstrate that being a front-runner is a positive factor, while being a backmarker is still a negative one.
Position in the run is of vital importance and, by using any good formguide, the task of ascertaining where a horse is going to be positioned is quite easy. Sportsman's Chartform is an excellent choice for this type of analysis.
Position, of course, goes hand in hand with pace. As explained in the article published in the June 2000 PPM, the likely race pace can be easily assessed by doing some quite simple racemapping which is something I encourage all readers to do.
What about performance? By performance I mean taking the analysis a step further by looking at how a horse actually performs during the running of a race. Was it slow out of the barrier, did it suffer interference, was it blocked for a run at a vital stage or was it caught out deep three or four wide (particularly around the turns)?
Answering these questions and recording the information can be vital for future winner-finding. Let's go through a few of the issues we should look for.
Slow Beginners: Now that SKY Racing is readily available in many parts of Australia, more and more punters are able to watch and study the race either live or on video.
Sometimes a horse may have its head cocked to one side and many times this trait leads it to a tardy beginning, either hitting the starting stalls or other runners.
There are other causes for a slow start that might not be so much the fault of the horse, but more one of bad luck. Causes, such as a horse having to be steadied on jumping due to interference from other runners, or being shuffled back because of being squeezed out.
While this type of slow start can be forgiven to a degree, once a horse gets a reputation for being a bad beginner it should be avoided at all costs. By far the biggest reason for a horse's failure to run as expected is the failure to establish the desired running position.
Wide Running: How wide is wide? How much ground (in lengths) did the horse lose?
There are many factors, outside the scope of this article, that need to be considered in fully answering these two important questions. However, as a rule of thumb, in sprint races up to 1250m in distance, for each position away from the horses running closest to the rails, a horse will run an additional length for each turn it has to race around. This is assuming, of course, that the rail is the desired running position to be in.
For races longer than 1250m, wide running is still a critical factor, but the amount of ground lost by wide running is
riot quite as important, with other factors, such as pace, needing to be taken into consideration is well.
One factor always worth taking into consideration is if a horse only wins, or runs well, when conditions of the race are in its favour, such as the barrier draw and a lack of early pace in a race, or conversely the backmarker who gets abundant early pace. If so, these types of horses are still backable in favourable races, but riot otherwise.
Boxed In/Pocketed: Being boxed in or pocketed means having horses both in front and on either side or on the outside if the horse is on the rails.
This can happen anywhere in a race, but the most critical places it can occur is normally on the home turn and in the straight. Besides being both dangerous for both horse and jockey, it also badly hampers any winning chance the horse may have.
One critical factor that needs to be taken into consideration with horses that have been boxed in, is that of the jockey. Was it a competent ride by the jockey or did he/she just let it happen?
Normally, horses that repeatedly suffer this type of fate in their races are the mid-field or get-back types. When this happens to horses that race close to the pace, it usually occurs because the jockey is either inexperienced, has lost concentration, or simply lacks the required skills.
Checked/Tightened: Similar in some ways to being boxed in, being checked or tightened can happen anywhere during a race. Cheeks occur when a horse cannot get clear running, often resulting from clipping the heels of a tiring horse dropping back through the field. Horses get tightened for room when racing amongst a group of runners and one or more of those runners attempts to improve their position, often causing other horses to be tightened for clear running. When a horse's head rises sharply, this is usually because it has been checked or tightened for room.
Cutting/ Used-up: Cutting occurs when usually two, sometimes more, horses show early pace and go out hard, with each attempting to gain the lead. If neither of the horses eases back, then cutting occurs and there will be an extremely fast early pace, with both horses having been used-tip and very rarely will either of the horses win. Often this occurs with inexperienced (apprentice) jockeys or when a more senior jockey has a mental blackout, or when a headstrong horse simply takes control. However, horses that show such early pace are always worth considering as betting propositions. They must need to be 'rated' better by their jockeys in future races.
There are sometimes other factors that have a negative effect on a horse's performance, but I think the major issues have been covered.
What about positive performance factors?
Early Running Position: Given that the better type of horses to concentrate on are ones that run in a forward position, it follows that horses which can normally obtain a 'relaxed' forward position in-running are very positive types of horses to look for.
I mention 'relaxed' (visually there will be very little movement of the horse's head and its head will be close to its chest) because this is a very important factor when obtaining a position early in a race.
Any horse that is pulling and reefing in attempting to go faster than the jockey desires, is using valuable energy: energy the horse will need at the end of the race. I call these types of horses energy wasters as very few of them actually win.
Pace-Sitters/Stalkers: Collectively, pace-sitting horses win more races than any other type of horse. These are the horses that do not lead, but take up a position of second, third or fourth in-running, not too far back from the leader. They often force or stalk the leader to set a good pace, while they get a good sit in the run. If the leader tires, they are in the best position to take advantage. Most pace-sitters show attributes missing in other horses, that is, the ability to turn their pace on and off in a race and accelerate when necessary.
Position Improvers: Horses that settle back mid-field in their races and manage to improve their position in a race are also ones to watch for. I do not mean horses that get back and make ground in the straight, but those horses that make ground between their settling and 400m positions, enabling them to be close enough if good enough when the field straightens for the run to the line.
By E.J. Minnis
PRACTICAL PUNTING - NOVEMBER 2000