In this column we take numbers and analyse the ways we can manipulate them to help us find winners and hopefully increase our bank balance. Which are the numbers that are most likely to be meaningful in this direction?

We’ve already taken a look at favouritism, which is created by the opinions of punters. Obviously, the more money that punters put on a particular horse, the less its dividend will be.

It’s interesting to note that while the first favourite does win more often than others, indicating that punters know a good thing when they see it, following it in race after race soon leads to the realisation that it doesn’t pay. Order of favouritism then, is an indication of the collective view that punters have on a horse’s chance of winning. In which case, this number does have some meaning relative to selecting a horse that could win.

The next number we examined was the saddlecloth number. The horse the handicapper thinks has the best chance of winning has its chances reduced to that of the others by carrying a heavier weight. This horse then becomes the topweight and wears the number one saddlecloth. The balance of the field follows in order of weight carried. So TAB numbers are useful as they are an indication of one expert’s opinion as to a possible winner.

This month we will be looking at barrier numbers and their potential for leading us to the winner’s enclosure. Examining 660 races with 7,363 horses participating, gave the following win strikes for the first nine barrier numbers: 67, 72, 70, 72, 68, 60, 50, 50 and 35. These resulted in strike rates of 10 per cent, 11 per cent, 11 per cent, 10 per cent, 9 per cent, 8 per cent, 8 per cent and 5 per cent.

Average dividends for each barrier number were: \$6.90, \$7.20, \$6.20, \$7.50, \$8.40, \$7.70, \$8.60, \$9.70 and \$7.20. With an average strike rate of just over 9 per cent, not one barrier was profitable. Losses varied from \$406.00 for barrier nine, down to \$88.30 for barrier five. These figures show loss on turnover to have been 62 per cent and 13 per cent respectively.

That appears to indicate that in general, barrier numbers have no bearing on whether any one is preferable to another. This should not come as a surprise when we consider that these numbers are, in effect, drawn out of a hat and bear no relationship to a horse‘s ability to win.

We can now attempt to tweak these numbers by applying some of the limitations that we used on previous occasions to improve our winning chances. By applying these restrictions, we can seriously reduce the number of horses we bet on and thereby reduce not only our outlay, but our possible losses.

If we only look at races where the first favourite is paying between two dollars and three dollars inclusive, we find that there were 262 races with 2,752 horses giving these win strikes for each number: 28, 29, 30, 26, 28, 25, 21, 16 and 22. Strike rates were: 11 per cent, 11 per cent, 11 per cent, 10 per cent, 11 per cent, 10 per cent, 8 per cent, 6 per cent and 8 per cent.

Average dividends were: \$6.60, \$6.80, \$5.30, \$7.60, \$7.20, \$7.70, \$7.90, \$7.20 and \$7.10. No number was profitable so, again, not too promising. Barrier eight lost \$146.60 or 56 per cent while the best performer was barrier five which only lost \$58.60 or 22 per cent. With these figures and the average strike rate being just a tad over 9 per cent, barrier numbers really don’t seem, on the face of it, to be reliable.

Maybe we should try looking at races with 10, 11 or 12 runners. By applying this restriction, we find that there were 269 races with 2,967 horses and the following win strikes: 17, 29, 34, 28, 26, 24, 22, 21 and 19. Strike rates were: 6 per cent, 11 per cent, 13 per cent, 10 per cent, 10 per cent, 9 per cent, 8 per cent, 8 per cent and 7 per cent.

Average dividends were: \$6.80, \$8.00, \$6.60, \$6.90, \$9.80, \$8.20, \$9.90, \$10.60 and \$7.10. Still no profit though. The odd thing here is that barrier number one was the biggest loser costing \$153.40 or 57 per cent while the best performer once again was barrier five with a loss of only \$15.00 or 6 per cent.

With no change in the average strike rate of 9 per cent, this seems to confirm yet again that barrier numbers are not satisfactory in pointing out possible winners. Alright then, let’s consider only metropolitan tracks where it’s generally assumed that we’ll find better quality horses going around.

This time we find there were 304 races ?with 3,525 horses that gave these win strikes: 30, 36, 29, 28, 28, 35, 22, 27 and 16. Strike rates were: 10 per cent, 12 per cent, 10 per cent, 9 per cent, 9 per cent, 12 per cent, 7 per cent, 9 per cent and 5 per cent.

Average dividends were: \$7.20, \$6.70, \$5.80, \$7.90, \$9.00, \$8.20, \$8.90, \$9.50 and \$6.10. We find once again that no number was profitable. Losses were between \$207.00 or 68 per cent for barrier nine, down to \$17.20 or 6 per cent for barrier six.

Well, it’s looking more and more like barrier numbers really are a waste of time but, let’s press on. In this next attempt to improve things, we’ll examine non-metropolitan tracks and see if they hold the right answers.

This angle shows there were 356 races and 3,842 horses with these strike rates: 37, 36, 41, 44, 40, 25, 28, 23 and 19. Strike rates were: 10 per cent, 10 per cent, 12 per cent, 12 per cent, 11 per cent, 7 per cent, 8 per cent, 6 per cent and 5 per cent.

Average dividends were: \$6.70, \$7.80, \$6.50, \$7.30, \$8.00, \$7.00, \$8.30, \$9.90 and \$8.20. Still no profit to be had. Losses ranged from \$199.00 or 56 per cent for barrier nine, to \$33.70 or 9 per cent for barrier four.

Does this then finally prove that barrier numbers have no place in our bag of tricks? There is one final approach we can examine. Previously, in desperation, we looked into races with seven or less runners. The theory here was that with fewer runners to contend with, we must surely have increased our chances of picking a winner and as there were not too many of these races, we would have reduced the number of bets into the bargain.

There were only 59 of these races with 377 horses that gave these win strikes: 5, 6, 11, 11, 8, 11, 7, 1 and 0. Strike rates were: 8 per cent, 10 per cent, 19 per cent, 19 per cent, 14 per cent, 19 per cent, 12 per cent, 2 per cent and 0 per cent.

Average dividends were: \$3.50, \$4.00, \$5.00, \$6.40, \$5.20, \$4.60, \$7.90, \$15.00 and \$0.00. Hooray! At long last we have achieved a profit. Barrier four retuned \$11.00 or 19 per cent. Losses ran from \$59.00 or 100 per cent for barrier nine, to \$3.70 or 6 per cent for barrier three.

But why did it take so long for us to find a way to make a profit? Because, when it’s all boiled down, these numbers bear no relationship to a horse’s potential winning ability.

What is the logic (if any) behind these figures? The accepted view is that barrier number one being nearest the running rail, this horse has the shortest distance to travel to the winning post. Taking this point of view into consideration, the only time that barrier numbers should be taken into account, is in a small field over a distance of no more than 1200 metres. It would also help if there were a bend to negotiate thus causing horses from wider barriers to run further.

While this view seems to have been borne out by the above figures, next month we’ll check into its validity by analysing the results from races over a variety of distances.?

By Mr Money

PRACTICAL PUNTING – FEBRUARY 2007