As any old-time punter would tell you, there never was such a thing as biased tracks 'back in the good old days'!

True or not, it really doesn't matter as today we live and punt in a very different racing world: one of movable rails, Sunday and night racing and artificial surfaces.

The words 'track bias' are often quoted as the reason why or why not a horse won or lost. But some biases have always been there, it's just that the biased tracks of today tend to magnify the effect.

One of the ever-present biases has been the frequency at which frontrunners tend to win in comparison with that of the backmarkers. Thus, where a horse is positioned in the run is of utmost importance to its chances of winning.

The latest edition of the Macquarie Dictionary defines 'in the running' as having a chance of success. A very apt description when that simple quote is applied to horseracing and to where the winners come from during the running of a race.

On the Internet discussion group Ausrace, in June 1996, I wrote the following about the then relatively new Strathayr racing surface at Moonee Valley:

"Form students when considering the form of horses running at Moonee Valley last Saturday (June 15, 1996) need to take into consideration the very lopsided track bias against horses running close to the rails in the straight ... (there is a) need to take note that when the rail is in the 'true' position, horses racing close to the rail are at a sizeable disadvantage (and that) this trend has been evident for some time."

Those comments were based on a number of factors, such as the Strathayr track, the cambers and the watering and drainage system.

Moonee Valley is the first racecourse in Australia to use technology in the manner that it does. Every two hours, 74 sensors buried at three different depths in the racetrack send moisture level, temperature and nutrient level information to a computer in the racecourse manager's office.

When the weather is dry, the computer turns on a controlled twin-turbo pump-driven racetrack irrigation system designed to soak the track. Fast tracks are not allowed to be prepared nor have there been any heavy tracks since the introduction of the Strathayr surface, with the only track conditions posted being Good, Dead or Slow.

Importantly, when the new track was built, the turns were banked to 7.5 per cent and a cross-fall of 2.5 per cent was provided across the straight parts of the track.

The effect of this is that horses racing close to the rails are quite often disadvantaged, in particular when the track is Dead or Slow, with the water tending to drain towards the rail.

Given that it is now over three years since I formed those opinions about Moonee Valley, I thought that it was time to see if the statistics over the intervening period of time supported my theories.

Table 1 on page 39 is a summary of 691 flat races run at Moonee Valley since August 1996 up to the end of the last racing season in July. All jumps races and any flat races 2900m or longer, of which there have been a small number, have been excluded.

Quite clearly there is a bias towards frontrunners at the Valley. In fact, with an RF Factor (see box for explanation) of 1.98, an extremely strong bias, one that should not be overlooked by any form analyst. In simple terms, a relative frequency of 1.98 means that horses running in the first three win close to twice as often as what would be expected if a bias didn't exist.

For horses running just off the pace, in positions fourth, fifth or sixth, the situation is one of neutrality; they win approximately the number of times that would be expected.

However, the backmarkers who run in the latter half of the field have a poor winning record.

For those who race 10th or worse, the statistics show not only a very poor strike rate but the relevant frequency (RF) factor is also extremely low. Any punter betting on such horses would need to ensure they get exceptional value.

So, having established that Moonee Valley favours the frontrunners, the focus then turns to how horses drawn close to the rails are favoured. By analysing barrier positions, Table 2 (see page 39) clearly shows that the closer to the rails a horse is drawn, the bigger the disadvantage.

While it is true that the disadvantage is not as great as where a horse is positioned in the run, nevertheless, being drawn in the first three inside barriers at Moonee Valley hardly offers the advantage that inside draws supposedly offer.

In fact, the average winning barrier position at the Valley is 6.3, with barriers 7, 8 and 9 being clearly the most favoured.

But, is it possible that horses that lead and have an inside barrier position do better than the statistics in Table 2 indicate? Well, not really, as Table 3 explains, which is based just on the 387 winners who had an in-running position within the first three at the 400m.

Rather surprisingly, for the winners who led or were on the pace at the 400m, the outcomes are marginally worse. Again barriers 7, 8 and 9 are the favoured ones for the on-pacers.

Table 4 summarises the statistics on Dead and Slow track conditions. Nothing of note with these as there is an  even spread of winners from all barrier positions, all closely reflecting their true relative frequency (RF) factors.

However, when we look at horses with inside barrier positions racing in the first three at the 400m, it's somewhat different. Only 38 (16.7 per cent) of winners out of a total of 228 on Dead and Slow track conditions came from barrier positions 1, 2 or 3 and raced on the pace at the 400m.

When the winners on Dead and Slow tracks are further analysed, we find an even bigger bias towards  frontrunners, as Table 5 discloses.

A huge difference exists between front running horses and the rest when racing on Dead and Slow track conditions. The statistic of a relevant frequency factor of 2.23 for the frontrunners is quite astonishing, while those of the backmarkers is the reverse, being a virtual graveyard.

Finally, a break-up of the front running winners by race distances. These distances have been split into three groupings, up to and including 1200m, which account for nearly 50 per cent of all races at Moonee Valley, distances of 1500m up to 2000m, and those over 2000m and under 2900m. There are no races at Moonee Valley over 1200m and less than 1500m in distance.

Given that the overall winning performance of frontrunners is 56 per cent (refer Table 1), then distance is of no particular importance with the ability of this type of horse to win at Moonee Valley.

Having done this current analysis, I have no doubt that what I wrote over three years ago about horses racing close to the rails at the Valley is as valid now as it was then.

When betting at Moonee Valley, my advice is to look for front running types, but not necessarily from the inside barrier positions. Preference should go to those coming out of the midfield barriers and, if you must back a backmarker, only do so if it's a proven Valley horse to be ridden by a jockey who has previously won on the horse, or the likes of Damien Oliver, Jim Cassidy or Shane Dye, and you get a value price (5/1 or better).

The RF Factor is an important consideration not only when applied to horse racing statistics but in many other fields of endeavour as well.

RF means Relative Frequency, which in turn simply means the ratio of the number of times an event occurs to the number of occasions on which that event is represented.

If a coin is tossed one hundred times then both heads and tails are represented 50 per cent in each of the throws. So if heads comes up 60 times and tails comes up 40 times, then the RF Factor (Relative Frequency) for both heads and tails are 1.2 (60 divided by 50) and 0.8 (40 divided by 50) respectively.

A factor of 1 is neutral, while a factor in excess of 1 is an advantage and a factor under 1 a disadvantage.


By Edward Jay