Long Distance Handicap Chases by David Renham

In this article I am going to look at long distance handicap chases to see if we can improve our chances of a) picking the winner, but more importantly b) gaining enough value on the winners to make a profit. I have decided that any race 3m2f or longer counts as a long distance chase.

However, what I am not going to do is back track through data and manipulate the stats to some degree. Indeed far too many people do this – they back-fit the results to create a set of rules or a system, that ends up producing a profit. Unfortunately 99 times out of 100 these ‘positive’ findings will not be reflected in future results. My plan to look at a variety of areas in an attempt to find potential starting points – basically these are raw ideas that have the potential to produce winning systems or winning methods. So here goes. The data has been taken from 2007 to October 4th 2011. All profit/loss figures are calculated to £1 level stakes. SR% stands for strike rate; ROI% stands for return on investment.

Age

When thinking about long distance chasers I think about older horses rather than younger ones. However as the table shows, it is horses aged 6 to 8 that tend to do best in these events:

Age Wins Runs SR% Profit/loss ROI%
4 or 5 6 79 7.6 -£41.00 -51.9
6 41 354 11.6 -£31.42 -8.9
7 95 802 11.9 -£119.63 -14.9
8 121 1024 11.8 -£81.14 -7.9
9 103 1060 9.7 -£125.77 -11.9
10 66 858 7.7 -£339.42 -39.6
11 36 490 7.4 -£133.79 -27.3
12 16 262 6.1 -£96.50 -36.8
13+ 8 126 6.3 -£59.00 -46.8

Combining horses aged 6 to 8 we get 257 wins from 2180 runners (SR 11.8%) for a loss of £232.19 (ROI -10.7%). OK it still makes a loss, but less than 11p in the £, so these horses seem a good group to concentrate on. If we compare their record with horses aged 9 and older we can see it compares favourably – the older group combine for 229 wins from 2796 runners (SR 8.2%) for a loss of £754.48 (ROI -27.0%). So we have losses of 27p in the £, and a lower strike rate to boot.

Position LTO

Recent form is something most punters latch on to, and hence there often is limited value around following a good run last time out. However, let us see the figures for LTO performance in terms of finishing position for our long distance chasers:

Position LTO Wins Runs SR% Profit/loss ROI%
1st 95 654 14.5 -£29.18 -4.5
2nd 76 631 12.0 -£144.22 -22.9
3rd 48 579 8.3 -£183.84 -31.8
4th 63 527 12.0 -£46.47 -8.8
5th 37 410 9.0 -£130.80 -31.9
6th or worse 94 1118 8.4 -£73.67 -6.6
Failed to finish 77 1101 7.0 -£408.52 -37.1

LTO winners have actually got a decent record with losses of only 4.5p in the £. Interestingly, horses that finished 6th or worse LTO have lost only 6.6p in the £ – I would imagine these runners tend to start at better prices than they should due to punters being indifference to their chances. Horses that failed to finish LTO look very poor value and are horses to avoid.

LTO Market Position

Market factors are often used when looking for ideas, angles or systems, but usually it is the actual starting price that is used. The problem with using this as a ‘filter’ is that we don’t know the SP until after the event. We may have a pretty good idea close to the ‘off’ but not many people are able to wait until the very last minute to place their bet. I often look at market factors from previous races. Here, I am looking at their market position LTO. The results are as follows:

Market Position LTO Wins Runs SR% Profit/loss ROI%
Favourite 96 613 15.7 -£37.36 -6.1
2nd favourite 62 553 11.2 -£160.17 -29.0
3rd favourite 60 558 10.8 -£121.59 -21.8
4th in betting 48 551 8.7 -£148.84 -27.0
5th in betting 56 510 11.0 -£23.50 -4.6
6th in betting 38 419 9.1 -£90.75 -21.7
7th in betting 36 410 8.8 -£97.92 -23.9
8th+ 94 1406 6.7 -£336.55 -23.9

The only semi-positive here is the performance of LTO favourites – a decent enough strike rate coupled with losses of around 6p in the £.

Race type LTO

Most long distance handicap chasers race primarily over fences, but there are a few horses that switch back and forth. I thought it was worth looking at whether race type LTO makes any difference:

Race type LTO Wins Runs SR% Profit/loss ROI%
Chase 423 4463 9.5 -£1,023.01 -22.9
Hurdle 66 548 12.0 +£7.33 +1.3
Turf 1 9 11.1 -£1.00 -11.1

It looks as if horses that ran over hurdles last time are worth closer scrutiny. They have a better strike rate than those running over fences LTO, and backing all of them actually has made a profit. Now, it is unlikely this profit would be repeated over a subsequent 5-year period, but clearly these runners perform above expectations and probably start at prices that are higher than they should be.

Jockeys

The perception of many is that although claiming/conditional jockeys are able to take weight off the back of a horse, their inexperience means that the claim becomes effectively worthless. The stats for jockeys in these long distance chases makes interesting reading …………

Jockey Wins Runs SR% Profit/loss ROI%
No claim (pros) 325 3222 10.1 -£657.54 -20.4
3lb claim 59 735 8.0 -£275.38 -37.5
5lb claim or more 108 1098 9.8 -£94.77 -8.6

Conditional jockeys claiming 5lb or more have a strike rate virtually identical to professional jockeys, but their losses are significantly less. This is almost certainly down to punters or bookmakers pushing out the prices of horses ridden by conditional jockeys claiming 5lb or more.

Conclusions

I have looked at 5 different angles and the stats have pinpointed some areas that are better than others. So how best can we utilize the stats? Well, the lazy system punter would almost certainly combine the ‘best’ bits of the five areas – so the system would look something like this:

1. won LTO

2. favourite LTO

3. Aged 6 to 8

4. Ridden by conditional jockey claiming 5lb or more

5. Raced in hurdle race LTO

For the record since 2007 this ‘system’ would have produced a strike rate of 66.7% and a return on investment of over 90%. However, before you all start planning your retirement due to this gilt-edged winning system, I should point out that there would have only been 3 selections in the 5 years of study!!! Essentially, this is an example of why back-fitting is not good practice. Too often people use too many rules when creating their systems – this either cuts down the number of bets to ridiculously small amounts, as in this case, or it simply gives a false set of figures even with a decent final sample size.

At the beginning of the article I mentioned the fact I would be looking to find potential starting points – this is rather than producing rigid ‘systems’ that have too many rules. It is my belief that a sensible starting point is when you combine two factors only. So that is what I am going to do. I am going to use the same 5 rules in the lazy system example, but will combine them in twos, not in one block of five. Here are the results:

Combination/starting point Wins Runs SR% Profit/loss ROI%
Age 6-8 and won LTO 51 327 15.6 -£28.66 -8.8
Age 6-8 and favourite LTO 53 324 16.4 -£0.22 -0.1
Age 6-8 and ran in hurdle LTO 36 277 13.0 -£26.55 -9.6
Age 6-8 and ridden by jockey claiming 5lb or more 55 460 12.0 +£43.77 +9.5
Won LTO and favourite LTO 39 192 20.3 -£2.68 -1.4
Won LTO and ran in hurdle LTO 9 56 16.1 -£19.17 -34.2
Won LTO and ridden by jockey claiming 5lb or more 19 131 14.5 -£3.92 -3.0
Favourite LTO and ran in hurdle LTO 14 64 21.9 +£13.83 +21.6
Favourite LTO and ridden by jockey claiming 5lb or more 17 110 15.5 +£41.24 +37.5
Ran in hurdle LTO and ridden by jockey claiming 5lb or more 20 139 14.4 +£71.63 +51.5

As we can see, only one combination has produced poor returns – ‘the won LTO and ran in hurdle LTO’ one. Of the remaining 9 starting points, 4 showed a profit, the other 5 showed small losses. Now I am not advocating backing all horses in the future that match these starting points, but clearly any runner that does ‘match’ should be given further consideration. Others factors could then be taken into account such as going, trainer, class, fitness, etc.

Author Bio

Dave Renham works at the Racing and Football Outlook newspaper as their Race Trends expert; has worked on The Racing Post as a writer of the spotlight column and has published several books about horse racing research.

On the Web Dave is heavily involved with the respected horse racing websites www.PunterProfits.com and www.RacingTrends.co.uk

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