Winning Systems: Lightly-raced two-year-olds

    In his latest blog for athteraces.com, with the 2017 flat season approaching, Dr Peter May discusses potential profitable winning systems to note concerning lightly-traced juveniles on the flat.
  • Wednesday 25 January 2017
  • Blog

It may be Winter, it may be cold, and it may appear to be time to focus on Cheltenham, but the start of the new flat season is only a few weeks away, and that makes this the ideal time to examine our portfolio of flat racing systems and decide whether to retain some, remove others, and maybe even tweak a few.

It is also the perfect time to develop new methods for testing, and with that objective in mind I have had another look at lightly-raced two-year-olds.

I firmly believe that juvenile racing is the best medium for making profits using systems, and that the first race a two-year-old runs can be more informative than it may at first appear.  There are systems which can be applied to debut runners, but from experience I have found it better to use this first run as a key component of other betting systems. 

One of the reasons for this is that juveniles have such a poor win rate first time out compared to their next start. Over the last five seasons, for example, juveniles have won at a rate of 8% yet on their second start this percentage increases to 14% with approximately one third of all juvenile non-handicaps won by two-year-olds on their second start.

Unfortunately, the profit and loss figures do not improve in line with the success rate, and for bets placed at Bookmakers’ starting price the loss of 30p/£ for debut runners only creeps to -28p/£ for the second run, and on the exchanges the profit moves in the wrong direction: from -3p/£ to -8p/£.

In fact, over the last few years, there has been a steady decline in the level stake return by second run juveniles whilst the win rate has remained pretty stable.  At Bookmakers’ starting price the loss has deepened from -21p/£ in 2012 to a staggering -32p/£ last year, and on the exchanges it has moved from break-even to -19p/£ during the same period. 

Despite this trend there’s valuable information contained in the first run which we can exploit to produce potentially profitable methods.

Analysing by previous race position produces one profitable angle.  Those following on from a win made 4p/£ at exchange prices from 629 bets with the remainder losing heavily.  In 2016 the BHA made a dramatic change to the race programme replacing the majority of 2-y.o maiden races with stakes events in which previous winners were allowed to run. 

This was a welcome move since it provided opportunities for winners to continue racing and meant that trainers had alternatives to handicaps. Naturally, such a change had an impact on these figures.  Last year, second run two-year-olds which had won first time out made a profit of 17p/£ at exchange prices from 144 bets.  Whether this pattern will continue this season is far from certain, but it is worth noting.

The price a two-year-old starts for its debut is an important item of data.  The 1239 horses that started at 4/1 or lower for the debut in recent years won 294 races on their next start returning a profit of 15p/£ at exchange prices, and almost broke even at Bookmakers’ starting price which is quite an achievement because, as we know, betting near to the off time with Bookmakers is never going to be profitable in the long run. The other 7224 runners made huge losses on both the exchanges and with Bookmakers.

Race class in non-handicaps, outside of the pattern events, has little meaning nowadays, but for those who still account for it in their analyses, the sample of runners dropping in race class from their first start lost 31p/£ at Bookmakers’ starting price and lost 16p/£ on the exchanges; those moving up in class lost 29p/£ and 9p/£; whilst those remaining in the same class lost 25p/£ and 3p/£.

Course absence is normally informative with those making a quick return performing better.  However, for second run two-year-olds the opposite is the case.  Runners returning within 28 days of their debut lost 31p/£ with Bookmakers and lost 14p/£ on the exchanges from over 6,000 bets. 

Although the 2250 horses running after a break of 29 days or more had a slightly lower win rate at 13%, compared to 14%, and lost at Bookmakers’ SP, they did make an 8p/£ profit at exchange prices.  However, this profit was heavily dependent on horses priced at 13/2 and higher where the greatest disparity between the two sets of prices exists.

With respect to trainers, as would be expected, some have a much better record with these runners than others.  In recent years it has been profitable to follow Charlie Appleby, Roger Charlton, Saeed Bin Suroor, William Haggas, Richard Hannon and Andrew Balding, making these trainers worth noting when either developing systems or applying a conventional race analysis approach to a juvenile race.

Whilst the results appear patchy, there is one critical factor which cuts across all of the analyses: time of year.  From a time-based analysis it is clear that these runners produce the best profit figures in the early months of the season. 

The profit achieved for all runners by the end of June is turned into a loss by the end of the season with the Autumn months performing particularly poorly probably due to the higher level of competition from better, lightly-raced, juveniles.

But by restricting bets to the period March to June/July and incorporating the key elements of the debut race, backing juveniles on their second run should remain a profitable exercise.

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