Winning Systems: Course Absence

    In his latest blog, Peter May revisits a once reliable system relating to horses returning to the track after a short break.

In the early 1990s I worked at the Raceform Office in Compton for a brief spell. After leaving I maintained a link with the company through its weekly publications, notably Raceform Update, and contributed articles covering juveniles, sire analyses and big-race previews. As much as I hoped that Readers found my articles interesting I knew from the market research that the main reason the majority purchased the paper was the letters page.

In an era pre-internet, the Update’s letters section provided an effective way of promoting and discussing ideas for betting systems, and two threads dominated: the controversial work of Van Der Wheil, and horses making a quick return to the track. 

From correspondence of followers of the former, the winners of all of the main races seemed to be qualifiers under the VDW method, though this was normally only highlighted after the race and was in part due to the interpretation of the very loose set of rules which had to be applied. In contrast, the methods based on course absence were in the main simple, unambiguous and easily verified, all of which made this a more interesting topic. Essentially, the most effective rule could be stated as: 
 
If race type is a handicap and the horse is returning after no more than five days, then bet.

It is difficult to imagine such a simple rule being profitable, but it was, and with just a few minor amendments it can still be profitable today. Consequently, I thought it may be worthwhile revisiting the course absence topic for this piece.

Historically it was possible to simply put a line through horses in jumps races which had been off the course for more than 100 days, with the exception of a few stables, but in recent years improvements in training techniques and the reluctance to give a horse a race or two to gain full fitness, has meant this is no longer valid, so much more care needs to be taken with these runners. 

Taking chases, for instance, the win rate for runners returning from a long course absence is no worse, at 11%, than it is for those running after a break of a couple of weeks. For hurdle races there is a dip for runners off the track for 100+ days, but at 8% is only 2% lower than the quick returners in non-handicap races. However in handicap hurdle contests there is a marked difference.  Runners off the track for no more than seven days have won at a rate of 16% in recent years which compares to an average of around 9% for the remainder.

For turf all-age flat handicaps the historical trend is still evident with the success rate of runners dropping steadily from 13% to 8% as the number of days off increases. In non-handicaps, though, a very uniform trend is apparent suggesting that this variable has no effect at all. In two-year-old handicap races the win rate drops from 16% for those running again within the week to just 4% for runners making a return after a significant lay off, but again for non-handicaps the win rate is steady until the 100-day absence is exceeded.

So given these changes in the distribution of winners by days off, how does the quick returners rule fare nowadays? Well, the following table shows the number of qualifiers, win rate, and profit/loss figures to a £1 stake at exchange prices recorded just before off time for the last few seasons for horses returning within five days:

Race Type Qualifiers Win% Profit/£
NonHcap Flat 2141 15 0.17
Hcap Flat 8971 15 0.01
NonHcap Hdl 557 12 -0.27
Hcap Hdl 875 20 -0.07
NonHcap Chs 159 13 -0.17
Hcap Chs 712 20 0.28
NH Flat Race 37 11 -0.59
All Races 13452 15 0.03

Overall, a profit of 3% would have been made from the 13,542 bets before commission, which is a reasonable starting point. The most surprising feature of the table, though, is the marked differences between the race types and this clearly needs more analysis.

Non-handicap flat races would appear to be the best race classification to target with this method which is in contrast to the historical rule. However, the 17p/£ profit largely results from a single long-priced winner (100/1 at Bookmakers’ SP) and without it this race type would not be profitable. Non-handicap jumps races do not appear particularly promising, though the smaller sample sizes mean these are worth monitoring for more seasons, but the loss figures suggest they should not be followed at present. So removing those leaves just the handicaps.

As we know, making a profit at off time is more difficult with popular systems than it is by betting at other times. So if your only option is to bet with Bookmakers in the last few minutes before the race starts then I would strongly recommend that you don’t, and instead open an exchange account with a company that offers a low commission rate. 

If you can get on early then betting with the main firms is a reasonable option because it is possible to assess all the prices on offer and take the best. To illustrate the differences between betting at off time and in the morning I have analysed these five-day qualifiers by morning exchange prices which are pretty much in line with the Bookmakers’ prices at this time of day, so it should be possible to get the bets on at these prices with the layers, for a while at least.

Taking an early price increases the profit for flat handicaps to 11p/£, for the handicap hurdle races the off time loss is turned into a 2p/£ profit, and for the handicap chasers the profit figure increases to 34p/£.

Analysing by position last time out shows that in every category the early price return is better than the equivalent off-time exchange figure and, furthermore, by limiting the position the horse ran on its latest start to the first eight home increases the profit figures to: 14p/£ for flat handicaps, 11p/£ for handicap hurdle races and 50p/£ for handicap chases.

The various options presented here show that the quick returners rule is still worth close consideration more than twenty years from its initial publication which is remarkable for any system and I only wish I had taken more notice of the advice regarding this method back in the 1990s.

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