When we’re looking at a maiden or novice race, there are usually three types of contenders.
First are the ones with established form that entitles them to be leading contenders, either winners under a penalty, or placed horses that probably don’t need to improve much to have a leading chance.
The second group consists of newcomers, for whom pedigrees and trainer records, as well as the market, can be a guide.
However, I’ve always thought that potentially the most lucrative types of horses to back in these types of races are the once-raced types who didn’t make the first three on debut, but either showed a bit of promise or might be the types to improve significantly for that first run.
With that in mind, I’ve spotted one track that has been throwing up a surprising number of these types in recent years. Looking at the next-time-out strike rate of horses that had finished unplaced on debut in maidens and novices, the courses that tend to throw up most winners are the ones you’d expect – Ascot, Newmarket, Sandown, York, Goodwood, Haydock and Newbury are all in the top eight over the last three years.
However, at the top of the list in terms of next-time-out winners from horses that were unplaced on their debut in novices and maidens is Ayr.
Over the last three seasons, backing every horse that had finished unplaced on debut in an Ayr maiden or novice on its next start would have produced 14 winners from just 72 runners, a strike rate of just over 19%, a level stakes profit of 119 points at SP (271 points at Betfair SP), and an actual over expected winners figure of 2.91. Most of the subsequent winners had finished in the range of fourth to eighth place.
No other track has produced next-time-winners at a rate above 15% from its unplaced debutants in this timespan, and the overall strike rate of all courses was under 7%. Although 72 isn’t a huge sample by any means, there’s enough evidence to suggest that something has happened in terms of Ayr maidens and novices having more strength in depth.
Most of the winners came from strong Northern yards – of the 14 winners, there were two each from Mark Johnston, Karl Burke, Keith Dalgleish and Michael Dods, and one each for Richard Fahey, Iain Jardine, and David O’Meara, as well as southern raider Charlie Hills.
I must admit I haven’t been able to find a strong, concrete reason why horses finishing unplaced at Ayr have been doing so well lately, and I doubt we’re going to see a replication of the spectacular results from this “system” we have seen over the last three seasons when racing does resume.
However, it does seem that, for whatever reason, horses finishing out of the frame on debut at Ayr, especially if they show promise or represent a fairly strong yard, are worth a second glance when racing resumes.