Winning systems: Utilising BHA Ratings – Jumps Racing

In his latest article for, Dr Peter May has analysed official British Horseracing Authority ratings in a number of different spheres to see if they’re profitable, coming up with some interesting results.

  • Thursday 20 September
  • Blog
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A rating, of some description, is an essential component of conventional race analysis.  Without this key figure it is not possible to accurately determine the ability of the runners, one of the cornerstones of this traditional approach to solving the horse racing problem.  But which rating should you use?  Form ratings, speed ratings, hybrid ratings which combine both form and speed, are all used to varying degrees, and to a certain extent it depends on which rating best suits your approach, and also in which rating you have most confidence.

A quick search of the internet would probably unearth hundreds of ratings suppliers, some offering their figures at reasonable prices, whilst other would no doubt be charging exorbitant rates.  But of course, there is one set of ratings that is freely available, and they should be extremely accurate: BHA handicap ratings. 

The BHA employs a team of handicappers who simply assess horses’ performances with the aim of determining their ability as accurately as possible.  These assessments are expressed in pounds and are used to form the handicap and are quoted alongside the runners in many publications as well as online.  But can they be useful to the race analyst?  Well, they are accurate, which is a plus, but they are available to everyone, which is a negative.  So, on that basis, we should expect them to produce an excellent win rate, but maybe not such a good profit. 

In fact, any pure ability rating cannot be judged on profit since it does not take into account the price available for each runner and is designed to assess the relative merits of the horses rather than their value in the betting market.  Given the availability of the BHA figures, making a profit without considering any other factors is probably going to be more difficult than for less well publicised figures.  However, they are certainly worth investigating.

To conduct an analysis of the performance of the BHA top-rated runners I extracted the figures for all non-handicap jumps races for the last ten complete seasons.  Naturally handicaps had to be excluded because the normalising effect of the weight carried means that all runners would have the same adjusted rating and, consequently, there would be no top-rated runners.

Taking non-handicap hurdle races first, we find that the number of races has reduced during the period of analysis from 915 in the 2008/09 season to just 855 last year.  This drop in races has also seen the number of runners decrease from nearly 10,000 to just over 7,000. 

The average loss to Bookmakers’ starting price was a staggering 39p/£ for the ten seasons, with an overall win rate of 11%.  For horses starting at 40/1 or longer this loss worsens to 76p/£, but for those priced at up to 2/1 it improves to -6p/£.

Horses that were top-rated by the BHA returned a loss of 9p/£, and had a win rate of 33%, three times the average. There is also some evidence to suggest that the success rate is increasing, which shows what a good job the BHA assessors are doing. These initial results were also in line with expectations regarding profit and win rate. 

Keeping to the front of the market we see that the average loss is just 2p/£ for runners priced at no more than 2/1, but whilst this is interesting it is not going to put money in punters’ pockets.  Focussing on a couple of trainers would have though.  Nigel Twiston-Davies ran 138 BHA top-rated runners over the ten years and made a 9p/£ profit, and Jonjo O’Neill made a similar level of profit from 94 runners.

Switching to exchange prices helps immensely.  The 7,167 clear top-rated runners over the ten years actually broke even with those priced at 2/1 or less showing a positive return of 2p/£.  Horses that were racing after a win made 4p/£ (1,455 qualifiers), and those which were priced at 6/1 or lower on their last jumps start made 2p/£ from 1,900 bets. 

The 849 runners that started evens of lower on their last start over jumps had a win rate of 48% and made a 10p/£ profit with the last four seasons all proving to be profitable.  Seven-day winners (horses which won last time out and raced within seven days) were also highly profitable but too few in number. 

Conditions Hurdle races, excluding those restricted to just three-year-olds, are an interesting category with the BHA top-rated runners returning a 12p/£ profit from 453 races with a 40% win rate.  This subclass of non-handicap hurdle races had the best figures, whilst maiden hurdle contests were the poorest.

There was a similar pattern for non-handicap chases.  Ten seasons ago there were 392 of these races staged in Great Britain featuring 2,725 runners, but last season the figure stood at 257 races (1,240 runners), so more than a third of these races have been removed from the jumps calendar. 

The average loss at Bookmakers’ starting price for the 3,102 events run over the ten seasons was 28p/£ and the win rate was 17% reflecting the slightly smaller fields sizes for chases.  Horses which started at 40/1 or higher lost a staggering 88p/£ but the loss was at least in single digits for those priced at 4/1 or lower.  Runners in the 9/2-6/1 price bracket lost 18p/£ and this figure gradually worsened as the price increased.

The BHA top-rated runners lost 8p/£, significantly better than the average loss of 28p/£, and the win rate was an impressive 34%; and for the last two seasons this percentage has increased to 44% and 45% clearly illustrating the accuracy of the BHA ratings. Following top-rated runners from the Paul Nicholls stable over the last ten seasons would have been profitable with a gain of 8p made for every £1 invested on the 302 runners; the profit was slightly higher for Nicky Henderson’s top-rated chasers at 11p/£ but the number of runners was lower at 175.

Using exchange prices recorded just before the official off time, the overall loss improved from -8p to -1p/£ and keeping bets to those priced at 10/1 or less improved this figure to 3p/£.  The 285 horses that were running after competing in a handicap hurdle race made a 21p/£ profit which was coupled with a 31% win rate showing that a recent chase outing is not essential. 

Sticking with the last race, those top-rated horses that were running after competing at odds on for their last run had a 47% win rate and a 5p/£ profit.  Horses which were unplaced but did complete last time out went on to make a profit of 12p/£ from over 700 bets.  Naturally the win rate was lower for these at just 29%, but they are definitely worth noting although there have been a few very poor seasons including last year which showed a 34p/£ loss; the three seasons before that made: 22p/£, 44p/£ and 43p/£, so following these would have produced a bit of a roller-coaster ride for bettors.

The high win rates for BHA top-rated runners shows that these ratings are working well and provide a good guide to the chance of success.  The fact that they are widely available does not help punters, although there are areas where following the top-rated runners have been profitable in the past and could continue to be profitable in future, but they are perhaps better utilised as part of a more comprehensive approach that includes an element of value.

Winning systems: Utilising BHA Ratings – Jumps Racing
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