Winning Systems - The Early Flat Season

In his latest update Dr Peter May looks at profit-finding angles for the start of the 2016 Flat season including in maiden races.

  • Thursday 24 March
  • Blog
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For me, the early months of the flat season are the most exciting. 

That period from the Brocklesby Stakes to the end of June cannot be matched at any other stage of the year for intrigue and expectation.

I appreciate that all weather aficionados will want to remind me that the flat season now runs the full twelve months and, therefore, starts on New Year’s Day, but for those of us who cut our betting teeth at a time pre-all weather racing, the start on the flat is still marked by the first turf race of the year which also signals the return of a decent standard of racing. 

From January to the end of March the quality of flat racing under the current BHA schedule is pretty desperate:  three out of four races are run-of-the-mill handicaps with the remaining races either sellers, claimers or low grade maidens. 

Hardly inspiring stuff especially when compared to the start of the turf season which is packed with Classic trials, maiden races that will no doubt feature many future stars, and several high-class pattern races.  

But most importantly the return of turf racing means the return of juvenile racing. Watching potential stars of the future competing on level terms is far more appealing than watching average horses carrying different weights simply to make the finish closer.

In the past, juvenile races have provided my main source of profit during the flat season. 

Historically this was due, in part, to information received, but in recent years it has been due to speed ratings. 

For instance, over the last few seasons the 321 juveniles that were top-rated on my figures and had won their last start made a 35p/£ profit at exchange prices and I am sure such an approach would have been equally as effective using Lawrence Taylor’s excellent speed ratings published on this site daily.

However I am not so sure this method will work this season. Systems, such as this, thrive on consistency, and 2016 is going to buck the trend. 

The early part of the juvenile season is dominated by maiden races, with as few as one in ten two-year-old contests open to previous winners. 

This has made placing successful horses almost impossible, so the BHA decided to redress the balance by increasing the proportion of stakes races, those open to all runners, which was an excellent idea. 

However rather than just increasing the proportion to, say, 25%, I have read reports that suggest the increase will be to 90% leaving just 10% of races as maidens. 

Such a dramatic change will impact on the way trainers run their two-year-olds and will invalidate systems, such as the one presented above, which are based on previous race success. 

Obviously I will need to find a new method, but will only be able to do that once there is sufficient data on which to base any meaningful analysis. 

Consequently, it is difficult to recommend any systematic approaches for two-year-old races at the moment which is disappointing. 

Fortunately other race grades can be analysed with a view to generating early season systems, and these are presented in the following sections.

Three-year-old maiden races run in the early part of the season can bring together runners with hugely varying levels of ability. 

For instance, a race may feature a future Royal Ascot winner running alongside a runner that is unlikely to make a mark even in selling company, and that makes these contests worth watching carefully and noting. 

For betting purposes ratings can be extremely useful even though many runners will not have raced before. 

In recent years, for the period March-June, the runner top-rated by the BHA Handicapper won at a rate of almost 29%  and returned a profit at Bookmakers’ starting price of 2p/£ which translates to 14p/£ on the exchanges before commission. 

Clearly these horses should be examined closely over the next few months.

Many horses will be running simply to establish a handicap mark, and this is illustrated by a price analysis. 

Two-thirds of three-year-old maiden races run on turf in recent seasons were won by horses with a starting price of 4/1 or lower; those priced at 6/1 or higher lost an amazing 41p/£ with Bookmakers. 

Though this does demonstrate the high degree of under-pricing associated with these horses, and clearly illustrates why Bookmakers are keen to lay bets to starting price, it is also a product of careful race planning by trainers who aim to target handicaps later in the season and do not wish to ruin a potentially helpful handicap mark.

An analysis of the prices the runners started at for their latest run also supports this. 

Again, horses which were priced at 6/1 or higher on their latest start returned a loss over 40p/£ next time out and had a win rate of just 9%, even runners at the front of the market on this follow up run lost 11p/£, which does suggest that previous race prices can be informative in this race grade.

Of the market leaders, favourites that were also newcomers lost 22p/£, but those having their second career run broke even at Bookmakers’ starting price and returned a 9p/£ profit on the exchanges before commission.

William Haggas and John Gosden have the best records from a decent number of bets and should not be passed over without careful consideration.

Naturally there is only a small sample of three-year-old Group races and it is distorted by less well known runners from Europe.

However in terms of ratings the BHA top-rated runners returned a profit of 1p/£ in recent seasons supporting the view that ratings are possibly the best guide to these non-handicap contests.

The results for early season all age maiden races follow a similar trend to the three-year-old equivalents, and over the last five years 75% of winners were priced at 4/1 or lower by Bookmakers and made a decent profit of 8p/£ at exchange prices, before commission, from almost 1000 bets.

Interestingly the BHA top-rated runners failed badly losing 21p/£ from 282 bets, this could be due to the relatively small sample size or under-pricing because the win rate was very similar to that found for the age restricted races.

Debut runners that were made favourite have an excellent record showing a good profit to both sets of prices, but the sample size is very small.  The same applies to favourites having their second career start which also returned a decent profit from a limited number of bets.

All age group races at this time of year are not that frequent with around thirty staged each season. 

The BHA figures are not that helpful in terms of returning a profit since following the top-rated runners would have lost 14p/£ over the last five years at Bookmakers’ starting price, but they did produce a 31% win rate, higher than for the other three race types examined. 

The market leaders also lost heavily from both sets of prices, and apart from the runners returning from a break of between 14 and 28 days showing a profit from a small sample, there is nothing of interest in the profiles of the contests. 

Later in the year there are some good results for three-year-olds and that is something I may return to in the Summer.

Winning Systems - The Early Flat Season
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