Profiting from Non-Runners
Many years ago I used to attend Stratford races occasionally, often accompanied by a group of friends who were all punters. On one particular occasion our pre-races discussion (we always arrived early in order to avoid the traffic) centred on one particular handicap chaser due to run much later in the afternoon. Strangely, we all thought it stood an outstanding chance and since we were all in agreement, a rare occurrence, we decided the runner was worth a decent bet.
After a couple of races on what was a bitterly cold winter’s day, we decided to warm up in the bar with a cup of tea, as we often did. Just as we were queuing the public address system crackled into life and informed us that the chaser we all wanted to back was declared a non-runner.
One of our group was quick to check the racing paper he always carried, then announced that the horse in question was also declared the following day. His comment: “if he does run tomorrow then he’ll win”, has stayed with ever since mainly because the horse did run the following day and did win with some ease.
I did not have the same degree of confidence as my fellow punter, for a range of reasons, the main one being that a runner apparently unfit to race today would surely not be fit to race the following day.
However, this was before explanations for withdrawal were published, and it was explained to me that, for this particular trainer, this switch from running in one race to another would probably be due to him believing that horse had a better chance in the race the following day rather than any illness afflicting the horse.
Since then the number of non-runners has multiplied significantly and now few flat races appear to be unaffected. “Self Certificate” along with “Unsuitable ground” seem to be the most common reasons, but I am sure these mask many of the real reasons such as a poor draw or stronger than anticipated opposition.
Consequently, I thought this may be a good area for research. Unfortunately, I do not hold the relevant data, however a good friend and racing author, Mark Littlewood, who blogs was able to supply information relating to non-runners for the past few seasons, specifically those horses which were declared to run, were withdrawn, then ran within the next four days.
The sample size is not that large at 1,230 runners, which covers both flat and jumps racing. However, the profit and loss figures are surprising and are worth investigating.
Coincidentally, for both codes (flat and jumps) the win rate is 15%. But in terms of profit, the flat runners lost just 2p/£ at Bookmakers’ starting price, whereas the jumpers lost 19p/£. The equivalent figures based on exchange prices are +33p/£ for flat races, and -4p/£ for jumps, clearly illustrating once again that betting near to the off time with Bookmakers should not, under any circumstances, be considered.
Not surprisingly, the majority of horses, 886 in fact, were racing on the flat, with over 300 running on the all weather after their withdrawal. These 300 did return a good profit of 42p/£ at exchange prices, but this was assisted by three long priced winners.
For the flat runners, the highest number ran in maiden races and although these made a huge profit at exchange prices this is reliant on a couple of big prices which means it is a particularly unreliable statistic.
Flat handicap races accounted for 272 of the qualifiers, and these made a profit of 38p/£ at Bookmakers’ starting price and 65p/£ on the exchanges. Whilst there were a few long shots to inflate the profit, these do look more reliable with the 135 horses priced at up to 10/1 on the Boards making a very decent profit.
Whilst the profit is relatively evenly distributed across the three gender classifications (colts, fillies, and geldings) for flat runners, and is remarkably similar when comparing two-year-old runners to non-juveniles, an analysis by race distance is intriguing.
Almost 260 horses raced in six furlong races within four days after being withdrawn, and whilst these produced a good profit of 10p/£ at exchange prices they would have returned a heavy loss to SP punters and had just a 9% win rate.
This compares to a 21% win rate for the 160 horses which ran over the minimum trip and generated a 27p/£ profit on the exchanges. The high win rate is approximately double the figure that would be expected from a random sample of runners, and is consistent across the handicap/non-handicap categories.
In fact, seven-furlong handicap runners also have a high win rate and profit, so I am inclined to think the draw is having an influence, but the low success rate for six-furlong races does spoil this theory to a certain extent.
Following horses which won or made the runner-up spot on their last run before being withdrawn would have cost money, but the other finishing positions all proved profitable and this includes horses that were withdrawn on their first career start.
My betting colleague’s confidence in the withdrawn handicap chaser was based on anecdotal evidence concerning the trainer, and it is not supported by the latest data. In fact, the 34 qualifiers in handicap chases made a 59p/£ loss. The only jumps race grade to produce a profit was NH Flat races and given the small sample size, just 70, and price distribution, this is not likely to be repeated over the long term.
Essentially, monitoring withdrawn horses on their next start could prove to be very profitable, especially if the analysis includes references to the reasons for withdrawal as well as the trainers involved. It is certainly an area I am determined to research in more detail from now on.