How much do racehorses improve from debut?
Several years back I asked the question, ‘how much do a certain trainers improve their horses from their debut run’? Then once armed with this information, could I find an edge that would allow me to beat the market?
What I found was a marked difference in the average amount of improvement for each individual trainer’s horses. It highlighted a number trainers whose horses were often underestimated and under bet in the market and gave me an advantage.
- Three seasons data from 2011 -14
- I took the rating of all two year olds on their debut. Then their rating they achieved on the next outing and noted the difference.
- I grouped the horses by individual trainer and calculated an average improvement from run one to run two.
- I calculated the number of horses by trainer whose form improved versus those who regressed. This gave me a percentage of each trainers horses who progressed from debut.
How much do horses improve from debut run – results
Firstly it’s worth saying that I purely looked at the rating achieved on debut and second run. No other influences were considered.
I didn’t factor for things like the varying time between debut and second run. You would expect that the longer the time between runs the greater the amount of improvement? Particularly as we’re dealing with two-year-old racehorses who are in a phase of rapid growth and strengthening.
Improvement from debut to second run
|Trainer||Average improvement (lbs) from debut to second run||% of horses that improved from debut to second run||Sample size|
What to take from these results?
To start with, from the complete sample it showed that just over 65% of all two year olds improved from debut to second run. Nothing too surprising there, especially considering they are young horses and both physically and mentally immature. I think for me it just sets a red flag for when your thinking about betting on a two year old maidens. Expect a few dramatic and surprise improvers.
What really interested me was the difference between the amount of improvement for different trainers. Henry Candy horses on average progress 11 lbs, whereas Brian Meehan’s just over 2 lbs. A significant difference and something you can use to your advantage when betting.
Why might there be a difference from trainer to trainer?
Is the sample size big enough? Were the ratings I used accurate? Are there other factors at play that have a big influence on to results? Certainly time between debut and second run could be highly significant.
Putting these concerns aside I think the reason for the differences are:
- the type of horse a trainer typically gets
- the individual training methods
Expanding on those two thoughts little. If a trainer typically gets a lot of sprint bred more precocious types, then they are more likely to be quite forward and ready on debut.
At the other end of the scale, they may typically train a lot of horses who have middle distance pedigrees. These horses can be quite immature both mentally and physically and be ‘less ready’ on debut and make more progress subsequently.
Accepting all of the above, the striking thing is some trainers horses improve significantly more from debut than others. I think the reasons for improvement are two-fold. Improvements both physically and mentally. Some trainers have their horses more further advanced for their debut in both aspects than others.
My personal preference is to look out for the trainers near the top of the table who tend to bring their horses along steadily, often when they step up to a more suitable trip. I tend to find spotting these trends are easier and also the slower maturing type of horse has more unknown upside to its performance. Always a plus in betting is knowing they could be a good degree better than the hand they have up till now shown.
Just to be clear, I am not suggesting that any of these horses lack fitness and are not doing their best at all times. Different training methods, equates to different outputs.
How to employ this info into profitable betting?
As a simplistic example, let’s assume two horses met on debut and meet again on their second run.
On the debut, they finished upsides each other and have both been rated 50. Everything else aside, you’d expect them to be closely matched in the betting for the second race.
One is trained by Henry Candy, the other by Brian Meehan. Applying to both horses ratings the average improvement from debut to second run for these two trainers, +11 and +2 respectively. I’d be expecting the Henry Candy runner to come out on top this time. If you’re getting anywhere near even money then you’d have a value bet.
Another angle is to take those trainers at the top of the improvement list and look to lay their horses on debut. I found there were some significant drifters and opportunities to trade. Laying on the exchanges in the morning and trading out by backing just before the off.
How can we further refine this approach?
Accepting the table above is an average improvement of horses by trainer, what other factors could we overlay that could advance our betting advantage. By no means an exhaustive list but:
- visual observation of the debut run
Race reading, or visual observation is subjective, Race replays are now available to everyone and free on a multitude of platforms. My observation is a lot of Andrew Balding horse’s show signs of mental immaturity on their debut, more so than most other trainers. Read the Racing Post comments for his debutants, ‘slowly away, outpaced, ridden along, late headway’ are common.
With this additional visual information, do you think you could identify which of his horse’s are likely to improve more than his average? I’d say yes.
Overlaying pedigree onto the average improvement. It is of particular interest as a progeny steps up in trip to possible optimum distances.
Sir Mark Prescott is renowned for doing this. Getting stoutly bred types handicapped over distances short of their optimum and then seeing improvement when they step up to a distance they were bred for.
For years, trying to read Mark Johnston’s horse’s has frustrated me. I don’t believe the comments in the media along the lines of his horses are tougher, harder to pass or ‘always trying’ more than any other trainers horses are always trying. I’ve seen no evidence to back this up.
One thing he has done well in recent years is train horses with a more middle distance pedigree, over distances short of their optimum. As always he campaigns them a lot, they run often. He isn’t afraid to run his stoutly bred horses as two year olds over trips that are likely to be inadequate. In their three year old season, when they step up in distance the marked improvement comes.
Will these stamp of horses outperform his average improvement number when stepped up in trip from their debut run. Again, I’d say yes.
Being upfront about this!
A word of warning, While I’m happy to share and provoke some thought, I completed the analysis for 40 plus trainers and I’ve only shared 5 with you here. This is still an angle I bet into so I don’t need to be giving it away unnecessarily.
The numbers I’ve shared with you above are dating back to the 2011 -14. Things have changed, trainers methods, the type of stock trainers take in, some trainers are no longer active and new trainers have stepped in. More the point I’m trying to make is, there are profitable angles aplenty out there, you must put in the graft to find them.
If you wanted to complete your own up to date analysis, numbers are readily available. I’d recommend somewhere like the Racing Post that have ratings that are free and available for every horse’s run.
Different trainers improve their horses at differing rates from debut to second run. With this knowledge there are opportunities that you can exploit to your advantage in the betting markets. You can further enhance this strategy by overlaying other factors onto these improvement numbers and give yourself more profitable betting angles.