Barrier Positions

If you read or listen to any public commentary about an upcoming race, it will almost certainly involve numerous mentions of the merits of the barrier draw for individual horses.  Punters, Owners, Trainers and Jockeys… we’re all obsessed by them!

Barriers are one of those factors in racing however where the apparent logic of their merits is often misleading. For example, horses drawn inside barriers i.e. 1-3 are advantaged in a race, while those drawn wider are significantly disadvantaged, right?

The reality is that it’s not as simple as that. Barriers are a relevant factor in racing and they should receive attention in your form analysis.  It’s important though that you don’t take the simple default position of always favouring inside barriers for a horse and view outside barriers a major negative.

The following guidelines will help you to improve your analysis and decision making when it comes to influence of barrier positions.


Remove your Barrier Bias

I mentioned it above, but it’s so important that it should be repeated. You simply must overcome any bias that exists in your mind that inside barriers are a betting advantage and outside barriers a key negative.

The following table shows the results of genuine market chances up to $10 SP in Metropolitan races across Australia based on their barrier draw. Its covers racing from 1/1/2012 to 15/2/2017.

BarrierRunsWinsSR%POT%
1 to 328631517618.10%-7.30%
3 to 528305513118.10%-6.40%
5 to 726602463717.40%-7.80%
7 to 921444349216.30%-7.20%
9 to 1113358212515.90%-5.50%
12+421167216.00%1.70%

This table shows two important things;

  1. The strike rate for inside barriers is better than outside barriers. However consider that on average, the benefit of drawing 1 to 3 compared to 12+ is only an extra 2 winners in every 100 races. That’s hardly so significant that it should dominate your thinking about a race.
  2. The most important aspect from a betting perspective though isn’t strike rate, it’s how the market allows for that factor in its price for each horse and whether there is any advantage in the average betting returns. You can see from the above table that the profit on turnover percentage from inside barriers is virtually the same as middle barriers and that outside drawn barriers are much better. In fact, if you had backed every horse in a metro race up to $10 from barrier 12+ since 2011, you would have made a small profit, without doing any other analysis whatsoever.

The truth is that wide drawn horses are on average much better value in the market compared those drawn inside. Each track, race and horse is a case by case basis, but having a default bias against wide drawn horses is detrimental to the goal making profitable betting decisions.


Don’t Anchor Your Decision to the Barrier

This is an extension of the above point, but don’t ever pass on a bet solely because you believe the barrier is a disadvantage. That’s called anchoring bias, which basically means you rely too heavily on one trait of piece of information in the decision making process.

If you have other concerns about the horse as a betting prospect and more detailed analysis of the barrier in light of other contenders, speed map, track pattern etc indicates a disadvantage, then by all means you should pass. There are occasions when an inside draw should be considered a disadvantage for a horse.

However if you are otherwise confident in the bet, especially from a value perspective, then passing simply because of the barrier draw can mean you are walking away from highly profitable betting opportunities each year.  Just as importantly, the regret of missing a winner in those instances will be far greater than betting and losing (because overall you were actually confident about the horse.


The 2 Year Old / First Starter Myth

Don’t’ believe in the idea that 2 year olds or other first starters need an inside draw or are somehow disadvantaged by wide barriers because they are still learning how to race and don’t have the experience to race effectively away from the fence. The statistics on these horses by barrier draw follow a very similar pattern to those shown in the above table.


Big weight and a wide barrier

Don’t’ believe in the idea that the combination of a big weight and wide barrier draw is a disadvantage. On average it’s simply not true.


Wide barriers are better for on-pace runners

It’s a natural instinct to be very concerned about the idea of a leader or on- pace runner starting from a wide barrier. The reality is though that on-pace runners actually win more often and are more profitable from a betting perspective when drawn wide.

One of the key reasons for this is that inside drawn pace runners typically need to be bustled from the start of the race to establish and protect their position as soon as possible, or risk have another runner cross them early, eliminating the chance for them to settle on-pace.

Jockeys on horses drawn wide have the opportunity to jump, build speed naturally, assess what’s happening inside them and gradually work across the field while keeping the horse in a good rhythm. They don’t have to worry about another horse crossing them and losing their opportunity to settle up near the lead.


Embrace the negative barrier change

Many punters perceive it a big negative if a horse was drawn well last start and is drawn wide this start. If you like a horse in as a betting prospect that is faced with this scenario then you should embrace it. Wide drawn genuine chances that are switching from an inside barrier at their last start are even more underestimated by the betting market than the overall group of wide drawn runners.


Final Thoughts

One of the most useful things you can do to help increase your chances of making a profit as a punter is to eliminate any bias in your mind that inside barriers are an advantage and outside barriers are a disadvantage.

The data presented above shows us that it’s not true and there are instances depending on the track, distance, track condition, track pattern and running style of an individual horse where the exact opposite is the case.

Use the above guidelines to help keep the influence of barriers in your selection process in perspective and look to embrace scenarios where the crowd might perceive a false disadvantage. Each year it’s these bets that will often deliver your most profitable results.


Related Articles

In-Run Position

Consideration of a horse’s likely in-run position for today’s race is a critical element of good analysis and profitable ...

Read More

Influence of Early Pace

Read More

Gear Changes

Gear changes are a standard part of almost all form guides today.

Read More