Misleading Stats (Part 1)

As a punter it’s important to periodically reflect on how you make your betting decisions, what factors are influencing you the most and whether your belief in those factors is actually helping you to maximise your betting profits.

One area that is worth analysing closely is the value you attach to form guide statistics.

It’s easy to fall into the habit of subconsciously attaching value to certain statistics in a horse’s form and making judgements that seem logical, but are in fact greatly limiting your profit potential.

For example, most punters instinctively like horses that:

  • Aren’t first up
  • Come off a good last start run
  • Have drawn a good (inside) barrier
  • Have a good win strike rate
  • Have proven they can win at the distance
  • Have proven they can win at the track
  • Have proven they can win in the track condition

… and the list goes on. The more of these traits a horse has, the better it must be as a betting prospect, right?

The less it has, then our logic says the more of a risk it becomes, even to the point that it must be a poor bet.

There’s no doubt that many of these factors are important. Horses in good form win most races. Horse’s that can’t run the distance or lack race fitness or can’t handle the track condition won’t win.

Howeverthe tendency to make these judgements by simply referring to numbers in the form guide can be very misleading and will greatly limit your potential as a punter!

In this article we will explore a few key form guide statistics and show how the facts are often quite different to the belief we have in them.

All of the data shown below is based genuine chances up to $10 SP in the betting market (excluding first starters), in races held on Metropolitan tracks across Australia from 1 Jan 2013 to 10 Feb 2018 (unless otherwise noted.)

Previous Wins at the Distance

It’s natural to take some confidence out of a horse’s proven past ability to win at the distance.

The table below breaks down our sample group of horses based on their previous record at the distance of the upcoming race.

Distance Form Runs Wins SR% POT%
Never won at Distance
0 Starts – 0 Wins 23395 4270 18.3$ -7.0%
1 Start – 0 Wins 11970 2107 17.6% -5.8%
2 Starts – 0 Wins 6130 1016 16.6% -5.9%
3+ Starts – 0 Wins 7212 1144 15.9% -3.3%
Previous Wins at Distance
1 Start – 1 Win 4798 1016 21.2% -5.5%
2 Starts – 1 or 2 Wins 5288 1010 19.1% -6.6%
3+ Starts 1 or 2 Wins 18668 3061 16.4% -6.4%
3+ Starts – 3+ Wins 6414 1055 16.4% -11.6%

As you can see, there is very little difference in the betting profitability of horses across the categories shown.

In fact, the group with the best return are those horses that have had 3+ previous starts at the distance for zero wins. They’ve returned just a -3.3% loss to the punter against the overall markets average of -6.6%

The least profitable group are those that have had 3+ starts at the distance and won 3 more races. Their return of -11.4% profit on turnover is a clear sign that the market has overvalued the important of that statistic.

It might seem very appealing that a horse has had 6 past runs at the distance for 3 wins, but history shows that statistic isn’t a sign of a more profitable betting prospect at all, one average it’s actually the opposite.

If anything, it means you need to be more certain about other traits of the horse helping to present it as a value prospect. It’s great record at the distance is so obvious to the market that it tends to overestimate the chance of those horses compared to the average.

If we look at previous distance form in the simplest terms:

Distance Form Runs Wins SR% POT%
Never won at distance 48707 8537 17.5% -6.1%
Has won at distance 35168 6142 17.5% -7.2%

Remember that these stats exclude first starters. What the data shows is that the strike rate of genuine chances that have never won at the distance is exactly the same as horses that have, with a slightly superior betting return.

The ability to run the distance of a race is important, but you shouldn’t just that by form guide statistics. If you have reason to doubt a horse’s ability to run the trip then by all means you should back that judgement.

If there is no solid evidence to say the horse is a risk, then you shouldn’t attach any negative value at all to that uncertainty. If you like everything else about the horse as a betting prospect then embrace that lack of distance form in the horse’s history, it’s likely to be helping you to gain a little bit of extra betting value.

Previous Wins at the Track

A previous good record at the track for a hose can be a sign that it has a liking for the layout (i.e. tight turns, wide turns, short straight, long straight etc.), the surface characteristics or something else intangible. It could also be complete coincidence and not reflective of anything special at all.

There is no doubt that over history there have been many track specialists. Chief De Beers is always one that stands out in my mind from the mid to late 1990’s. He had 20 career wins and they all came at Doomben, including two G1 Doomben 10,000 wins (from a total of 38 starts at the track). He raced across the road at Eagle Farm nine times and never won. In fact, he never won a race at any other track.

Dandy Kid won 15 races at Moonee Valley (more than any other horse) from 52 starts and just 4 races elsewhere from 34 starts.

However, genuine track specialists are a rarity (at least on turf) and the value of taking notice of previous wins at a track as expressed in form guide statistics is minimal at best.

Track Form Runs Wins SR% POT%
Never won at the track
0 Starts – 0 Wins 24643 4325 17.6% -7.6%
1 Start – 0 Wins 13368 2214 16.6% -9.5%
2 Starts – 0 Wins 7192 1289 17.9% -0.3%
3+ Starts – 0 Wins 10764 1668 15.5% -5.4%
Previous wins at the track
1 Start – 1 Win 3138 697 22.2% -8.3%
2 Starts – 1 or 2 Wins 3528 732 20.7% -5.7%
3+ Starts 1 or 2 Wins 16271 2835 17.4% -5.2%
3+ Starts – 3+ Wins 4971 919 18.5% -7.6%

You can see there is very little difference between the categories shown in this table. What is notable is that horses with 2 starts or more for zero wins provide better than the average return, while horses with 3+ starts for 3 or more wins have provided just below average returns.

On the whole I wouldn’t say there is much in the stats about the horses record at a track, one way or another.

It can certainly be different if you are analysing a horse’s past ratings and see a consistent pattern of higher ratings at a track (even if not winning) or if there is something about a horse’s way of racing that you think is suited to a particular track, but don’t lets the raw statistics influence your betting decisions at all.

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