In Front The Place To Be?

December 9th, 2018

Being on the front end clearly has its advantages but given the layout of some courses, the demographic of horses that race there and the general field size the course usually attracts; some venues have a distinct advantage for those who like to be out the front. On the other hand, being a target for those behind to aim at can make it a disadvantage and we will even see a discrepancy between handicap chase and hurdle contests at the same venue!

In general handicap hurdles of those who were the front runner converted 13.8%, those who were prominent went in 10.8% and held up, 7.5%.  Handicap chases went to those who led at over one in five (22%), when racing prominently; 13.6%, and those held up consistent with hurdles at 7.5%.

Just in case you ask why this doesn’t add to 100%, of course there are obviously multiple runners who occupy the same position in a race, there is only one or two horses who can lead a race while there is no real min/max limit to the other racing positions and it is fair to say that taking leaders alone is probably a more reflective figure than the other two pace abbreviations for purposes of this article.

Firstly, note that all the courses were filtered by Hurdle or Chase, Pace rating Rank of 1, Pace Rating of 8 or higher, from 2013 onwards, ran in a field of 5 or more runners and which was less than 150 days ago unless otherwise stated.

Bangor Handicap Hurdles


While the venue doesn’t have short straights, it does have long tightening bends which gives the horse on the inside (assuming every front runner wants the rail) an advantage. Hurdles on the inside and Chase circuit on the outside means it is tighter.

The back straight is also slightly downhill in places which means that those in front are less susceptible to having a move made on them and have that chance for a breather before turning again. A number of obstacles are closely followed by a turn so a good jump should ensure the advantage is maintained. And finally the run in from the last to the line is short at less than 200 yards.

Without additional filters to those mentioned in the introduction it reads:

Removing DSLR filter from the <150 applied we see that those who have has a 3 month plus layoff are at a disadvantage only 1/21

Race fitness and sustaining a gallop out front appears to have a significant part to play across tracks.

Also while those who didn’t lead last time have thrown up some long odds winners, the trend is far more significant (as seen by Actual/Expected and the Chi Score) with those who led last time.


Sedgefield Handicap Hurdle


Very sharp turns on this rectangular circuit makes passing on the outside of a bend more difficult, coupled with that they go wide regularly to avoid the inside track’s chase fences and return to the rail.
The back and home straights are downhill so there is opportunity to fill the lungs before a drive for home. Also many of the starting points (2m1f, 2m5f and 3m3f) are at downhill points on the track allowing those who seek to steal a few lengths to get rolling early.

With no additional filters the record stands as:


And as with the previous system this also shows a stronger trend to those who have built up their Pace Rating by leading rather than a series of prominent runs.



The unusual thing that the data conveys for the Esher venue is that being a habitual front runner is a disadvantage over hurdles and an advantage over fences.

Although Totterdown won from the front there last month in a handicap hurdle and those that lead win their fair share (12%). Those who come into the race as top pace rated are not the ones converting with these front running performances

All Handicap Hurdles since 2013 (no filter)


Handicap Hurdles (standard filters of article): -


Handicap Chases

Turning to look at the larger obstacle contests at Sandown we see that in Handicap Chases (no filters) being in the lead is a huge advantage winning nearly two times more frequently than expected:

Top Pace Rated (standard filters):


More difficult to pinpoint in comparison to other tracks. Firstly galloping tracks generally do not suit front runners as much as sharper ones.

As for the discrepancy of the two courses, the chase track which isn’t entirely shared (hurdles cut some corners where the chase goes wide around), has a big jumping test with the railway fences at a crucial time of the race and those trying to close have to contend with trying to make ground there and avoid the wayward jumps of rivals. No such problems exist for those in the lead at that point.

It is anecdotal but could even be as simple as having a better view of the fences that come thick and fast.

After that trio of obstacles are complete the leader has the chance to fill the lungs with a couple of furlongs run through bends before the pond fence and the stiff run in.

Another small thing but could play a part in the large sample: after the last fence there is a very wide track there but if the horse does drift it is towards the right (inside) and is harder to be passed on the outside as opposed to if a hurdler does the same he drifts left off to the outside and forfeits more ground.

Also in the hurdle races given Sandown is a Grade 1 venue the races are usually highly competitive with quality and numbers and it is easier to lead a single figure field than a large one; that may be more a contributory factor than anything specific in the track layout.

This can be gleaned from the data as you see only 30/111 of those who top pace rated entering the contest could actually get and keep a lead for a significant portion of the race.


Aintree Handicap Hurdles


Finally, we move to one of the premier venues for NH racing and this flat smooth oval like circuit where the hurdles come on the straight part of the course appears to the eye to offer no advantage regarding racing position and the data bears that out with all actual and expected coming in very close together.

Also, the field size plays a part with three quarters of handicap hurdle contests run at Aintree having a field of 10 or more.

All Handicap Hurdles (unfiltered)

But applying the same filters as the introduction outlines (w/o DSLR) the record is a dismal 2% for top pace rated horses:


In conclusion, there are useful insights to be gained from these track pace biases for win, lay or trading purposes, you can try on your own software to delve deeper into the information presented and I would look forward to hearing any feedback. This is a theme I would like to revisit in a future article as there are a handful of other tracks that are worth deeper investigation.

By Conrad Clancy (A Proform Member)