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Bad Run or Bad Runner? Should You Back Horses That Failed to Finish Last Time Out in National Hunt Races?

For some punters, the form is everything which means dismissing a horse if it had a poor race last time out. Over the last year, I have analysed a lot of major races and found that most winners performed well in their previous race. However, this may only hold true for races at the highest level. 

In lower grade races, far too much emphasis is placed on a horse’s most recent race. There are many occasions where a horse has a legitimate reason for underperforming. When it comes to National Hunt races, it is only natural to get jittery about a horse that didn’t even finish its last race. Therefore, when you see letters such as ‘U’ (unseated rider), ‘F’ (fell), or (P) (Pulled Up) beside a horse’s last race, your initial instinct may be to swerve it.

Wait! Don’t be too keen to dismiss these seemingly forlorn runners. In this article, I will try to determine if there are instances where a horse that failed to finish its last NH race becomes a profitable selection. As usual, all data comes from the beginning of 2014 in UK races unless otherwise stated.

Falling Down

The logical place to start is by checking out the overall performances of horses that failed to finish their previous NH race. It could be because the horse fell, was brought down, disqualified, pulled up, or for a myriad of other reasons.

Bets Wins Strike Rate  ROI (BF)
18893 1548 8.19% -9%

It is a very poor start with a terrible strike rate and a loss of 9%. At this juncture, it is best to eliminate horses that are likely to be outclassed and stick to horses with a Betfair SP of 21.00 (20/1). Here’s what happens when you remove perceived ‘no-hopers’ from the equation.

Bets Wins Strike Rate  ROI (BF)
10248 1386 13.52% -4.83%

Predictably, the strike rate increases. Better still, the loss is reduced by almost half, so we have a decent starting point. When I decided to differentiate between Chase and Hurdle races, there was a noticeable difference.

NH Type Bets Wins Strike Rate ROI (BF)
Chase 6060 856 14.13% -0.6%
Hurdle 4139 522 12.61% -11.18%

Perhaps it is not such a major surprise. After all, Chase races involve fences at a minimum height of 4.5 feet while hurdles have a maximum height of 3.5 feet. Hurdles offer more ‘give,’ and it is much easier to fall in a Chase race than its Hurdle equivalent. Therefore, even quality horses can make mistakes in a Chase race while it is far less likely in a Hurdles event. 

You also won’t be surprised to learn that over 90% of the horses in the Chase event had run in a Chase in their previous race while fewer than 600 of the 6060 had failed to complete a Hurdles race.

If you remember, in the opening paragraph I opined that it was probably a good idea to focus on horses in lower grade events. However, when I broke down the Chase races into classes, I found that horses in Class 2 events performed well, albeit with a relatively small sample size. Horses in Class 6 races fared poorly, but Class 4 entries would also earn you profit:

Bets Wins Strike Rate  ROI (BF)
2397 359 14.98% 3.22%

As you can see, the strike rate creeps up towards the 15% barrier, and you finally earn a profit of over 3% from a decent sample size. However, horses in these Class 4 events have performed badly in 2018 with a loss of 15% to date, and most of the profit was achieved in 2014. 

Going Further Back

Returning to our Chase horses across all Classes, it would make sense to look back a little further and check out the horse’s second last race before the upcoming event. Since it failed to finish the last race, perhaps it would fare better if it exhibited some form? Not so. 

Here is how horses in Chase races who failed to finish their last race and did not place in their second last race performed:

Bets Wins Strike Rate  ROI (BF)
3908 559 14.3% 5.53%

Incredibly, these seemingly ‘out of form’ horses don’t do particularly badly. Moreover, 2018 is the first year since 2013 where you would make a loss backing such horses. Interestingly, these horses also prefer larger fields. Here’s what happens when you focus on races with 11+ runners:

Bets Wins Strike Rate  ROI (BF)
660 84 12.73% 23.88%

The strike rate falls a little but the overall profit is good, and once again, only 2018 has seen a loss in the last five years. From 2014-2017, you would earn a minimum of 13% profit. If you slash the odds and only look at horses with a maximum Betfair SP of 11.00 (10/1), the picture gets even rosier:

Bets Wins Strike Rate  ROI (BF)
255 51 20% 43.26%

The strike rate enters reasonable territory at 20% and in 2018 to date, you would be in profit to the tune of 64%. On the downside, there are usually no more than 50 such opportunities a year.

Final Thoughts

To be sure, the list of criteria that leads to a profit is long and extremely confusing. But at least it means that you shouldn’t completely ignore horses that did not finish their last National Hunt race. Indeed, it is best to look at horses that also failed to place in their second last race. 

Therefore, if you are interested in the list of things to look for to achieve the 43% profit figure outlined in the last table, look at the following:

  • National Hunt races in the UK.
  • 11-40 runners
  • Chase
  • Betfair SP odds of between 1.01 and 11.00
  • Horses that did not finish their last NH race.
  • Horses that also did not place in their second last race.

I realise that it is probably too long a list for some, but it could be a useful micro-system to add to a few others.

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Patrick Lynch

Patrick graduated from the National University of Ireland, Galway with an MA in Literature and Publishing but decided he would rather have the freedom of a freelance writer than be stuck in a publishing house all day. He has enjoyed this freedom since 2009 and has written thousands of articles on a variety of topics but sports betting is his passion. While his specialty is finding mismatches in obscure football leagues, he also likes to use his research skills to provide punters with detailed winning strategies in horse racing. You can check out his personal blog on www.lynchthewriter.com or Twitter @pl1982 where he writes content to help small businesses achieve success.

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