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In the Long Run – Is Stamina a Defining Factor for Longer Races?

The weather is cold and wet which means one thing: The National Hunt season is upon us! The hurdles and fences are out, the going is sometimes Heavy, and the races are longer with every mistake capable of taking a horse out of a race. After backing a horse to win a 3m 4f Chase race on Heavy ground, your heart is in your mouth as it remains clear of the field, but stumbles over the second last. Will the horse fall at the final obstacle?

Although National Hunt races can be as short as two miles, there are a lot of races that take place over three miles or more. These events are tests of stamina on any ground, so one would expect stamina to 100% be a defining factor in National Hunt races. 

As a result, one would imagine that winners over today’s distance or longer are ideal candidates when up against rivals yet to score over the trip. Stayers are capable of taking the scalps of classy horses moving up in distance, but what does backing stamina horses do for your bank balance? In this article, all data comes from the beginning of 2014 in all UK National Hunt races.

Are Stayers Miles Better?

Overall, horses with a previous win in an NH race between 2 and 3 miles win 36.68% of races. The problem here is that over the last five years, there has been an average of 2.4 such horses per race. Fortunately, it is easy to find data which shows us the performance of distance winners in races where they are the sole distance winner.

Bets Wins Strike Rate ROI (BF)
3590 811 22.59% -0.43%

It’s a decent outcome but this article is about stamina, and NH races in the 2-3 miles range aren’t always considered adequate tests.  

Steeplechase races, better known as Chase events, provide an even sterner test than their Hurdle counterparts because they involve taller and thicker fences. While a horse can almost run through a Hurdle, trying to do so with a fence will result in a fall most of the time. 

When I focused on Chase races only, a profit became visible:

Bets Wins Strike Rate ROI (BF)
1331 287 21.56% 5.43%

The strike rate is low, but you would have earned a Betfair profit in each of the last four years. Although there is profit to be had in Handicap races, Non-Handicap events seem better on paper with a 30%-win rate and a profit of 10%. However, the profit is not as stable with losses in three of the last five years.

Upping the Distance

As the goal of the piece is to see how horses with excellent stamina fare, I am now going to focus on NH races of 3 miles and above. Overall, fewer than 30% of races are won by horses with a previous win over the distance. Here’s what happens when we focus on races where a horse is the sole distance winner:

Bets Wins Strike Rate ROI (BF)
1000 181 18.1% -10.1%

It is a pretty grim tale. Even when you focus on races where the Going is Heavy, Slow, or Soft, and the horse has at least one win with the same Going, you end up with a 5% loss. It doesn’t get much better when we focus on the hallowed Chase races:

Bets Wins Strike Rate ROI (BF)
616 123 19.97% -9.12%

Overall, there is little difference between Handicap and Non-Handicap races as both turn a pretty severe loss. 

At this stage, I decided to go in a different direction and focus on horses with wins over a distance greater than the upcoming race. 29% of these horses won the race, but once again, there are a lot of instances where a race would have two or more candidates. 

With nothing interesting developing there, the next step was to look at horses who had never won over today’s distance or a distance greater than what it was set to run in. 66% of these horses won the race, but each race had an average of almost six runners that met the criteria!

At this juncture, it was worth seeing if class would tell and checked out the performance of favourites with no wins at today’s distance or above in NH races of at least three miles.

Bets Wins Strike Rate ROI (BF)
2133 669 31.36% -7.13%

Another dead end!

Conclusion & Picking NH Winners 

From my research, I have to say there is no conclusive evidence that horses with wins at, or above, the upcoming race’s distance are worth looking at in National Hunt races of 3+ miles. Oddly enough, there IS evidence that distance winners in Chase events of less than three miles are worth consideration, especially in Handicap events.

If you decide to focus on longer Chase races, your best bet is to look to eliminate non-contenders immediately. Here’s a helpful statistic for you: over 91% of Non-Handicap winners in all National Hunt races of 3+ miles are in the top five of the betting market. By their nature, Handicap races are more competitive, and the Top 5-win rate falls to 80%.

If you’re reluctant to eliminate horses based on odds alone, you should strive to remove horses who have shown throughout their career that they can’t handle the conditions. For instance, let’s say a horse has 0 wins in 7 races in Class 2 Handicap Chase races over 3+ miles and has failed to place in most, if not all of these runs. It is a safe bet that the horse isn’t going to produce a miraculous performance (although it does happen very rarely) unless it did not run in its ideal conditions in other races.

Ultimately, having the ability to ‘stay’ isn’t nearly enough in horse racing. While it can make the difference on a muddy day, the data shows that while Stamina IS important, it is NOT the defining factor. 

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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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