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Does it matter how far a horse travels for a race?

Focusing on horses that have travelled a long distance to a racetrack piques the interest of some people while others disregard it as an ‘old chestnut’ system. If you go to the Signposts section of the Racing Post, you can see how far each horse has travelled to be on the course. For example, on October 9, 2017, at Musselburgh, we could see that Cosmopolitan Girl travelled the longest distance at 351 miles while Swiftee travelled the joint second longest distance at 235 miles with Marchingontogether.

 

There is a theory behind horses and trainers that travel long distances, especially if it is a prominent trainer’s only entry of the day. Basically, why would a trainer perform such a lengthy trip, as in the case of Cosmopolitan Girl, unless it has an excellent chance of winning? When you follow this line of thinking, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking long distance travellers represent better value than other entries.

In Cosmopolitan Girl’s case, the horse was 16/1 in a 9-horse Class 1 race. Swiftee was 14/1 in an 11-horse Class 6 race while Marchingontogether finished fifth in a six-horse race almost five lengths behind the winner!

Things to Consider With Horses Travelling Long Distances

Before delving further into the statistics, I would like to outline a few potential reasons why a trainer would bring a horse (or horses) hundreds of miles to a racetrack aside from an increased likelihood of victory. For example, they might be attempting to bring the horse’s handicap down. It is also possible that:

  • The horse’s owners are local to the course and just happen to be entertaining guests that day.
  • Trainers might stable overnight for meetings that are 2+ days long.
  • Some trainers run from ‘satellite’ yards so the Signposts information might not even be correct.

You can pretty much discount data from before 2007 as this was when the EU brought in new regulations which ordered livestock vehicles and horseboxes to have air conditioning and other items when travelling more than 40 miles. In other words, horses that travel hundreds of miles a day do so in relative comfort. In the past, a horse might have underperformed due to poor travelling conditions.

Distance Travelled Stats

Now that I’ve dispensed with the preamble let’s take a look at how horses fare overall in terms of distance travelled. I looked at all races in the UK since the start of 2015 and divided things into segments.

Miles Travelled Bets Wins Strike Rate ROI (BF)
1-99 200557 20542 10.24% -12.94%
100-199 103210 11705 11.34% -7.2%
200-299 17533 2234 12.74% -9.01%
300+ 2205 390 17.69% 4.82%

It appears as if there is some merit in the ‘old chestnut’ after all! The win percentage goes up the further a horse travels, and by focusing solely on horses that have travelled 300+ miles, your ROI is almost 5%! I went back as far as 2012, and the result is a profit of 3.62% with a strike rate of 17.49% from 4,288 bets in 2,906 races.

It is interesting to note that if you look at non-favourites only, your ROI since 2012 would be 6.39% with a strike rate of 11.62%.

What I wanted to find out was whether there was a big difference between handicap and non-handicap events regarding horses that travelled 300+ miles. I suspected there was, but the results since 2012 shocked me:

Race Type Bets  Wins Strike Rate ROI (BF)
Handicap 2814 391 13.89% -5.31%
Non-Handicap 1474 359 24.36% 20.66%

It is an enormous difference; focusing on non-handicap races since 2012 would reward you with a 20% ROI and an excellent strike rate of over 24%. What’s more, your ROI would be no worse than 19.99% in each of the last three years with non-handicap races.

From an ROI perspective, focusing on non-favorites is even better as your profit increases to over 32%, but unsurprisingly, the strike rate falls to 14.41%. This is, of course, a clear sign that these horses are winning at long odds.

If you prefer slow and steady profit, focus on non-favorites between odds of 2/1 and 4/1 (3.00 and 5.00) on Betfair. These horses have a 34% win rate for an ROI of almost 28% since 2012.

The outcome in handicap races gives more credence to the notion that trainers have identified the race as an ideal opportunity to get a horse’s handicap mark down.

Final Words

What the statistics above show is that far from discounting horses that have travelled a long way, you should keep a closer eye on them. This is especially the case in non-handicap races where horses have travelled over 300 miles.

When it comes to trying to create a winning system based on how far a horse has travelled, you must follow the same rules as always. A horse isn’t a good or bad bet just because it has travelled 300+ miles, but further research may alert you to some interesting things.

Is the horse potentially travelling off an artificially low mark?

Does it perform well on the course/over the distance/on the ground etc.?

Does the trainer have a reasonable strike rate with horses over long distances?

While non-favorites seem to have a very good record in non-handicap races when they travel 300+ miles, it is still important to note that between 80 and 85% of horses in the top 5 of the betting market win the race. You’ll notice that non-favorites between 3.00 and 5.00 on Betfair perform well; that’s because the market suggests they have a chance.

Going back to the beginning, Cosmopolitan Girl was an outsider for a very good reason; she was unlikely to win! In what was a Class 1 race, she had never won above Class 4 and in the end, finished fifth, well behind the leader. In other words, use distance travelled to flag up interesting contenders but don’t rely solely on it as a means of betting!

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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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