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Sprinters on the Rail – Should You Back Horses Drawn Low in Short Races?

Stalls were first introduced in the United Kingdom in 1965 for Flat races. For decades, stall #1 was always furthest to the left from a jockey’s perspective. For left-handed courses, it meant #1 was by the rail while on right-handed courses, #1 was drawn widest. The BHA changed everything, however, and since March 30, 2011, the #1 stall is the nearest to the rail on every course.

It made a considerable change in the draw bias at racecourses such as Bath, Beverley, Goodwood, Lingfield, and a few others, especially in short races. Horses drawn by the rail should have a significant advantage over ‘high drawn’ horses in short races where there is a bend on the track. This is because a horse in stall #9, for example, must cover more distance than the horse in stall #1.

Meanwhile, at courses such as Ascot where straight races are more common, the bias depends on the condition of the ground since high drawn horses don’t need to cover more ground than horses nearest the rail. However, horses on the rail can run straighter which is extremely important near the finish when the runners start to fatigue. You would expect experienced punters and bookmakers to know this; so, is there any profit to be made from focusing on rail runners in sprint races?

The Racecourses

It’s clear that the most likely advantage will come from rail runners in sprint races on tracks with a bend. I have decided to look at races from 5f-6f and 6.5f-7f for an idea of whether an ultra-short distance helps runners. I will also focus on stalls 1, 2 and 3, and compare their performances in all races with events where there are 1-10 runners. All data is from the beginning of 2014. 

Catterick

This is a sharp left-handed course with a slight left-hand bend which is supposed to favour horses drawn near the rail. 

5f-6f All Races

Stall Bets Wins Strike Rate  ROI (BF)
1 219 30 13.7% -24.12%
2 218 25 11.47% -20.53%
3 213 20 9.39% -51.32%

5f-6f: 1-10 Runners

Stall Bets Wins Strike Rate  ROI (BF)
1 165 25 15.15% -34.62%
2 159 24 15.09% -10.2%
3 158 16 10.13% -48.67%

There is nothing to recommend rail runners at Catterick over short trips. Indeed, you are better off laying them most of the time. 

6.5-7f All Races

Stall Bets Wins Strike Rate  ROI (BF)
1 138 12 8.7% -39.76%
2 146 21 14.38% -22.9%
3 148 17 11.49% -34.22%

6.5-7f: 1-10 Runners 

Stall Bets Wins Strike Rate  ROI (BF)
1 86 7 8.14% -53.51%
2 91 14 15.38% -21.46%
3 92 11 11.96% -52.51%

Once again, it is a complete failure. It seems as if the notion that Catterick favours an inside draw persists. The strike rates are low, but the ROI is genuinely hopeless which suggests that the winners you pick are fairly short priced. 

Chester

This tight left-handed course is one of the best-known examples of draw bias in the United Kingdom. It is the oldest and smallest British course, and in short races, it is imperative for horses to make their way to the front at the earliest opportunity. Let’s see if the perceived bias translates into profit.

5f-6f All Races

Stall Bets Wins Strike Rate  ROI (BF)
1 136 19 13.97% -37.33%
2 135 32 23.7% 18.44%
3 141 23 16.31% 3.58%

Horses in stall 2 have a high strike rate overall which translates into decent profit. 

5f-6f: 1-10 Runners

Stall Bets Wins Strike Rate  ROI (BF)
1 105 15 14.29% -46.31%
2 105 25 23.81% 20.41%
3 110 19 17.27% 8.37%

Avoid horses in stall #1 but pay close attention to entries drawn in stall #2 at Chester over short races. 

6.5-7f 2 yards All Races

Stall Bets Wins Strike Rate  ROI (BF)
1 69 19 27.54% 50.29%
2 62 8 12.9% -33.47%
3 65 9 13.85% -16.28%

Rail runners have a huge advantage in 7f races at Chester with an incredible strike rate and excellent profit. The bookmakers may know about the bias, but you can still profit. 

6.5-7f 2 yards: 1-10 Runners 

Stall Bets Wins Strike Rate  ROI (BF)
1 61 18 29.51% 62.45%
2 53 6 11.32% -39.66%
3 56 9 16.07% -2.82%

As you can plainly see, there are few races with big fields at Chester. It is well worth waiting for 7f races with small fields because the horse in stall #1 has a big chance unless it is a complete no-hoper. 2017 is the only bad year out of five and the other four years have seen a minimum ROI of 68%. 

Things to Consider

It is worth checking out other UK racecourses with a possible bias for inside runners. Catterick is a waste of time if you’re looking to gain an edge on rail sprinters, but Chester offers some hope for horses in stall #2 in 5f-6f races and horses by the rail in stall #1 in 6.5-7f races.

If you want to get the most out of any possible edge from choosing rail sprinters, focus on courses with bends that favour low-drawn horses. The draw has a far bigger impact on short races from 5f-7f than races with a distance greater than a mile. In middle distance affairs, high-drawn horses have more time to make up the ground and perhaps sneak to the front where they can hog the rail. 

The size of the field matters too. In races with fewer horses, expect a mad dash for the rail. In larger fields, horses tend to be more drawn across which clearly favours inside horses. The condition of the ground is also paramount. 

For instance, if it has rained heavily, the drainage system of the course must be up to standard in all parts of the course. If this isn’t the case, large parts of the track could be drained which offers faster ground. A horse with an inside draw will find it tough if that particular section is softer than the rest of the track. 

Trading Opportunities

You can use the knowledge you gain from analysing rail runners at different tracks to benefit from back to lay or attempt a riskier lay to back strategy. As we can see from Catterick, horses have an abysmal record from stall #1 in 7f races. You could try a risky lay to back trade which involves laying horses in stall #1 only to back them if the odds get even worse at the beginning. Your liability will be substantial so bear this in mind.

The classic back to lay strategy could work well at Chester over 7f races. If you believe the horse in stall #1 is overpriced, you can back it in the expectation that its odds will tumble. This is especially the case if it is a horse known for its front-running. If you get it right, the horse’s odds should fall which enables you to make a fast trade for a profit. Even if you don’t get the price drop, there is still a decent chance of the horse winning the race.

Although the draw is far from being the be all and end all of Flat sprint racing, it does play a role on certain courses. Do your research and become the bane of the bookies or your fellow Betfair traders! 

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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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6 Comments

  1. Also worth considering the type of race a horse runs – a hold up type in trap 1 isn’t going to become a front runner so has no benefit from a low draw. Any more data as to how ‘prominent racers’ fair from low draws in those races?

    1. HI David, Occasionally the Racing Post will point it out in their analysis. There are sites such as Juicestorm.com that tell you today’s front runners but I can’t attest to how accurate it is. Also, if you have the Racing Dossier, you can use the Pace Predictor to check if a horse is a Leader, Mid-Pack or Finisher. When you go to the Racing Post to analyse a race, check out the horse’s results by hovering over the outcome of previous races for a short description. It will say something like ‘led’, ‘prominent’ or ‘made all’ for front runners. If you have the time, use all three of the above. An example is Spirit Kingdom in the 2:30 at Beverley today. Juicestorm marked the horse as a front runner, Pace Predictor confirmed that he is the only likely front runner in a slow race, and the Racing Post has confirmed that the horse has led, made all or been prominent in every race so far. However, Spirit Kingdom is drawn in stall 7 and is a 10/1 second outsider!

    1. Hi Gary, It is a good feature on the site and very useful. Our own Pace Predictor analyses races in a similar way but the software also shows us the expected pace of the race as a whole so that we can see if a horses’ running style would suit 😉

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