There is a stark difference between horse racing betting systems and trends. With systems, you’re following a set of data in a bid to find winners. I have written dozens of articles for Race Advisor that offer readers an insight into different betting systems to see if they have the potential for profit. A recent example was the ‘Nowhere Fourth’ or ‘04’ system where you back horses that finished fourth last time out and 10th or worse in the race before that. Spoiler alert: It isn’t profitable!
As you’ve probably guessed, the trouble with systems is their rigidity. At Race Advisor, we never tell you to blindly back horses based on a specific set of data; even if the bare data says it is a profitable venture. For instance, betting on every Ralph Beckett entrant in 3yo handicaps since 2014 on All-Weather would yield a tasty 48% profit.
However, this entails backing all 191 of his horses. If you miss a few and they win, it skews the profit. Other systems are profitable but only if you bet on 1,000 horses in a season; an impossibility for all but a tiny percentage of people and an inadvisable practice to say the least.
Trends Perform a Similar Function
No matter what, always view data from a system as a mere tool in your betting arsenal. You know that a Ralph Beckett 3yo in a handicap AW race is worth analysing but since his entries win little more than 19% of the time, you still have to decide if the horse is capable of winning that particular race. Blindly backing a 100/1 no-hoper is a needless waste of your resources, even if he fits within the ‘system’.
A trend typically looks at a specific race and, like a betting system, it must be used to narrow down your selections. Sometimes, only one horse meets all the trends but even so, you shouldn’t back it with blind faith. Going back to the Supreme Novices Hurdle on Day One of Cheltenham 2018, Eddie noted the following trends:
- 11/16 winners were Irish trained.
- 17/19 winners won their previous race.
- 14/19 had run within the last 45 days.
- 14/18 had won at odds of 3/1+.
Kalashnikov was the only horse in the race that met all the criteria. Laurina was another but ran, and won, in a different race. In the end, Kalashnikov was a narrow second place at an SP of 5/1. In hindsight, the odds trend was a useful method of eliminating Getabird, the clear favourite, from proceedings and he duly failed to perform, finishing in 11th place.
Of course, trends can backfire as backers of the fancied filly, Apple’s Shakira, found to their cost in the JCB Triumph Hurdle on Day Four of Cheltenham 2018; or did they ignore one crucial trend? On the surface, the heavy favourite ticked most of the boxes:
- Nicky Henderson trained (he has won this race six times).
- 11/13 winners came from top 4 in the betting.
- 19/24 winners also won last time out.
- 10/12 winners returned 13/2 or shorter: Stormy Island was the only other horse with a lower SP in the race.
In the end, Apple’s Shakira was completely run out of it and 9/1 shot Farclas romped home. One thing that went against the favourite was that fillies have hardly ever won the race. In fact, a filly has not won this race since Snow Drop in 2000. Farclas defeated most trends as he was not in the Top 4 of the betting (fifth favourite at the start), was not trained by Henderson (or Nicholls or King) and did not win his last race (second place).
Does This Mean I Should Ignore Trends?
Not at all! Trends can be an excellent way to spot important factors in the way a race shapes up. They can also help you discover information that is underplayed by the market. Experienced bettors often suggest that the betting market doesn’t take age influence into account, especially in jump races for example.
Of course, there are a lot of utterly useless trends which can be ignored as they fail to eliminate any possible contenders. In the 2018 Gold Cup for example, knowing that 23 of the last 24 winners were aged 9 or younger was pointless information because Outlander, a 25/1 outsider, was the only 10yo+ in the race.
Useful Gold Cup trends included:
- 21/24 winners had an OR of 166+ (only five horses met that criteria).
- 15/17 winners were in the Top 3 in the betting.
The second trend is very interesting because it shows that the Gold Cup is not as open as the Grand National. If in doubt, you could have narrowed it right down to Might Bite, Our Duke, and Native River. The top 3 in the betting also had ORs of 166+. There is no guarantee of victory but at least you had a solid starting point in the knowledge that it would be an anomaly if any horse outside the big 3 won the race.
As it transpired, Our Duke never threatened and was pulled up. However, the Gold Cup ended up as a shootout between Might Bite and Native River with the latter proving too strong in the end. No other horse seriously threatened the duopoly that emerged from the beginning of the race.
The more useful trends that you can apply to a specific race, the smaller the list of horses that follow them all. A good idea is to apply different ‘strength’ levels to each trend. For example, you should classify trends as ‘weak’, ‘moderate’ and ‘strong’. For example, using our Gold Cup trends above:
- Weak: 21/24 are 9yo or younger.
- Moderate: 21/24 had an OR of 166+.
- Strong: 15/17 were Top 3 in the betting.
Final Thoughts on Horse Racing Trends
If you’re analysing a race and are getting bogged down by the sheer number of runners in what appears to be a competitive event on paper, looking for trends is a great starting point. Trends are also a fantastic way to find viable value bets as they can uncover information not easily available anywhere else. As such, these trends can give you a leg-up on your fellow punters and the bookies because they look at factors not taken into account by the market.
It is important not to dwell too much on useless trends nor should you use them as your sole basis for any selection. In the end, like betting systems, horse racing trends should only be used as another weapon in your fight against the bookmakers.