• Winning with Style

    POSTED Aug 9, 2012
    When Hansen went down in flames as the 3-5 favorite last weekend, many people — including a few “insiders” — were quick to point to the colt’s early duel with Hero On Order as the primary reason for his defeat.

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    Personally, I think that’s a load of malarkey — although Hansen was very headstrong (he often is), the fractions of the West Virginia Derby were far from taxing. Still, Hansen’s blue-tail beatdown does highlight why handicappers should carefully assess the pace scenario of the races they choose to play.

    In “Winning at the Races,” first published in 1979, author William Quirin attempted to help players do just that via his “speed point” method, which was designed to ferret out the likely frontrunners, pressers and closers in each race.

    Quirin assigned 0-8 points to every entrant eight points to confirmed early runners; zero points to horses that showed absolutely no early lick in their most recent outings. Bloodstock Research Information Services (BRIS) later adapted Quirin’s work and added a style designation to their Premium Plus and Ultimate past performances.

    Borrowed from Tom Brohamer and the Sartin Methodology, the “ESP running styles” are defined as follows:
    E (early) – Need-the-lead type that does its best running on the engine.
    E/P (early presser) – Horse that prefers running on the lead or 1-3 lengths behind the leader.
    P (presser) – Horse that races in the middle of the pack, 4-7 lengths behind the leader.
    S (sustainer) – An animal that generally stays well back early and makes one late, prolonged late run.
    After the West Virginia Derby, I began to wonder whether these great, but oft-overlooked, tools might be used to identify pace scenarios, as well as the horses most likely to benefit from them. Specifically, I wanted to isolate lone-speed races and races that figured to produce sizzling splits and/or a potential battle for the early lead.

    Toward that end, I began my research by looking strictly at horses that earned the maximum Quirin score (eight points). Here’s how they performed (using my database of over 2,000 races from tracks across the country):

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    Nothing real noteworthy. In both sprints (races under a mile) and routes (races of a mile or greater), the eight-point horses performed better than expected, although, somewhat surprisingly, many of the route types were overbet (witness the negative odds-based impact value, or OBIV).

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    With these baseline statistics in mind, I then examined horses that had a clear point advantage, i.e. lone-speed races:

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    * Does not include races with no other rated entrants.

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    Interestingly, these results — at least the results in sprints — somewhat mirror those obtained by Quirin 33 years ago, as we find that betting on eight-point speed horses in races featuring no other such animals actually produces a profit.

    Given these encouraging early returns, I was curious to see whether or not a contested pace might lead to the opposite phenomenon — more wins by closers (horses with an “S” ESP style rating).

    Of course, first, we need to find out how the “S” horses performed overall:

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    Clearly, these are not steeds one would want to bet on a regular basis, as the IV and OBIV — in both sprints and routes — attest to.

    But look at what happens when one looks solely at races featuring exactly two animals with 7-8 Quirin points apiece:

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    Not only do the numbers drastically improve, they turn positive in the win pool in sprints, and are also positive in the place and show pools in routes.

    I guess all those snooty fashion designers are right: style really does matter.

    Brash Limburg said...

    Interesting analysis, but doesn't the fact that neither the E or S types show a OBIV kinda toss any ROI results out the window? The results for the late speed horses in particular seem like statistical noise as I don't think having positive ROI for sprints in wins only and for routes in place and shows only is explained any other way.

    Brash Limburg said...

    *positive* OBIV

    Derek Simon said...

    Well, the OBIV for lone-speed types in sprints IS positive -- 0.97 (remember anything above 0.85 or thereabouts is positive) -- BUT your point is still well taken.

    Although I like the way the numbers break out (I did a myriad of tests that I didn't document here), the sample size is definitely an issue.

    On the plus side, Dr. Quirin did his own study of horses with at least 6 speed points and an advantage of one point or greater and found that they produced a 4% ROI in 1,139 attempts.

    Granted that was 33 years ago, but it does give one hope that the lone-speed angle might, at the very least, eliminate the track take.

    jamesanderson said...

    Thanks for sharing your insights on handicapping and pace scenarios. It's fascinating to see how different running styles can impact race outcomes. Looking forward to more of your analyses
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