The bet365-sponsored Old Rowley Handicap at Newmarket on Friday poses a tricky problem for anyone looking at so-called race “trends” even before getting onto considering the runners themselves.
The race has been run only four times previously, so do you give up on those trends entirely or do you try to make them work for you despite such a small sample?
If the measures you are using are the crude ones of winners only, as is still lamentably popular in this area, then you should give up. In fact, you should probably give up more generally.
But there are alternatives, of which % of rivals beaten is the best I know of, that are a good deal more sophisticated and whose sensitivity means the exercise may still be worth undertaking.
The %RB measure includes detailed information from every horse that has run, not just the winners or those that have done well, with a first-placed horse registering a score of 100, a last-placed horse 0, and with all the possible gradations in between.
These are some of the headline findings from a consideration of four years’ worth of Old Rowley Cups, a handicap for three-year-olds over 12 furlongs:
- Horses running off BHA marks of less than 90 have beaten just 47% of their rivals, while those running off marks of 95 or more have beaten 53% of their rivals (50% is par)
- Horses within 2 lb of top-rated on Timeform weight-adjusted ratings have beaten 62% of their rivals, a high figure even by usual standards
- Horses which have raced more than six times in the season in question have beaten 55% of their rivals and slightly outperformed more lightly-raced rivals
- Last-time winners have an underwhelming record of 49%RB, when a figure in the high-50s would be more customary in races of this nature
In addition, we can look at the likely pace profile of the race and the current form of trainers with runners in it.
The former is predicted to be “strong” by Timeform, with Artarmon leading the way with an Early Position Figure of 1.1 and a further four contenders with EPFs of 2.2 or 2.3 (signifying a tendency towards a prominent position in recent starts).
None of the trainers drops below 50%RB, judged on handicaps only in Britain and Ireland since August, while John Gosden, Ian Williams and Sir Michael Stoute are at 64% or 65%.
Hopefully the above is of some interest and possible use in getting a feel for this year’s Old Rowley Cup, but the acid test is always what probabilities should be assigned to the various runners and how that differs from the probabilities implied by the odds on offer.
I must admit I got to this stage expecting the top-weighted Aidan O’Brien-trained Astronomer to be edging favouritism and that I might be recommending Rock Eagle instead at something like double the former’s price. But both are around 4/1 or 9/2 at the time of writing.
That expectation was driven not just by my own, largely intuitive, assessment but by Timeform’s automated pricing model, which is used as a starting point for the in-house “tissues” team.
Both human and machine had Astronomer favourite, Baritone second favourite and Rock Eagle third or fourth favourite. The bookies see it slightly differently.
Astronomer’s claims rest more on a couple of easy wins in handicap company at Bellewstown and Listowel than on a long-odds-on success in a minor event at Dundalk last time, though that did confirm he remains in the rudest of health. He is 10 lb higher than for that Listowel win but he took the race by seven lengths and looked comfortable throughout it.
Astronomer will need to be listed or even Group 3 standard to win a competitive race off a BHA mark of 106, but that looks entirely plausible for one from this yard.
Rock Eagle is interesting because he achieved a useful level of form in winning twice before finishing fourth in a Goodwood handicap last time, despite 10f trips seeming to be on the sharp side. His form is solid, and he has potential, but that appears to have been factored into his odds.
Baritone has looked less than honest to date, but he has been gelded and performed in more straightforward fashion when making the most of an easy opportunity last time.
Breath Caught looks up against it under a 6 lb penalty for getting the run of things on his latest start. The bottom two horses should not be involved from well out of the handicap.
Astronomer does not tick all of the trends boxes, but he does look an upwardly mobile type who could well be shorter than the early odds despite having to give weight all round, and that will do for me.
Recommendation: 1 pt win ASTRONOMER at 4/1