The process behind finding the winner of a race can be as long or as short as one wishes to make it. It can be as simple as eeny, meeny, miny, moe or as complicated as an hours-long dive into every conceivable variable in search of relevant information.
For me, it tends to veer more towards the latter than the former. The process is ever evolving, but for the last number of years it has started with a process that I refer to as groundwork. This involves attempting to establish what the shape of the race is likely to be in terms of the pace and draw. This is absolutely crucial information, as having a feel for how the race is likely to pan out gives ones a much better idea of what type of horse is likely to be favoured by the run of the race. It can be particularly valuable in the case of handicaps, as given that ability is theoretically balanced out by the weights, those that get the run of the race regularly overperform and vice versa.
To give a simple example, there might be a hold-up horse in a race that you think is well handicapped. However, if the groundwork for the race reveals that the early pace is likely to be steady making it difficult for hold-up horses, that should have a major impact on how you view that horse’s chance.
Another important element of groundwork is assessing trainer form. This is even more relevant than usual at the minute given the unique situation that the Covid-19 crisis has put is in, as many horses will run at Royal Ascot having not been seen on the track for many months. How their stable mates have been faring in recent days can give a guide as to which trainers have their horses in above or below-average form. Trainer form tends to be assessed using some very blunt instruments such as strike rates, but I use the average of the percentage of rivals beaten squared. This is sourced using Proform and represents a more powerful measure of what we are seeking to assess.
In common with any other sort of pre-race analysis, estimating the pace of a race, the impact of the draw or trainer based on past evidence doesn’t always work out as hoped. Horses can end up being ridden differently than anticipated either by design or not, draw analysis can be turned on its head by jockeys taking unexpected routes and trainer form can swing around in a relatively short period of time. Even considering that, I have found that the groundwork process to be the best starting point in the search for winners.
So, with that in mind, I am going to show my groundwork for a selected group of races to AtTheRaces.com for all five days of Royal Ascot. I’ll put in the hard yards so that you don’t have to and with a bit of luck, it will prove to be a help to you in the search of winners.
Here is my groundwork for Wednesday's racing
Pace: King Carney (8) has made much of the running in four of his five career starts and looks the likeliest leader. Juan Elcano (3) helped force what was a notably strong pace in the 2000 Guineas last time. While he wouldn’t be sure to be as aggressively ridden over this longer trip, he looks likely to be at least prominent.First Receiver (4) looked well suited to front-running when making most at an even pace to win his latest outing, albeit at a much lower level than this. New World Tapestry (7) made the running a couple of times last year and while he was ridden patiently in the 2000 Guineas, there is a possibility that he could revert to more positive tactics over this longer trip. Berlin Tango (5) takes a strong hold and tends to race handily. Kenzai Warrior (2) made all the running to make a winning debut, chased the leaders on his second outing and blew the start on his latest outing in the 2000 Guineas.
This has all the look of a race that will be run at least at an average pace and more likely at an even stronger one. This will place an emphasis on stamina at the trip will be a help to those that are likely to be ridden with a bit more patience such as Russian Emperor (6) and Berlin Tango (5).
Trainer Form: I have included the full table of trainer stats for those that have runners on Wednesday’s card and have had at least eight runners since the return of racing up until the time of writing on Monday morning. You can view it at the bottom of this article.
Most of the trainers involved in this race are prominently placed on the in-form list. Of those that aren’t, Charlie Fellowes (King Carney) is only just on the right side of the average and horses trained by Roger Teal (Kenzai Warrior) have been performing well below the average.
Pace: King's Caper (5) made the running a few times last season and while he couldn’t lay up on his seasonal reappearance in the Lingfield Derby Trial, a return to more forceful tactics around this more orthodox track seems likely. Glenties (2) has made the running a few times and would look likely to push forward if he is turned out again quickly after running on Sunday. Oleksander (18) made the running on his most recent start and looks likely to be at least prominent. Trumpet Man (1) raced prominently in his final two starts last season and is likely to be forward over this longer trip. Subjectivist (15) helped push the pace on two occasions last year, but ran below form both times and has seemed better suited to racing prominently.
Not the first time in the recent history of this race, the pace map is dominated by horses trained by Mark Johnston. That was the case in 2018 and his runners largely controlled the race from the front end, making it difficult for those that were held up to get competitive. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if that plays out in similar fashion this year.
Draw: The subject of the draw on the round course at Ascot was mentioned in this space yesterday in the context of the Ascot Stakes. The conclusion drawn was that high draws fight their corner surprisingly well over that course and distance. However, when one looks at the draw over a mile-and-a-half at Ascot, the statistics become even more clearer. The table below details the draw stats for handicaps over this course and distance since 1998 and is structured in order with the best performing draws at the top based on percentage of rivals beaten squared.
As can be seen, high draws perform very well indeed and the lowest draws perform notably poorly. What makes this information so valuable is that it is in complete contrast with what would be normally expected. It gets mentioned by a few people every year, but without fail one will always hear a trainer that has a horse drawn high over a mile-and-a-half at Royal Ascot moaning about their draw! The reasons why this bias has emerged isn’t all that clear, but it’s existence is undeniable and should very much be considered in all calculations. Indeed, putting together exotic bets such as forecasts and tricasts that include groups of highly-drawn horses has yielded some spectacular results over the years.
Trainer Form: The most notable headline for this section is that horses trained by Hughie Morrison (Kipps) have been performing well below average since the return of racing, so that must be a concern for supporters of the well-fancied Kipps.
Pace: Addeybb (6) has tended to race prominently in recent seasons, but he added a new string to his bow when making most of the running to win the Ranvet Stakes at Rosehill in Australia in March and that option is now available to him. Mehdaayih (4) is a free-goer that is generally ridden with patience, but did make much of the running on two occasions at the backend of last season, running very well in the Nassau Stakes prior to disappointing in the Prix de l’Opera. Japan (5) alternated between being ridden with some patience and chasing the leaders last season. Lord North (7) has shown tactical versatility, making all to win his second start, being ridden with patience when winning the Cambridgeshire and racing handily to win his last two starts in stakes company.
The setup of the pace in this race could be absolutely crucial in deciding the result. With none of the big players running a pace maker, there is a strong possibility that it could end up being run at a below-average pace. Addeybb (6) isn’t a regular front runner by any means, but did at least show he can prove effective in that role in the Ranvet Stakes in Australia earlier this year. It’s hard to know what they’ll want to do with Mehdaayih (4), as she comes into this fresh and could prove difficult to anchor in a small field if the pace is steady.
If Frankie succeeds in holding Mehdaayih up, the overall pace of the race is likely to suffer. That will be to the detriment of Bangkok (2), Barney Roy (1) and Headman (3) as they all seem likely to be best suited by being ridden with patience off a stronger-than-average pace. A below-average pace would also be far from ideal for Japan (5), as he has primarily raced over longer trips and took time to hit top gear in an evenly-run Juddmonte International over a similar trip to this last year.
In terms of which of the runners will be suited by a below-average pace, Addeybb (6) will be in pole position if he is the one setting the fractions in front. Lord North (7) has also shown in his last two starts that he is fully effective racing handily in steadily-run races either with or without cover.
Trainer Form: All of the trainers with runners in this race rank towards the top end of the table with Roger Charlton (Headman) being the lowest down the list, but his performance is still well above the average of those with runners at Royal Ascot on the day.