Donn's Articles » Draw bias

Draw bias

Barry McHugh received plenty of plaudits for his ride winning ride on Brae Hill in the 32 Red Bunbury Cup at Newmarket on Saturday. Drawn in stall two, one off the stands rail, McHugh followed the straightest line, the shortest route, straight up the stands rail, a lone furrow as it turned out to the winning line, and he got there first.

It was a brave ride by McHugh, not only because he committed to the stands side and wasn’t swayed when the vote appeared to be going against him, but also because Brae Hill is usually a horse who likes to track others. All of the Fath gelding’s best performances in the past have been when he has been ridden just off the pace behind horses.

It may have been that McHugh just found himself on his own on the near side, or it may have been that he decided that the potential downside of racing alone on the near side was outweighed by the potential upside of the better ground there. Either way, it was a brave ride, and he deserved the accolades.

That was the strange thing though. The ground was better on the stands side than on the far side, everybody knew that. The goingstick reading on the stands side and in the centre was 8.6, on the far side it was 8.3. Is 0.3 on the goingstick over seven furlongs worth more than the length and three quarters by which Brae Hill won?

So why did all but one of the jockeys go far side, when they knew that the ground was slower over there? Some were drawn there, some were carried there. Of the others, perhaps jockeys don’t fully trust goingstick readings. The first race on the day, run over the Bunbury Cup course and distance, was run up the far rail. Perhaps the jockeys thought that that was the place to be. Or perhaps they thought the slower ground was worth enduring because it meant that they could race among horses. Some jockeys probably wanted cover.

Or perhaps it was just the way the race panned out. Frankie Dettori was drawn in stall 20 of 20 on the favourite Manassas, flush against the far rail, he bounced out of the gate and set a fast pace down that side. Perhaps the others thought that they wanted to be where they thought the fast pace was.

Of course, there was a bit of a sheep mentality about it, if I go where everyone else goes then I can’t be singled out for criticism if I am wrong. Safety in numbers. If Brae Hill had finished 12th, then questions would have been asked about McHugh’s ride, regardless of whether it was correct to do so or not. Perception is reality.

The Bunbury Cup incident once again brought the issue of draw advantage into focus. You expect a draw advantage on a round track, you know that you need to be drawn low at Chester or at York – although the York advantage has been negated somewhat by the fact that the runners are tending to come middle to stands side down the home straight this season – but draw advantages on straight tracks are just as relevant, even if they are more difficult to determine.

It shouldn’t be the case, and clerks of the course are continually striving to produce consistent ground across their straight tracks, but, for example you know that you have to be drawn close to the far rail at Sandown, close to the near rail at The Curragh, and close to either rail at Ascot, and these advantages seems to be at least as pronounced this season as ever.

There have been 12 races run on the five-furlong track at Sandown so far this season. Only one has been won by a horse drawn higher than five, and that was Ritual, who was drawn six but who tacked over behind runners before they had gone a furlong to allow him actually race on the far rail. One of the other 11 were drawn five, the other 10 were all drawn one, two, three or four. In the latest five-furlong race to be run at the track, a 10-runner race, the first three home, who were priced up in the morning at 6/1, 16/1 and 33/1 before the money came for all of them as people seemed to cotton on to the draw bias, were drawn in stalls two, three and one respectively.

At The Curragh, there have been nine races run so far this season over five or six furlongs with 16 or more runners, and seven of them have been won by horses that were drawn no more than three off the stands rail. Included in those seven were a 22-runner handicap, two 27-runner handicaps, and a 28-runner handicap, the Paddy Power Sprint on Irish Derby day, which was won by Six Of Hearts, who emerged from stall 30 (there were non-runners), closest to the stands rail, and who was chased home by the horses that emerged from stalls 24 and 27 respectively.

If you are drawn on the wrong side at those tracks, it can be difficult for jockeys to overcome that disadvantage. However, if you are drawn on the right side, all things being equal, you probably shouldn’t switch.

© The Racing Post, 12th July 2011