Horse Racing Tips

Betting Masterclass: Daryl Carter on re-wiring the brain when it comes to trainer form

Daryl Carter.

Many punters use yard form as a tool in their arsenal, but Daryl Carter explains why that method may not be the way to go when attempting to make racing profitable...

  • Daryl Carter shares with us with his betting tips
  • An in-depth look at the top trainers
  • Why Paul Nicholls is often underestimated

You may have heard the term, "If the yard had a few more winners this month, I might have backed him."

The phrase can see punters frustrated and losing a few quid as the yard suddenly springs "back to form", missing out on the opportunity for a good bet. Some people will even wait until a yard has had a few winners during a period before backing a horse from that trainer.

So, where is the value in backing a yard "in form?" There isn't, the market usually reflects this, and to bet against the grain is the only way to long-term success.

The aim for any winning punter is to have an edge that the bookmakers don't consider, and bet a horse at a bigger price than he/she should be.

We have all seen those days when a yard has had two winners early on the card, only for their third and final runner to half in price from its true odds based on the yard's current form. That third is where many punters can get stung, and the bookmakers can collect.

Outside of any extreme circumstances, such as a yard bug, yard form is hard to quantify and a term used out of habit to generalise horses rather than treating them as individuals.

If a trainer has had two winners over fences in the last three days from four runners, does that mean his dual-purpose horse running at Kempton on the flat has more chance of winning? I would argue no.

A yard having two winners at Kelso doesn't mean their sole runner at Chepstow will win or has any more chance than he did initially and vice versa.

Trainer form is nearly always reflected in the betting market and many comments such as, "the trainers looking for an across-the-card treble" should not be a reason for a punter to bet.

McEntee deters owners from backing a winner

If there was ever a video that highlights why you shouldn't back on the basis of trainer form, then this is it.

This is alarming, especially as being an "excuse merchant" can lead to value. This is a prime example of how horses are individual, and all have different optimum conditions.

Colin Tizzard was unfairly on the front line

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Trainer Colin Tizzard was at the forefront of a trainer form saga at the start of the 2021 campaign, and while taking into account the tragic loss of his daughter, who had a strong hand in the operation, he started the season off well.

In November of 2021, Colin Tizzard sent out 13 winners from 67 runners for a 19% strike rate - his highest strike rate per month of the 2021/22 season.

His record every November during his entire career reads as follows:

1998 - 0-3 0%
1999 - 1-3 33%
2000 - 2-9 50%
2001 - 1-14 7%
2002 - 0-16 0%
2003 - 4-21 19%
2004 -5-31 16%
2005 - 5 -29 17%
2006 -4-34 12%
2007 - 1-26 4%
2008 -5-40 13%
2009 -9-46 20%
2010 - 7-41 17%
2011 - 8-46 17%
2012 - 5-43 12%
2013 - 5-47 11%
2014 -8-39 21%
2015 -9-55 16%
2016 -16 -58 28%
2017 - 14-91 15%
2018 - 18-86 21%
2019 - 10-76 13%
2020 -10-72 14%
2021 - 13-67 19%

The average strike rate of the trainer over 24 years was 19.75% in November.

Easy to argue that the above is a prime example of trainer form, but these years would have seen wins and losses from horses that may or may not be in the yard the following term, and there will be reasons why each horse has won and others have lost.

I have listed his 2021 November winners below and the possible reasons for their victories other than simply "trainer form".

Striking A Pose - He had won three of his four starts off a break and was one for one (100%) at Exeter. He won the latest off of a break and returned to Exeter for his Chase debut.

War Lord - Over hurdles the previous year and made the switch to fences and improved for the larger obstacles, and made it two for two in that sphere.

Kauto The King - Had twice won at Wincanton, including over fences off a break - Here he won off a break over fences at Wincanton.

Eldorado Allen - Had form figures of 2121 when fresh off a break. He won the Haldon Gold Cup off a break, and his figures now read 12121 in this scenario.

Amarillo Sky - Had the application of a first-time tongue tie.

Lostintranslation - The first start after a wind surgery - had previously been third in the Gold Cup on the back of the same procedure.

Colin Tizzard's further winners in November came courtesy of Novice Hurdle debutants and Catch The Cuban, who dropped back to 2m2f - the shortest trip in his chase career for the first time after being outstayed on his previous outing.

Colin Tizzard "out of form" in December

In December, Colin Tizzard's average strike rate for the last ten years was 12.7% compared to November, 18.5%.

Eight of the previous 11 years saw Colin Tizzard perform better in November than in December. Predictably, the yard would dip in December as it has done in previous years. In December 2021, commentators and pundits said that the yard was now "out of form".

In 2021 Colin Tizzard's strike rate dropped to 5%, having had just three winners from 63 runners, but he only had 21 of those 63 horses priced at 6/1 or shorter. Thirty-four of those 63 went off at double-figure odds, and 13 at 25/1 or bigger.

In comparison, in November 2021, when he had 13 winners from 68 runners, he had 32 horses priced at 6/1 or shorter, 27 at double-figure odds, and 11 at 25/1 or bigger.

Still, in December, he had placed horses in Grade 1 and 2 events totaling 16 horses in the money, but not at the level of his November strike rate.

He had eight Novice winners in November from 25 events and none in December from 15 outings, but he did have six placed finishes in Novice events, including in Grade 1 company. So the form is not as bad as it statistically looks.

In November 2021, his monthly earnings were £251,630. Tizzard only bettered eight times in his entire career, three of which were in November, and all eight of those higher profit months came between November 2015 and January 2019 when he had the likes of Thistlecrack and Cue Card performing at the highest level.

In December 2021, his earnings were £107,036 despite only having a 5% strike rate for the month and being "out of form". In September of that year, he had a 43% strike rate but only earned £40,000, and In October 10% but only earned £60,000.

It was very similar in December 2020 with six winners from 66 runners for just a 9% strike rate but earnings of £121,254, and it could have been more, but The Big Breakaway made a bad error at the final fence in the Grade 1 Kauto Star - this went down as a statistical loss.

Tizzard in December takes in higher graded races with some horses perhaps out of their depth - or in this case, many performing well to accumulate the prize money. Still, they go down as a statistical loss and a trainer out of form - which he is not if going by his monthly earnings.

Individual races are not considered with the blanket term "trainer form".

Instead, it's basic statistical data. Searching through horse form can usually find reasons for a horse underperforming or not running up to so-called form.

Optimal conditions for individuals are down to opinion but looking back at history can dissolve the theory of trainer form.

Master trainer Paul Nicholls underestimated

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Paul Nicholls is Britain's most prolific jumps trainer. As I write this, he has already had 24 winners since May from 78 runners for a 31% strike rate in 2022 and is well-known as a target trainer.

An excellent example of his brilliance in target training is Greneteen, rated 168 over fences. He is a three-time Grade 1 winner at Sandown, yet he was beaten 21 lengths in the Haldon Gold Cup in November 2021 when prepping for his big target in December - the Tingle Creek.

He reversed a 16-length deficit with stablemate Hitman the following month to score easily at Sandown by five widening lengths.

Prep runs are not catered for when looking at the statistics of trainer form--instead, knowing the horse as an individual is crucial for the punter.

For example, if you knew that Paul Nicholls was in excellent form, having had nine winners from his last ten horses, you still wouldn't back Greneteen if you knew his reappearance was a prep run - but the market would.

In November 2021, trainer Paul Nicholls had his best strike rate of the season (Oct-Apr), operating at a 27% win rate from 98 runners. He ran a similar amount of horses the following month in December (96), but his strike rate dipped from 27% to 21%, but he only had six fewer winners than the previous month.

Flu jab season can see punters profit from ignoring trainer form

It's widely known that Paul Nicholls gives his horses a flu jab in January in preparation for a build-up to a spring campaign, so naturally, you would expect the trainer to have fewer runners during this month. And over the years, that has proven the case highlighted below.

2021 - 7-56 - 13%
2020 - 15-46 - 33%
2019 - 8-53 - 15%
2018 -3-29 10%
2017 - 8-59 14%
2016 - 7-44 -16%
2015 -13-51 -25%
2014 -8-48 - 17%
2013 -9-48 -19%
2012 -16-74 -22%
2011 -14-82 17%
2010 - 9-42 21%
2009 -15-53 - 28%
2008 -17-65 - 26%
2007 - 10-50 20%
2006 -21-76 - 28%
2005 - 16-84 19%
2004 - 11-17 - 15%
2003 -10-55 18%
2002 - 3-27 - 11%
2001 - 12-41 29%

While Nicholls' strike rate may drop during January, his average in this month over the past 21 years is 19%.

Nicholls' average strike rate for the last 20 years is 23.01%, meaning he operates just 4% lower in January. There could be several reasons for that small percentage drop. The type of horses running, race conditions, did one fall? Did one unseat? These are all factors that are not accounted for through simple stats - a bit like Thistlecrack and Cue Card for Colin Tizzard.

Still, 4% is less than the drop in strike rate between the 27% in November mentioned above to December's 21%, yet there will be no mention of the trainer "out of form" during this time. During the 2021/22 season, Paul Nicholls ran fewer horses in January than in any other month (Oct-Apr).

In 2021 he ran an average of 76.8 horses per month, but in January, he ran just 56. In 2020 he ran an average of 91 horses per month but just 53 in January. In 2019 (no runners in April), he ran an average of 69.3 horses per month but just 40 in January. In 2018 he ran an average of 74 per month but only 53 in January. In 2017 he ran 71 on average but just 29 in January.

When looking at Paul Nicholls' (as an example) monthly strike rate, you can see a pattern emerge. The statistics show that he starts the season off strongly and then builds up his horses from January to target a spring campaign.

Below is his monthly strike rate for the last four years (covid in year three).

October 2021 -24%
November 2021 - 27%
December 2021 -21%
January 2022 - 13%
February 2022 -15%
March 2022 -17%
April 2022 - 26%

October 2020 -30%
November 2020 -28%
December 2020 - 22%
January 2021 -25%
February 2021 -21%
March 2021 -20%
April 2021 28%

October 2019 -20%
November 2019 -17%
December 2019 - 11%
January 2020 - 33%
February 2020 -30%
March 2020 - 10% (No April Covid)

October 2018 -29%
November 2018 -22%
December 2018 - 28%
January 2019 - 15%
February 2019 -28%
March 2019 - 21%
April 2019 - 27%

The mainstream media and many punters will feel Paul Nicholls is out of form in January, and not back any of his horses regardless.

In reality, he simply runs fewer horses than any other month and is only 4% below his average monthly strike rate across 21 years of his career, and many, no doubt, are readying for their spring targets.

Dolos was never a 10/1 chance - the market's affected by "trainer form"

Paul Nicholls and Greaneteen.png

Trainer form can considerably affect the betting markets in both directions.

A good example is Paul Nicholls' winner Dolos winning the Handicap Chase at Sandown on February 5th, 2022. Dolos had a Sandown record of 211 in Handicap Chases and was twice a previous race winner when rated 149 and 157 and lined up off of a career-low handicap rating of 143 in a bid for a third win.

During this period, Paul Nicholls was coming off the back of a 13% month in January, having had just seven winners from 56 runners, and was deemed out of form.

Dolos had been well beaten in his three runs prior but was returning to his favored Sandown and had Harry Cobden on board for the first time since finishing second in the race the year before when a 3/1f when rated 158.

Dolos was 15 pounds lower in the weights, yet the market sent him off a 10/1 chance, heavily influenced by the yard's recent run of form. He won by four lengths fairly easily.

The interesting note here is that when he was sent off at 3/1 the year prior - despite being rated extremely high in the handicap and vulnerable to something better treated - Paul Nicholls came off a 25% strike rate in January of that year (2021).

In 2020 Paul Nicholls had a 33% strike rate in January, and Dolos went off a 7/2 favourite for the same race, scoring by 1/2 a length off of a rating of 157.

In 2019, Paul Nicholls came out of January with a 15% strike rate, and Dolos won the race at 4/1 despite having been in excellent form prior.

This is just one example, but there are plenty across both codes of how trainer or yard form affects the markets.

It operates the same way as if Frankie Dettori was to score in the first two races at a big meeting like Ascot. His rides for the rest of the day will shorten as bookmakers try to cover punters racking up accumulators. Still, if you're a single betting punter and you're now trying to bet these horses, you are simply not betting with the odds in your favour - the same goes for jumping on a gamble.

Nicky Henderson's pre-Cheltenham form scare was inconsequential

Nicky Henderson was another excellent example of how trainer form is misconstrued. Last season before the Cheltenham Festival, it was reported that Nicky Henderson was operating below his usual strike rate output. He was, but the information is in the detail, not the statistical data used to scaremonger and affect the betting markets concerning the trainer's chances at the Cheltenham Festival.

It was reported that there were significant concerns about Nicky Henderson's yard form, given he was operating at levels below the previous years. That was true in a statistical format.

In January and February of 2022, Nicky Henderson had a strike rate of 19% and 13% in comparison to 2021's 18% and 14% and 2020's 25% and 36% and 2019's 33% and 31%, and 2018's 34% and 22%.

Nicky Henderson was operating at the lowest strike rate in 2022 since 1996 when he had one winner in 34 runners before bouncing back in February for a 22% strike rate, but it had been in line with the 2021 season.

"I won't back Constitution Hill, the yard is out of form"

Constitution Hill Sandown 1280 x 820.png

During the 2021 Cheltenham Festival, Nicky Henderson had 23 runners, with seven priced at single-figure odds. He scored with two of those (Shishkin and Chantry House), while the other five were Epatante (3rd Champion Hurdle), Craigneiche (2nd Coral Cup), Champagne Platinum (5th Pertemps Hurdle), Mister Fisher (Pulled up Ryanair) and Champ (PU in the Gold Cup).

Epatante ran up to her best in the Champion Hurdle. Mister Fisher had pulled up at the same venue on his penultimate start, and his best form had come on a quick surface (even so, Allaho blew the race apart).

At the same time, Champ, I think it's fair to say, has never been the most natural jumper of a fence and came into the contest on the back of an obscure Gold Cup preparation in the Game Spirit Chase over 2m.

Again here, there are reasonable excuses for those horses that didn't win, but many ran up to form. Of the remainder, Top Notch outran his odds of 50/1 when third in the Paddy Power Plate, Fusil Raffles much the same in the Marsh Novice Chase when second at 14/1, and Janika was a good 5th in the Coral Cup when priced at 33/1.

The trainer's form in January and February didn't affect the performance of his Cheltenham Festival 2021 squad.

Still, it was a big story for 2022 despite the strike rates for the month correlating with the 2021 season. In 2022, Nick Henderson had a strike rate of 19% in February before the start of the Cheltenham Festival, promoting a media storm on the yard's form.

Still, Nicky Henderson got two winners on the board from 21 runners - similar to his previous year. Constitution Hill won the Supreme Novice, and all of a sudden, the yard's recent form had been brushed over like it was non-existent. Jonbon followed home his stablemate in second in the same contest, while Epatante went one better than her previous year with a second in the Champion Hurdle.

Epatante is interesting because, despite a weaker field and the defection of Sharjah, the horse that had finished in second place last term, she went off a 16/1 chance, a 3.5 times bigger price than the previous year.

Maries Rock landed the Mares Hurdle, and while there was disappointment for Shishkin - Mill Green, Ahorsewithnoname, Mister Coffey, and First Street all placed in the first three in the big handicaps.

In the weeks leading up to the 2022 Cheltenham Festival, it was reported that Nicky Henderson was struggling for form, and a case was used multiple times to imply that Constitution Hill - a favourite for the Supreme Novice Hurdle - would somehow be affected. Between February 23rd and March 12th, Nicky Henderson had just two winners from his last 23 runners. Still, instead of giving this a blanket name like poor trainer form, it's best to look at those runners in isolation.

Of those 23 runners, 13 went off at odds between 10.09/1 and 51.050/1.

Seven were odds of 20/1 plus, including 33/1, 50/1, and 40/1 chances. The highest-rated horse to run during this time was Buveur D'air in a handicap off 153, who had been out with a long-term injury and had his first start for more than 12 months. Brave Eagle was rated 140 and finished 13th of 16 at odds of 40/1 at Kempton, while Fantastic Lady (rated 137) was the other horse rated above 135, and she finished third in a Grade 2 - an improved performance after winning a minor 6k class 3 event.

To blanket, these horses with the term trainer form makes little sense. To suggest that because these 23 horses have produced just two winners, a Supreme Novice candidate such as Constitution Hill or Jonbon should have doubts over their chances makes no sense.

I put it to you that treating horses as individuals can leave the term "trainer form" in the dark ages and give you an edge on the market. What the stats don't do, is say categorically that stable form is something to completely ignore full stop.

But they do point to saying that treating horses individually is an absolute must, and the value lies in sticking with yards that are supposedly "out of form".


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