Races don't get much more difficult to crack than the Wokingham Handicap at Royal Ascot on Saturday. There will be 28 closely-matched runners charging up a straight in a race that may or may not have a draw/pace bias.
What do you mean "it's too difficult"? We just need a bit of help, that's all.
Trends analysis, whereby certain key indicators from past runnings of the same race are identified and interrogated, are vastly overrated in some quarters but can help to sort some of the wheat from the chaff and make a forbidding task seem just a bit more plausible.
Wikipedia tells us that this is the 200th anniversary of the first running of the Wokingham, but a more realistic watershed for trends analysts is to consider all races run since the course was relaid in 2005. That still makes for 187 runners, and plenty to go at, or at least if you use a measure which considers not just winners and losers but how those winners won and those losers lost: such as average lengths beaten.
The following categories were considered for the Wokingham: age; handicap mark; draw; number of runs in current season; number of wins in current season; and latest finishing position.
In what may now be a familiar refrain, youth trumps maturity where age is concerned. There is not much between four-, five- and six-year-olds, but they all outperform seven-year-olds and older by quite some way. Only one three-year-old has run in the race in recent years.
The picture is not so clear with handicap marks, though horses racing off 104 or higher (there are five in this year's race) have fared better than those who have not, by more than a length. A high draw- or its equivalent before recategorising early in 2011- has historically been an advantage, but not greatly, and events this week have suggested this may be misleading anyway.
A small number of runs in the current season- ideally fewer than three- has been good, as have a large number of wins (no great surprise). That said, a remarkably large proportion of contenders (more than 60%) had been non-winners in the current season, and it did not do them much harm collectively as they underperformed by just one-tenth of a length.
Last-time position is potentially more informative. A win last time has been good, but a second placing has been even better. Both have been better than the alternatives further down the field.
The crunching of all of these numbers gives the following top-five: Nocturn, +6.4 lengths; Gabriel's Lad, +4.5; Mass Rally, +3.0; Louis The Pious +3.0; and Rex Imperator, +2.7.
That quintet range from stalls four to 22 (remembering that there will be a shuffling across due to the defection of two reserves and the original top-weight Boomerang Bob), which is probably no bad thing, and the top two come from stalls 10 (Nocturn) and 22 (Gabriel's Lad).
Nocturn has had three wins from five runs this year, including last time, while Gabriel's Lad was a promising second on his only run of the campaign. Both are four-year-olds.
In what will, indeed, be a tough race to crack, you could do a great deal worse than side with the pair of them.
1 pt win Nocturn and 1 pt win Gabriel's Lad in the Wokingham Handicap
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