In a class of their own


How to spot and back potential top-notch two-year-olds.


Originally published in the Sporting Life Weekender by Nick Mordin (May 14th, 1994)

THE WEEKENDER has carried Group race entries for quite some time now. And I know many punters and quite a few racing journalists refer to them frequently. One reader, however, has gone a great deal further. Tony Coote of March, in Cambridgeshire, has carried out a massive five-year study of Group race entries and has come up with some extremely thought-provoking findings.

Tony Coote has very generously allowed me to publish his findings in The Weekender and I’m sure you will find them as fascinating as I have. They reveal for the first time the true significance of a Group race entry and what relevance it has to a horse’s chances in any given race.

Tony Coote restricted his study to two-year-olds holding Group entries on the grounds that they would provide a larger number runners, particularly I think, unexposed ones in lower-class contests. After all, what does it matter if Hatoof, Dernier Empereur, Las Mininas, King’s Theatre and Mister Baileys hold Group race entries. It’s only what you’d expect.

But if a runner in a two-year-old maiden race at Beverley has a future entry in a Group contest things begin to look rather more interesting. The horse is probably a lot better than it looks at first glance.

In his study, Tony Coote included all two-year-olds that were entered in Group races from 1988 to 1992. But he didn’t restrict his attention to horses whose Group race entry was known at the time of running. He also included runners whose entry was made at a later date. I would estimate that he nearly doubled the number of qualifiers by doing this but I don’t think it invalidates his findings in any way. It may have helped to boost the overall winning percentages of qualifiers, but it also increased the size and therefore the reliability of his survey.

The first thing that stands out in the survey is the terrific frequency with which Group-entered two-year-olds score on their first starts. Readers will know that several previous surveys I have carried out show two-year-olds winning only about 60 per cent as often on their racecourse debuts as they do on later starts. This doesn’t happen with Group-entered two-year-olds. They win only fractionally less on their debuts than they do in later runs (27.2 per cent of the time as against 28.2 per cent).

I think the reason for this is that these two-year-olds, like most others, normally have their first run in maiden races. But their Group entries indicate that they will later be running in much higher class contests. The maiden races are obviously easier for them to win, so this offsets their lack of experience and fitness.

I would not leap to the conclusion, however, that Group-entered two-year-olds are all worth betting on their debuts. They may win 27.2 per cent of the time but you’d have to obtain average odds of about 3-1 to make a profit backing them and I don’t think you’d quite do that. Tony Coote did not unfortunately include starting prices in his survey, but I’d imagine the average Group-entered debutant would start at closer to 2-1 than 3-1.

To make profits from two-year-old debutants it seems we have to lower our sights, or at least the trainers have to lower theirs. This is because Tony Cote’s survey shows that the likelihood of a successful racecourse debut is strongly influenced by the class of the course a horse runs at.

Nearly 80 per cent of Group-entered two-year-olds make their debuts on Grade One courses where they face the strongest competition. They win just 23.1 per cent of the time and their poor performance drags down the figure for these horses as a whole.

When you look at the 20 per cent or so of these horses who start their careers at lower grade tracks, things start to look a great deal more interesting. The lower the grade of track, the more often they win, as you can see from the table, showing class of track and comparing first time out with later runs:

-------------------Runs-------------wins-------------%
Grade 1
1st time..........1,136................262.............23.1
Later..............2,246................524.............23.3

Grade 2
1st time..........177...................56................31.6
Later...............517..................187..............36.2

Grade 3
1st time..........307.................111................36.2
Later..............549..................191...............34.8

Grade 4
1st time.........63.....................28................44.4
Later.............204...................90................44.1

In completing this table, I followed the official grading of courses produced by the Jockey Club.

Grade 1: Ascot, Ayr, Doncaster, Epsom, Haydock, Kempton, Newbury, Newcastle, Newmarket, Sandown, York.

Grade 2: Brighton, Chester, Lingfield, Redcar, Ripon, Salisbury, Thirsk.

Grade 3: Bath, Beverley, Chepstow, Hamilton, Leicester, Nottingham, Pontefract, Windsor, Yarmouth.

Grade 4: Carlisle, Catterick, Edinburgh, Folkestone, Southwell, Warwick, Wolverhampton.

Obviously, a two-year-old that holds a Group entry is worth very serious consideration if it is running outside a major track. They win around 36.5 per cent of the time, both on their debuts and on later starts.

If the class of the track affects a horse’s chances of winning so does the class of race Tony Coote’s figures for all runs by Group-entered two-year-olds show that the lower the class of race, the more likely they are to win.

Race type--------runs----------wins------------percentage
Seller.................18...............8.....................44.4
Claimer.............19...............8.....................42.1
Auction.............180............70....................38.9
Maiden.............2,473.........767..................31.0
Stakes..............1,425.........433..................30.4
Grp/Listed........1,172...........191..................16.3

Clearly, if a Group-entered two-year-old runs outside of that sort of class it has a big chance of winning, and the lower the class the bigger the chance. This is particularly true of debutants. They won only 19 per cent of the time (59 wins from 299 runs) when they made their first starts in Stakes races. And only one of the Group-entered two-year-olds that actually ran in Group or Listed company on their debuts managed to score.

What this means is that while a Group-entered two-year-old has a 36.5 per cent chance of winning when it runs outside of a Grade 1 track, it probably has a 40 per cent chance of succeeding if it runs in a maiden or a lower-class contest at a Grade 2,3 or 4 venue. In other words, you can make a profit betting them if you can simply get better than 6-4.

And that’s not all. There are a few variations in the figures, but basically they show that a Group-entered two-year-old’s chance of success improves still further the earlier it is run. This must be because the strength of competition in two-year-old races increases steadily throughout the season. The cheap, early speedsters dominate in the early months but by the time the autumn comes around the juveniles with real classic potential start to make their debuts and our Group-entered two-year-olds have a harder time winning. This shows up clearly in the statistics.

--------------------Runs-------------------Wins------------Percentage
March...............16...........................8............................50.0
April..................147.........................51..........................34.7
May...................466........................192........................41.2
June..................862.........................256.......................29.7
July...................985.........................312.......................31.7
August..............891.........................240.......................26.9
September.......990.........................229.......................23.1
October............936..........................180......................19.2
November........99.............................19.......................19.2

What I find most interesting about these figures is that those for March and April are low when compared with May. I mentioned earlier that Tony Coote included two-year-olds whose Group race entries were made after their runs. The first Group race entries are not made until May. So the fact that the figures for March and April are lower indicates that if anything, the horses whose Group race entry is known at the time they run do better that those whose Group entry is made later.

Another interesting finding from Tony Coote’s survey confirms something I discovered some time ago – namely that most of the best two-year-olds make their debuts at a very select group of tracks. According to Tony Coote’s statistics more than half of the Group-entered two-year-olds made their racecourse debuts at Ascot, Goodwood, Newbury, Newmarket or Yarmouth.

I think the reason for this is that all of these tracks, barring Ascot, are close to major training centres. Obviously trainers are keen to give their best horses the least stressful experience possible on their debuts, so they run them at their nearest tracks. They run them at Ascot simply because that course offers fantastically high prize-money.

The statistics for Yarmouth are quite extraordinary. This Grade 3 course attracts more Group-entered debutantes than many Grade 1 courses, but they don’t often return there for their later starts. It seems to be used by nearby Newmarket trainers for giving their better two-year-olds an easy win on their first starts. About half the two-year-old events at the course are won by Newmarket-trained debutantes.

Those are the main findings from Tony Coote’s survey. There are many more. Coote is, for example, very keen on analysing the significance of the trainer in relation to Group race entries. He tells me that Henry Cecil, for example, wins much more frequently than average with his Group-entered two-year-olds while, not surprisingly, Clive Brittain has a hit rate that is significantly below average. Obviously some trainers are over optimistic when making Group entries and you need to adjust your expectations in line with this.

I dare say there are many more angles that could be explored, particularly those relating to distance and pedigree. I would anticipate that horses would win most often when entered at close to the distance of the race they hold a Group entry for. I’d think the better-bred horses would win more frequently too.

Coote tells me he’s going to look at some of these ideas and may get around to publishing then for next season. I certainly hope he does because his analysis of Group race entries is the best I have ever seen. It reveals fundamental insights that no-one has ever made or even attempted to make before.

If you’d like to profit from them, remember these main findings:

Two-year-olds that hold Group race entries have a much bigger chance of making a successful racecourse debut than those that don’t.



Two-year-olds with Group race entries don’t win often enough at Grade 1 tracks to be worth betting blindly.



Two-year-olds with Group race entries win 36.5 per cent of the time when they run outside of Grade 1 tracks.



Two-year-olds, even those holding future Group race entries, are poor bets when they make their debuts in Stakes races, and rarely win if their first start is in a Group or Listed race.



Group-entered two-year-olds win more often in lower class races. In maiden and lower class races at Grade 2, 3 and 4 tracks they score about 40 per cent of the time.



Two-year-olds with Group entries win less often as a season progresses and the strength of competition increases.


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