Track bias in horse racing – an important guide for punters

March 20, 2020 | By More
Track bias in Oakleigh Plate
On-speed runners prevailed in the 2020 Oakleigh Plate at Caulfield

Track bias can offer great assistance to the serious punter. Understanding the nature and origin of track bias allows the punter to gain more confidence in the assessment of race form. Some horses are ruled out of contention by track bias whereas others gain significant advantage. However, it is important to identify the bias and how it can dynamically change throughout the day. When track bias is clearly defined and understood, it can help the punter predict the likely outcome of a horse race.

Track bias can reduce the number of winning chances

Punters welcome any chance to reduce the likely number of winning chances. Track bias allows the punter to narrow the field and thereby reduce bet cost. It’s especially important when the apparent track bias is not widely recognised in the market. This circumstance can give rise to massive differences in market prices which can give an astute punter the much sought after edge.

Significant market advantage is achieved by identifying horses that are suited by the prevailing track bias. For example, the market may have horses who are markedly over the odds because the bias will improve their chances. Alternatively, more favoured runners may fall under their true market value because of the track conditions. The serious punter needs to factor in track bias and capitalize on these market anomalies.

What is track bias?

Track bias is when certain sections of the track on any given day are providing significant speed advantage. More simply, horses are able to travel faster or more easily through some sections across the track, thereby giving them a distinct advantage. A variety of factors can cause track bias.  The most common causes of track bias are inconsistent soil structure across the track. For example, the inside running may be harder due to higher volume of horse “traffic” than the outside running. Conversely, on wet days often the inside running is slower due to the track being adversely affected by horse traffic.

Grass coverage can influence speed and although track managers aim to get an even growth across the track, sometimes differences can arise through no fault of their own. External factors, like prevailing winds, can lead to marked track bias. Some tracks are cambered in such a way that offers advantage to swoopers. Others provide an advantage to on-pace runners. Professional punters are well aware of these idiosyncratic biases caused by track geometry.

How does track bias occur?

The condition of the track is a dynamic process and thus is vulnerable to weather changes. For instance, in warmer months in Australia, the track manager will present the track in a Soft 4 condition knowing that sun and wind will improve the track through out the day, becoming a Good 3 by race time. This clearly illustrates how changeable the track is, and the likelihood that some parts of the track may improve faster than others. For the punter, it is important to keep a close eye on any changes in track conditions. Moreover, track conditions may change dramatically throughout the day. Tracks can become more leader-biased as they become drier, or benefit swoopers as tracks become bogged by consistent rain. 

How to play the track bias

The secret to how the punter can use track bias to advantage is to elevate runners suited to the conditions. Conversely, rule out runners who will have a clear disadvantage. Often this requires a disciplined approach as other aspects of a horse’s form may be strong. However, one thing is certain, as weight can stop a train, track bias can stop a formula one thoroughbred. History shows many examples of how even a sure thing in horse racing can succumb to track bias. Be careful if the punters’ favourite is really a false favourite due to the prevailing track bias.

Results speak for themselves

The track bias at Caulfield on Blue Diamond/Oakleigh Plate day in February 2020, was as marked as I have seen it. A front-runner’s paradise! It was an extreme example of how track bias can dramatically affect race results. Horses who raced along the inside rail were at a clear and significant advantage. On-pace runners won eight of the nine races. Yet it took most punters almost until the last couple of races to realize the uneven contest.

And then came the Oakleigh Plate. A shining example of how smart punters can capitalise on prevailing track conditions to make serious profit.

Massive $10k trifecta payout

The trifecta on the Oakleigh Plate produced a massive payout of $10,901.40 yet, the result was predictable. Knowledge of the track bias, combined with experience of each horse’s unique racing pattern, made betting the trifecta well within the capabilities of most punters.

The key was watching the earlier races. The track bias on the day was severe. All winners were railing up the straight with considerable advantage on the inside running. Horses who came down the straight 3 -4 horses wide were trapped in “quicksand” and really struggled to make any headway on the inside leaders. The track managers were at a loss to explain the obvious bias and even suggested the wind played a major role. Nonetheless, you had to be on the pace to win, and even place.

Astute trifecta punters discarded horses whose customary racing pattern was to drop out and finish strongly. These had no chance in the Oakleigh Plate.

Looking for on-pace runners

The G1 Oakleigh Plate was clearly at the mercy of on-pace runners. Horses racing in this manner won most of the races earlier in the day. Punters searched the form guides for those runners who typically race on the speed.

The winner Pippie started at $10. Linda Meech was riding, the perfect sit and sprint jockey. The flying Written Tycoon 4YO mare had only had 8 starts but a couple of her wins were in very fast time. A real speed horse. She was also resuming from a four months break and was very fresh. She finished second to Tofane at Flemington in a G3 Sprint before her spell, carrying 5kg more than she had in the Oakleigh Plate.

There was a lot to like about Pippie kicking off her campaign with a fast gallop. She had previously shown ability to race well fresh, having bolted in at Doomben over 1200m in her last preparation. 

Speed runners fill the placings

Zoutori $26 was also resuming from a break and was flying. The 4YO Zoustar gelding is a speed machine, having raced with the leaders in the G1 Darley Classic at Flemington carrying 58.5kg. He also had fresh form having won the G2 Bobbie Lewis last year off a break. Zoutori is a classy animal, races in the best company, and jumped from an inside barrier.

A $41 bolter Crystal Dreamer filled third place, however is a bit of a giant killer and races best when fresh. In his previous start, on Boxing Day at Caulfield, Crystal Dreamer raced right up on the pace and finished in the placings. He dropped 5kg for the Oakleigh Plate. Crystal Dreamer loves the 1100m course at Caulfield having beaten Gytrash over this trip in a G3 at Caulfield in August. In that race, he raced up on the pace in 3rd position before powering to victory.  

Some horses were always going to struggle given the conditions. Godolphin colt Bivouac started a short-priced favourite at $2.35 and finished strongly but was unable to catch the leaders on the biased track. All Too Royal and Bivouac both put in top efforts, finishing strongly but to no avail. 

How to bet with track bias

How would punters have bet the trifecta in this case and what lessons can we learn? We have previously outlined a number of proven strategies to bet the trifecta in horse racing. It’s worth bearing some of these strategies in mind when trying to win the trifecta on a compromised track.

There were 18 horses that took their position in the race. Fine Dane and Vainstream were two horses given no chance by punters. They set off at odds of over $200-1. It’s extremely rare that horse of such odds finish in the placings so these were two that could be ignored.

After that, it was just a matter of including fresh, speed horses and literally ignoring those who were likely to sit off the pace and swoop the leaders.

In light of the severe bias towards inside runners, it was pertinent to focus on the on-pace runners with plenty of speed. Horses who tend to settle off the pace were going to be at a distinct disadvantage.

Linda Meech is an excellent judge of pace and skilled at taking the front running. Zoutori and Crystal Dreamer chased hard and finished in the placings. Both are on-pace runners.

The race was all over once Linda Meech took Pippie to the front. As the 4YO daughter of Written Tycoon kicked in the straight, nothing else had a chance.

Observe earlier races before betting

We were unaware of the track bias on the morning of the race. Our Villagebet racing tips and best bets service unfortunately took the strategy that in hindsight would have been better on a fair track. We decided to bank the favourite in the runner-up position. The thinking was that we were gambling on the favourite Bivouac finishing strongly but just missing, thus giving rise to a valuable trifecta. This strategy proved sound, as in the race, Bivouac finished strongly but had no chance to sustain the run on the ‘slow’ part of the track. However, we learnt that if you’re betting later in the day, it’s pertinent to observe the racing patterns in earlier races, looking for any track bias.

Take home points for punters

In summary, punters should arm themselves with the following actionable strategies;

  • Take note of track bias and be cognisant of its ability to dramatically affect a race result
  • Familiarise yourself with each racetrack and how track bias has occurred historically
  • Note recent track renovations and resurfacing works.
  • Pay close attention throughout the day and expect changes – modify your punting accordingly
  • Withhold betting if track bias is unclear
  • Look at exotic bets like trifectas when track bias is affecting some runners but not others
  • Prepare to change, modify, rethink, resist

Track bias helps the punter to gain a market edge. It is not something to lament while clutching a bunch of losing betting slips.

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