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Picket fences horse racing's oldest system

One of the first lessons and things I remember from when my grandmother started "edumacating" me about horse racing was that "any horse with 111 beside it's name is a pretty good bet".

Oh - and she also said wet trackers liked the sand track at Albion Park and she especially liked horses trained by some guy called Dawson who came from Toowoomba and ridden by Doug Messingham - but I doubt any of that is relevant today.

So what of this "last three start wins" category? Are they the best bet there can be on a race programme today and does the value stack up over the long term? Black Caviar would have saluted for you 19 times but when some TAB's are paying $1.00 a win and $1.00 a place, there doesn't seem to be much point to the whole exercise, does there?

Well, here are the cold hard figures from January 1, 2012 through to December 31, 2012. In that calendar year, Australia wide, 2770 TAB covered meetings - over 20000 races, there were (unbelievably to me - but figures don't lie) 582 instances where the form guide proudly showed our wonderfully talented runner having won its last three starts.

Financially though, and that's all I'm interested in, how would I have gone putting a dollar on every one of them covered by the NSW TAB, by way of example. These 582 runners competed in 552 individual races (so 30 HAD to lose in the first place) so for my $582.00 investment the tote would have returned me $520.52 for my trouble. Hmmm - doesn't seem the greatest of deals does it?

So let's look further at these "picket fencers". Of the 582 initial qualifiers, NOT ONE of them had a career winning strike rate of less than 17%, so let's start there and make that a second rule - they must have won at least 17% of their races. That eliminates 16 losers to start with. And I notice from my research that the overwhelming majority of these runners were expected by "the market" to go pretty well last start (so it wasn't a shock result), so let's say we only want to look at these runners if they at less than $3.90 at their last start. Why $3.90? Why not? And it's well above my favourite trigger price of $2.50!

So where does that leave our "rules set"? Okay - must have won their last three, must have a career strike rate of at least 17% and must have started their last race at $3.90 or less? The results of these modifications? Well that changes things a bit for the better. Now there are just 467 of these "stone bonkers" to concern ourselves with from 449 races. So my investment falls to $467.00 and the return on the NSW TAB shows at $451.12. Great - now I'm only losing 3.4% of my money.

Not one of these won an event of less than 1000 metres or more than 2500 metres, so we'll add in that filter. And none of them won in races with more than 16 starters. So we'll make those adjustments - can we make a profit from these? Oh - close but no chocolates. Now 454 runners for 151 wins from 436 races or, put another way, $454.00 investment for a $451.12 return.

What about the age of these things? Well, only one horse over the age of 6 during the whole year was able to measure up (from about 12 starters), so let's flick them. And while we're at it, let's flick all the horses that aren't in the top 4 by average prize money winnings - some form guides refer to it as API (average prize money index - arrived at by dividing a horse's career winnings by their total starts - not unreasonable measure "class" but with some limitations).

Where are we now in the profit stakes? Wow - praise the lord and pass the ammunition! A profit on turnover of 3.6% - just slightly worse than Westpac is paying for a five month term deposit!

Whoopee do - we're rich, we're rich! Now, come on - be fair........ 345 runners from 334 races for a win strike rate - VERY IMPORTANT - at 39.8%.......$345.00 investment for a return of $357.52. At least we're heading in the right direction.

The average win dividend at this point is $2.69 which means there are a hell of a lot of runners at shorter than $2.00 by any application of logic and it means that for me, with an absolute minimum acceptable price of $2.50, there are going to be a hell of a lot of "no bets".

So purely for point of illustration - let's add in our final rules gleaned from analysis - must be in the top 5 by career win % and career place % and must have a career win strike rate now of at least 26% after revising our previous 17% threshold. And what's the final wash up?

From one simple form element you end up with 307 final selections for the whole of 2012 in 299 races for 126 winners at a strike rate of 42.1% but here's the "catch" - a profit on turnover at level stakes of just 7.8%. The details are $307.00 investment for $330.92 return if you are investing on the NSW TAB at level stakes.

More of course if you were using Betfair and making a lot if time investment on top.......another interesting "proviso"......what IS your time worth? (To a couple of freinds of mine who died during 2012 the time WAS invaluable.)

There are a lot of other ways you can "fine down" the rules - I'm sure you can do it as well as I can and probably better. So from where we are at the moment here is your final set of rules:

Race Distance: 1000m - 2500m
Race Field Size: 1 - 16 starters
Age of Horse: 1 - 6
Horse Win %: 26 minimum
Career Starts: 3 minimum
Last Start Finish Pos: 1 - 1
2nd Last Start Fin Pos: 1 - 1
3rd Last Start Fin Pos: 1 - 1
Last Start SP: 0.0 - $3.90
Av Prize money Rank: 1 - 4
Career Win % Rank: 1 - 5
Career Place % Rank: 1 - 5

Incidentally, the place strike rate was 66.6% (devil's number?) - resulting a yearly loss of 4.7% as the average dividend was but $1.44 - Black Caviar effect?

So - it's over to you - improve on that basic idea if you feel like's all yours...but bear in mind this: the higher your strike rate, the less action you will have and the lower your average price is likely to be because "the market" aren't stupid either.   

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