The Greatest Puzzle of Them All In Scandinavian Horse Racing | Galoppanalyse.no
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The Greatest Puzzle of Them All In Scandinavian Horse Racing

Derby Days are not only high season for great horse racing experiences and performances, they are also the most exciting days for Horseplayers. The Swedish Derby in particular, is perhaps the greatest puzzle of them all in Scandinavian horse racing. The excitement and commitment around this race is so great, and the build-up interviews, thoughts and speculations is unlike every other flat horse race in Scandinavia. We have already written about how we make performance figures , and here is the part 2 where we present a way to use them. We also want to contribute to the build-up, so let us use this article to kill two birds with one stone. This article will explain important concepts, principles and our way of thinking with performance figures, while we analyze the Swedish Derby 2021. If you’ll hang on, we will even prepare you with some betting tips!

PS: This will be the last long read article from us for a while..

AND OFF IT GOES TO JÄGERSRO RACECOURSE

As you may have noticed, our performance figures is the heart of what we do. The performance figures is mainly about quantifying the quality of all the races ran in Scandinavia and at Meydan, so that one are able to compare performances across countries, courses, surfaces, distances, track speeds and track conditions, amongst other things.

This is difficult if you just use the race times, but we have written what we had to say about that topic here .

A goal of this project is to create interest around our performance figures.

Past performances is the most obvious parameter when handicapping a horse race, as knowing more exact what has been done in the past is useful when trying to predict the future. Speaking of the Swedish Derby, three of the last four editions of the race has been won by the fastest horse going in to the race as measured with our figures, Dorcia being the only exception.

The rest of this post will focus on the Swedish Derby 2021. 

For us, the obvious place to start an analysis is by looking at the performance figures to see who have performed the best, going in to a race. In this years edition there are four horses that stand out quite clearly figure wise. This is what these four horses did in their last start before the Derby:

  1. No Short Cuts – 135
  2. Pusjkin – 132
  3. Wolfof Vancouver – 128
  4. Palm Springs – 127

All these performances were recorded June 6th, which means that all the top candidates have had the same pause of 6 weeks. The fastest of the four, No Short Cuts, also made his performance at the Derby distance of 2400 meters. The other three ran their top numbers over 1730 meters, in the Voterlopning. All of them has their top performances recorded at the Derby track, Jägersro Racecourse. 

Judging from this, it’s of course impossible to disagree that No Short Cuts should be the clear andobvious favorite for the race on sunday.

The fastest performance figure + life best ran under the same conditions as the upcoming race – is very often the winning recipe.

So also in the Derby, as we mentioned in the introduction.

When you also add into the equation that the horse is trained by Mr. Derby himself, Wido Neuroth, and that No Short Cuts was bought for over 100.000 £ and share bloodlines with sires like Scat Daddy, Unbridled and Unbridled’s Song, then it’s understandable why some people are using phrases such as a penalty kick to describe his chances.

The odds and percentages will reflect this.

"It's a Game of Percentages"

It’s right here, where the exercise shifts from trying to identify the most likely winner, to rather trying to identifythe best bet, that horse racing becomes so interesting to all of us who appreciate a proper puzzle. Beginners may never fully grasp this concept, with the result that they may never get that kind of intellectual stimulus that makes this the greatest hobby in the world.

In a more controlled environment, most people will realize that taking 7/1 on rolling a six on the dice, is a much better proposal than taking 1/2 on guessing the correct side when flipping a coin. But when it comes down to composing a horizontal wager, it seems like a distant idea to most people that the 7/1 option would be the better position to risk it all on, of those two.  

No one is getting hooked on horse racing, by playing “Lyntoto”. (Rikstoto is trying to get people hooked on Horse Racing by branding Horse Racing as an idiot’s game where you don’t need to know anything to win.. 🙂 ) 

The Swedish Derby in particular, is perhaps the most entertaining brain teaser of all year. Favorites can also provide good bets, for sure, but does this apply to No Short Cuts? This is written before we know for sure how the market will settle, but we expect win odds maybe as low as evens, and percentages in the pick 7-game at 60-70 %.

HORSE RACING IS COMPLICATED

The Swedish Derby is such an intricate race full of twists, unknown dynamics, challenges and coincidences, that it will take a brave man to be sure of anything. Overly brave.. The actives knows this well, for sure, but the horseplayers are not always as nuanced.

We have dug a little in our archives to shed light on a phenomenon that are not much talked about in Scandinavia, and which backs up the claim that nothing is clear cut, in horse racing. We will need to go all the way back to our starting point: 

No Short Cuts
135
Pusjkin
132
Wolfof Vancouver
128
Palm Springs
127

We stated out to say that we would like more people to think a bit more like us, when considering previous performances. Our numbers are a great start, but the scale we use needs accustoming for them to bear any meaning at all. “135”, “132”, “128”, “127”. It won’t make much sense to any of you, right off the bat. If you look a little closer at the visualization above, you may see that the differences between the horses doesn’t seem completely at random. At 2400 meters, which is the distance of the Derby, 1 point difference in performance figures amounts to about 1 horse length, at the finish. 

This means that, if all else equal and all the horses just repeat their previous best performances, then No Short Cuts will win this race by 3 lengths over Pusjkin who will be just as clear second, with four more lengths down to Wolfof Vancouver on third place, and with Palm Springs just behind that again. 

Of course, things are not that simple. And especially not in a Derby!

We can already now make some assumptions about which horses will be caught wide, and who will get the more cost-effective trips inside. We always like to be conservative in these kind of estimates though, as there are so many different scenarios that could unfold. Statistically, and with running style in mind, one should still assume that Wolfof Vancouver saves a couple of lengths on the competition from running on the rail, probably on the lead. PA Gråberg will have to work hard to not lose at least some ground in the turns with Palm Springs, from pp 9, and No Short Cuts might well end up outside of its fiercest competitor on paper, Wolfof Vancouver, for at least a couple of the three turns. What Pusjkin will come up with from gate 2 will be exciting to see, but it is not difficult to imagine some traffic trouble and tricky situations. For that reason alone, it will surprise us if Pusjkin runs his very best race on Sunday. This is one of the more likely scenarios, as we see it, but these things never unfolds exactly like one thinks. 

If you take these hypotheses of ours into account, a bit conservatively preferrably, with Wolfof Vancouver being the most likely beneficiary of how the race develops, then it already starts to level off a bit:

No Short Cuts
135
Wolfof Vancouver
128
Palm Springs
127
Pusjkin
127

Using this as the starting point instead, it will take less of a variance in the performances for No Short Cuts to lose the race.

THE BOUNCE FACTOR!

Remember that we up until now have handicapped the race with the premise that all the horses is able to repeat their best performance in Derby. That is not going to happen. Not all of them. Horses are individuals with different form cycles, development, training regimes, set-ups for major races, preferences for surfaces, distances, track conditions, race styles, tactical scenarios, or even climate and weather conditions for that matter. Some will run the race of their lives on Sunday, while others will not be recognizable from their previous heights. This is horse racing. And that’s why it’s so difficult to be sure about anything.

Here comes the percentages speach again..

60-70 % in a Derby race is a lot, with so much going on that could either hurt your chances, or aid your competitors.  

At this point our dealing with performance figures, changes character completely.

While our way of quantifying a performance is as close to being a “fact” in horse racing as anything – in our opinion – it is a completely different task to use this information to predict the future. That is a much more subjective exercise, where everyone who uses the numbers will interpret them differently, and emphasize the patterns that are reflected by them in their own ways. This is as much about creativity, and the ability to translate hypotheses and theories into probabilities, as anything else. Often just in the form of intuition. 

So what is all this "bouncing" about?

The “Bounce theory” is one of the most controversial theories associated with performance figures. It varies a lot how much the different schools and actors trust in this theory, from those who completely deny the phenomenon to those who organize their entire betting strategy around identifying “bounce candidates”. The fascinating thing about horse racing is that both approaches could work. The mantra“You Gotta Zig When Others Zag”rarely fit as well as they do in totalisator markets.

Not surprisingly to those who know the story, or have read the blog article about our performance figures, it’s Len Ragozin who gets credited with making the “bounce”-concept known for the public. Nor was he known for being particularly nuanced or measured regarding his principles, so needless to say, he was and his followers still is in the category of big “bounce”-believers. 

Even in this field have we ended up with sort of a compromise ourselves.

Many explanations, but do we really need them?

Bounce is, explained in Ragozin’s own words“a reaction to a previous effort. Remember, horses are athletes – when they overextend themselves they are likely to react to the physical toll that this overexertion took on them. ”. The idea of the bounce theory, which one needs performance figures to execute on, is that horses that make sudden and large improvements in their performance, will often run really bad next time out.

Many of the modern training principles, when we’re talking about elite horses, with the long breaks between the races for ensuring maximum recovery time, probably partly have their origins in this very idea of bouncing. All four Derby favourites we mentioned earlier are entering the race from a 6-week break. This might have looked weirder, many years ago. 

There are many possible explanations for the bounce phenomenon, and what it’s really about. There are even probably many right explanations, as it surely don’t come down to only one thing. It may be a physical reaction to extreme exertion, which was what Ragozin hypothesized about and which provided the fundament for the whole theory – but it may also be about nutrition, injuries, or maybe just “regression to the mean” after a race with very unique and favorable racing conditions, which could produce some flattering results and performance figures.

The point, as I read it, is simply that you do not know.One is dealing with uncertainty. And here is another place where one could apply some Fat Tony-mentality to the issue at hand (a reference to the post about our performance figures), because what characterizes horses that are coming off a sensational performance?

They are heavily backed in the pools!

Very often overlays. 

So even if you do not know exactly why it happens, it is sometimes enough to just statethatit happens. Especially when the goal really just is to cast some shadow and uncertainy over a favorite that you believe the public is too confident in.You need all the confidence you can muster, when the idea is to bet againsta horse like No Short Cuts! And a beautiful theory like the “bounce”-theory, may be just what you need to overcome your fear.

THIS iswhat thebounce theory is most about, for me.

When the potential reward for being right is big, one should speculate more freely. 

Play Video

So let's have a look! Is there bouncing going on in the Swedish Derbies?

Let’s first create some definitions, and establish a little bit of terminology. We need to define a new top, which means the best performance in a horse’s career figurewise. We will define a “par race”, which means a race completely in line with the previous best. We will define an “off race”, which means a race clearly worse than what has been done before. And a “flop”, which means a race not even close to previous best form. Of course, we’ll use our performance figures to define. 

  • “New Top” – best ever:A race 4 points or more better than what have been done before.
  • “Par” – repeat of career best:A race within + – 3 points of the best that have been done before. 
  • “Off” – step back from career best:A race between 4-10 points worse than the current top / career best.
  • “Flop” – far from career best:A race more than 10 points worse than previous best form.

If we use No Short Cuts as an example, then today it has a top figure of 135. If it runs 140 on Sunday, then that is defined as a new top. If it runs 134 or 136 then that is a “par”, if it runs 128 it is an “off race”, and if it runs 100, well yes, then it flops.

Remember that in this context, 1 point = 1 length. That should make it easier to follow. 

A good bounce candidate, on the other hand, means a horse that in its previous race not only achieved a new top, but a BIG new top. We set the limit for a new BIG top at 9 points or better, at least that’s what we did for this analysis. 

The bounce theory feels especially relevant for this year’s edition of the Swedish Derby, as there is as many as 7 horses that meets the criteria and is considered bounce candidates. That also includes our four favorites. 

Definitions established, now it’s just to start identifying bounce candidates in previous editions of the Swedish Derby, and then examining how they did. We backchecked Swedish Derbies 5 years backwords, including the Derby in 2015 which Bokan won. We also kept an extra eye on the two Kings of Swedish Derby Lennart Reuterskiöld Jr and Wido Neuroth, as these by many is expected to enter the winners circle as trainer of a Derby-winner this year. 

THIS IS WHAT WE FOUND

In total, we found 19 candidates who met our criteria for “bounce candidates”. In this setting we are not so concerned with “why” something happened, only stating the fact “that” it happened. There are many reasons why horses underperform, and especially many reasons in a Derby where things are tougher, more intense, over longer distance, and more “crowded” in every way, than in other races. This should also be taken into account when backing No Short Cuts as a big favorite. 

These 19 horses performed as follows: 

  • New Top: 1
  • Par: 5
  • Off: 3
  • Flop: 10

Isn’t this quite interesting?

The only new top within all these 19 bounce candidates came last year, with Bullof Wall Street. He has not started since. 10 flops out of 19. That is a lot. 

The results: 19: 1-1-1. 

That is one victory, Bullof Wall Street, one second place and one third place.   As well as 16 unplaced. Quite modest.

What about the “bounce duel” we opened between Lennart and Wido?

Of these 19 bounce candidates in the last 5 Swedish Derbies, Lennart trained 6 of them. Wido trained 4. The performances was as follows: 

Lennart Reuterskiöld jr

New top: 0

Par: 2

Off: 1

Flops: 3 *

Wido Neuroth

New top: 0

Par: 1

Off: 1

Flops: 2

Okay, so we may not expect anything better than a “Par” in the cases of No Short Cuts and Wolfof Vancouver? The data is too small to draw conclusions, of course, but it may be a trend. As mentioned, small trends are far better to cover when the odds are high, rather than low.

* The star or asterix behind Lennart’s flops is there to remember to point out that one of these “flops” was Gold Tyranny, who finished third in 2017. He came in with a top of 129, and ran 118, so it was first, a very string-rated flop, just above the cut-off. But far more interesting was that we judged the rail Gold Tyranny ran on that day to be “completely dead”. Dead Rail indicates days where no horses get it going on the inner rail, and it probably has to do with the fact that the track is a lot slower there. The inner rail at Klampenborg is probably one of the deadliest rails in the world, on a more or less constant basis. Gold Tyranny thus ran 118 on one like that while he dominated the race, and it may actually have been one of the most heroic performances that has been achieved in a Derby in recent times.

One should never be completely blinded by the numbers, when evaluating performances. 

We expect Wolfof Vancouver to stay in competition for the win for a very long time on Sunday. 

However, Wido’s record with the bounce candidates in the Derby do not look as convincing. The two who did not flop were too poor to begin with, Bolt and Bostar, pairing up and finishing 5 and 8 in their respective Derbies. Buddy Bob and Solaris were big time flops. But, just to be clear, none of these four horses were of the same caliber as No Short Cuts. It should probably not be compared with this at all, and you should not put too much into just this little analysis, but a little bit of uncertainty on behalf of the favorite, we must say that it is.

It’s probably not Wido’s specialité, these sudden performance improvers. Although we will not be surprised, if he masters this as well. 

horses, racing, race

What do we do - who will win the Swedish Derby 2021?

Here is a quick summary of our thoughts around the four biggest favorites for this year’s derby. The betting reccomendations will follow after this. 

Post Position 2 – Pusjkin: We are great fans of Pusjkin in general, but there are two things that bother us before this race. The post position, and the distance. Gate 2 can quickly turn into a trap in such a chaotic race, with so many pumped up horses and jockeys in the field. We like when horses take the shortest route, but often, and especially on dirt races, the price can be too high. Pusjkin has ran his best races when able to run free. We won’t be surprised if he ends up losing some ground anyway, from post position 2, but that won’t be without traffic first. We just feel like he will be given way too much to do. In addition, Pusjkin has not made a very strong impression to us that he will stay 2400 meters, nor is it Castro’s greatest strength as a trainer to get horses to stretch out. Pusjkin is fast enough, so it is entirely possible to make a case for him, but this time it will be without us. 

Post 5 – Wolfof Vancouver: We understand those of you who have distance concerns, especially when it might well turn into a grueling race, with the favorite pressing from the outside. But Lennart is a magician in races like this. We strongly doubt that Wolfof Vancouver will be running a bad race. At the same time, we have a hard time seeing that he will perform much better than what he did in the Voterløpning. That makes him very good, but far from unbeatable, and he may not even be the best bet. 

Post 7 – No Short Cuts: Extremely impressive in the Derby Trial, and a repeat of that performance would be very hard to beat. But all races must be ran, and there are dangers and uncertainties around every turn. For us it’s almost mandatory to bet against. He will probably both catch some air and lose some ground in the turns, and with such fast competitors as he faces in this Swedish Derby, he will certainly not need to be many lengths worse than last time before the victory is in danger. All things considered, the most likely scenario is still that we look like idiots on sunday, but the percentages don’t back up betting him, in our opinion 😉 

Post 9 – Palm Springs: At this point you might have understood that we see the potential for a surprise or two in this race. A probable scenario, as we see it, is that Wolfof Vancouver and No Short Cuts clinch in a battle quite early in the race, probably with No Short Cuts pressing on Wolfof Vancouver from the outside. Most other scenarios would probably be pretty bad news for both parties, anyway. There is clearly a danger in there, that they will push each other too hard. It could go too fast. In addition, this is a race with a lot of bounce candidates, and it’s not so easy to predict in advance who will fire and who will flop. Palm Springs is a very tough horse, he can handle traffic and go between horses. With a jockey like P A Gråberg behind the reins, P A never gives away terrain in the turns unnecessarily, that could prove a very useful thing from gate 9. In addition, trainer Lensvik is very good with stayers! You can read more about her here . And he can finish too. If it goes too fast with the two favorites in front, then Palm Springs could prove a real danger. And Palm Springs will be a price. 

We also have another outsider in the race, which we have not yet mentioned.Hey Brother from post 6. Hey Brother is also trained by Lennart Reuterskiöld jr.

This one has not ran as fast as the others we have mentioned. Hey Brother comes in with a top of 117. That is 18 lengths (!) slower than No Short Cuts. But Hey Brother has something else, and that is solidity. 115 – 113 – 117 shows the latest numbers. This is a profile that Lennart is a master of getting something more out of. And while we believe that at least one, maybe even two of the favorites will flop, there is a much greater chance that Hey Brother will run the race of his life on Sunday. We do not think that will be enough to win, but it could go a long way anyway. This is also a tough horse that can work with traffic and go between horses. As I said, we are surprised if Hey Brother wins, there is simply  too many competitors whom are just faster, but could he sneak into the triple? We look forward to have a bet on that. 

Lot of Joy and Suspicious Boy are also horses you might use a little cautiously underneath, in the third place spot of the trifecta.

Betting reccomendation

We like a win-bet on Palm Springs, and exactas and trifectas with Palm Springs, Wolfof Vancouver and Hey Brother as the main ingredients. We will probably use No Short Cuts as well, a little cautiously, in the case of being right on “everything else”. But our position will be more against No Short Cuts, than with it. Solely because of the odds and percentages, of course. On trifectas, we will probably also use Lot of Joy and Suspicious Boy in the third place spot. We do risk tossing Pusjkin out completely, but we have regretted those kind of decisions many times before.

Update: It looks like Hey Brother is getting a little more action than expected, and Pusjkin a little less. If Pushkin stays at about those 6 %, then it’s very justifiable to include him in your pick 7 ticket. The percentages also make us look a little less forward  to using Hey Brother in our tris. Palm Springs, however, is only used on 2 % of the tickets as of now,  that makes him the obvious “key” horse for us in this race.

Plates on table under blackboard wishing luck

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