When it comes to National Hunt racing, you may have noticed the chaos that generally greets the start of a race as the jockeys try to cajole their horses into some sense of order.
In flat racing, for the most part, the horses start from stalls – loading them in can be tricky, but once inside typically the races commence on a more equal footing.
Or so you might think. Some punters swear by the notion of a draw bias in horse racing, and such ideas can be backed up – in some cases – by the data of which stalls winners often start from at a certain racecourse.
So what is draw bias in horse racing, and does it really exist?
What is Draw Bias?
The draw is made on the day of the racecard, with the horses involved randomly assigned a number.
Usually, the lowest numbers are on the left of the stalls and the higher numbers to the right, and for the most part jockeys want to be able to access prime position on the inside rail when the action gets underway.
So, on left-handed racecourses we can say that there is a draw bias in stalls 1 and 2, while at right-handed racecourses the higher numbers secure the draw bias – that is, an advantageous position from which to run.
This is just a general rule of thumb, and you should research which draw enjoys a bias at each individual track.
How Much of an Influence Does Draw Bias Have?
If you’ve ever watched the 200m or 400m sprint races at the Olympics or any other athletics events, you will note that the runners are staggered in their lanes – the athlete in the outside lane essentially starts ahead of their opponents on the inside.
Why? Because those in the inside lanes would otherwise have the advantage of the shorter racing line since the inside lane has a smaller circumference than the outside lane.
The same can be said for horse racing, but of course the stalls don’t create staggered starts – all of the horses start from the same line. And so, to that end, those closest to the inside rail have a theoretical advantage.
It doesn’t mean that slow horses will suddenly start beating their quicker opponents, but it does mean that in a sport where milli-seconds can often be the difference between victory and defeat, the draw bias is a considerably influential factor.
So intriguing is the topic that mathematicians have even tried to quantify the advantage of running from an inside draw, and they have concluded that for each stall to the outside, the horse will have to run an additional 12 feet of distance during the race – ergo, a horse in stall 8 has to run as much as 96ft more than the horse in stall 1 at a left-handed track!
Of course, horses don’t run in straight lines and so those in the outer stalls have a chance to overtake those on the inside and occupy the rail themselves. But from a standing start, you can see how a draw bias can be created before a race purely at random.
Do Some Racecourses Have More of a Draw Bias?
One of the great things about horse racing in the UK and Ireland is that all racecourses are set up differently.
Some have sharp bends and are almost rectangular in shape, whereas others have wider, sweeping turns that promote overtaking – this lack of uniformity can only be considered a positive for the sport.
But it’s these characteristics which essentially determine how much of a draw bias exists. The position of the first bend is also important, because the closer it is to the stalls the less chance that those on the outside have to impose their speed on those on the inside.
From there, the nature of the track will determine how easy it is for those from the inside stalls to maintain their position – are there long and wide straights that reward the fastest, or tight bends that continue to hand the edge to those on the inside rail?
There are a handful of other factors to consider too. The distance of the race in question will also determine the severity of a draw bias. Typically, the longer the race, the less of an effect that being in an inside stall will have… these things tend to even themselves out over time. But 5f and 6f sprints can see a huge edge for those drawn on the inside.
And the going can be a factor too, specifically how well the ground drains following rain. Does the ground get heavier on the inside/outside due to drainage issues? These are details that can separate success and failure as a punter, and so doing your homework is vital.
The Most Famous Draw Biases in Horse Racing
Some racecourses tend to have a well-known draw bias – in England in particular there’s a handful that should be noted by flat racing aficionados.
- Lingfield (turf)
- Kempton (all weather)
- Newcastle (all weather)
Chester has one of the most famous draw biases in UK racing. Its design – tight bends and oval in shape, with short straight sections – hands the edge to the inside stalls. In races of 5f and 6f, almost two-thirds of all winners come from stalls 1-3 and all of the place positions are occupied by those horses in 55% of renewals. The favourite wins in sprint races at Chester on just a quarter of occasions on average.
At Beverley, it’s once again the inside stalls (numbers 1-4) that enjoy a clear and definable edge – especially in the shorter sprint races.
Despite being a left-handed track, the most profitable stalls to bet on at Thirsk are the higher numbers – perhaps the draw bias isn’t as strong as some expect? Stall 14 has typically been the most profitable, which suggests that the bookies undervalue horses on the outside at this track.
Like Chester, Catterick is a sharp oval track and features a downhill final straight, meaning that those at the front have a better chance of holding on to their advantage. Tough to overtake, it’s no surprise that roughly 14% of all races at the Yorkshire track are won by stall 1.
Considering the straight turf course at Lingfield specifically, the high draw has a clear advantage – in a sample compiled by At the Races for 6f races with ten or more entries, stall 1 didn’t record a single winner while the highest drawn horse prevailed on nearly 33% of occasions.
And there are contrasting fortunes on the all weather tracks of Kempton and Newcastle. At the former, 21% of all winners between 2012 and 2021 came from stall 1. At the latter, an incredible 50% of winners in large-filed races came from stalls 10-14.
Here’s one final point of order: the bookies are just as wise to draw biases as we are. So you can be sure that they are factored into their odds. Also, backing favourable draws blindly is NOT a recipe for success. As ever, you should be looking for value bets no matter what the characteristics of the race… but knowing these draw biases can certainly be of great help.