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  • Writer's pictureAlan Aitken

Keep cheering home those seconds

Punters get frustrated by them, horses are often the subject of denigration when they string together minor placings and trainers attract equal amounts of sympathy and ribbing when they are racking up the seconds.

But champion trainer John Size is thrilled to walk into the runner-up slot in the post-race afterglow - if he isn't the winner, anyway - and horses like Raging Blitzkrieg, on the left running one of his five seconds before he broke through to win, are a source of hope rather than disappointment.

You will have heard people in all walks of racing express the view that they would rather finish last than second, since the runner-up has that so near, so far feeling to it. There is no associated frustration with running last - you were probably never a chance - but close but no cigar is tocuhing distance of success without actually getting the pay off.

In the last 2 meetings of December, Size sent out six consecutive second placings but he knew the dam would break and he didn't have to wait long before he saddled up a five-timer on New Year's Day.

Size is a big believer in the need to have fourths because they become thirds, thirds because they become seconds and seconds because they become wins and all the figures support his view in a stunningly simple fashion.

To punters who get serious about doing form, the last start placing for a horse is probably a factor they've left well behind as being too unsophisticated.

But, while it has often been said that if you landed from Mars and (for some reason) had the task of working out a model to predict horse races, you might start with the market favourite. And equally true and obvious, is that the second step in that model would be a consideration of where horses finished at their most recent performance.

The table below uses Hong Kong data since the start of the September 2012-13 season until now to show where the horses ranked second to tenth last start finished at their next appearance. Highlighted in yellow are the five most frequent finish positions next time for each of those groups.

Most of the next start wins come from the 2nd to 5th group (and throw in winners, which win again about one in six next time), but as we get further from the top end of the finish, the dominant group of next-start finishes trickles down, to the point where a horse that ran 10th last start is about as likely to win as it is to finish 13th or 14th.

That's one table we can use to show how this works but there is an even more graphic-friendly measure, when we flips the figures around a little and look at only the percentage of winners based on where they ran last start.

It isn'toften that the graph of what you're looking to find is quite so smooth and clear. Each placing a horse finishes further from the winner makes it, in the simplest terms, less likely to win next start. And perhaps this kind of statistic has been the source of theories we know have been developed and employed by some very successful professional punters wherein they discarded altogether the review of video form of races as a red herring. Sure, when you see the video you can argue that the horse which ran seventh should have won the race but, over thousands of future races, finishing seventh under any circumstances only gives you a modest chance of being the winner next time. Put another way, many pro punters say beware the unlucky runner.

Back to John Size and how his performance fits in with these figures and you can see why he doesn't despair at his defeats.

Over the same period we outlined above, the John Size graph would not be quite as smooth as the percentages for the whole Hong Kong horse population but you will notice two things: the shape would be very similar and Size's conversion rates outperform the overall figures by a considerable margin.

Last-start winners might win 17 in 100 times for Hong Kong trainers overall, but they will 27 in 100 times for Size, and that flows over into powerful next-run performances by his horses which finished 2-3-4 as well - all of which perform better than the general numbers for last-start winners. In fact, the only area where Size doesn't improve on the general numbers is the winning percentage of his last-start 13th and 14th placegetters.

So don't feel too sorry when Size sends out a horse like Chairman Lo, who is now two runs for two seconds - stick with the ship, his moment is coming soon.

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