Understanding draw bias in horse racing is crucial when attempting to predict the winner. Some race tracks have strong biases, whilst others don’t.
So in this article, we’ll guide you through draw bias and explain exactly which tracks are known for extreme draw biases.
By the end, you’ll know everything about the subject. Let’s dive in…
Does Horse Racing Stalls Draw Bias Affect Winning Chances?
One of the most important factors when betting is the draw bias in horse racing. As we all know, there are two forms of horse racing; Flat and National Hunt. There are no stalls in National Hunt racing (over the jumps) so the focus of this article will be the draw bias on Flat Racing.
Most punters naturally focus on reading the going, distance, jockey and trainer form. However, all of that goes out the window when you have an obvious draw bias. We’ve all seen those big handicaps at Royal Ascot where half the track is miles ahead of the other side. Usually, the commentator refers to the “stands side” and the “far side” because sometimes there’s an obvious draw bias up the middle of the track.
Over time, even after a few races, the jockeys will try to position themselves to get onto the best part of the track to gain an advantage. Sometimes this isn’t possible, which is why Royal Ascot is a good example with 30 runners in a handicap…
Which Race Courses Have a Draw Bias?
You can gain an edge when betting by focusing solely on courses which have a draw bias. Horse racing draw bias is a big area most professional punters will focus on! The Royal Ascot one is a good example, but there are plenty of courses around the UK that have an obvious track bias.
It should also be noted that on the day of racing any track can have a draw bias. It might be a case where they have over-watered an area of the track and one side is faster than the other side. We could have a very strong crosswind, and it pays to be on the other side of the track. Another classic example that’s easy to understand is that a horse might like good ground, and the ground is riding better on a certain side of the track – the jockey will then want to position himself on the “best” ground, but obviously where the horse is drawn has a huge impact on whether he/she can achieve that. On the All Weather surfaces, you’ll have types of track when they are more raced on than others.
Remember the old track at Southwell; it always paid to race up the middle and when horses came up against the rails it was like they were running in quick-sand. Very rarely did we see a horse fly up the rails and win; unless they enjoyed heavy ground and it was a slow-motion finish. Here are some examples of tracks where there is an obvious draw bias;
Beverley is an exceptionally tight track, and on tight tracks, it pays to be drawn on the inside. It’s very hard to come around the outside, not even mentioning the extra ground you have to cover. The 5 Furlong track has one of the biggest draw biases’ in horse racing. Not only is it a tight track, but it has a bend very early which means the horses drawn on the outside have more ground to cover. It also had an uphill finish, and the track slopes to the left which all adds up to make life very difficult for the horses on the outside. With Beverley being such a tight track, you generally want to be drawn in stalls 1 to 4 at several distances not just 5 furlongs.
Chester is the oldest course in the UK, and it’s also the course with the biggest draw bias. The Chester draw bias is very well known because they hold the Chester Cup meeting here and that’s covered on ITV Racing. Chester is an extremely tight track, almost like a circle, and it’s only 1 mile and 1 furlong long. The horses are essentially always turning, so it pays massively to be drawn in stalls 1 to 4. The biggest draw bias is over the shorter races – 5, 6 and 7 furlongs – but you always want a low draw at Chester. With the shape of the track, when you’re drawn on the outside you have so much more ground to cover. Over 50% of races have been won at Chester from stalls 1 to 4!
Thirsk is an odd track in the sense that there is a draw bias in short races, but not in longer races. The Thirsk draw bias is mainly at 5, 6 and 7 furlongs. Anything over that and there is almost no bias at all – especially over 1 mile. At Thirsk, you want to be drawn high so you are close to the running rail. This is a track where you have to keep an eye on the weather and the going because when the going is very soft, most times there isn’t a draw bias. The Thirsk draw bias is mainly down to the high draws having the rail early and then being able to run a clearer race.
The Lingfield Turf track is very well known because they host a big Derby Trial each year. You’ll often see the likes of Aidan O’Brien and perhaps Sir Michael Stoute send a runner for the Derby Trial which is covered by ITV Racing. The Lingfield draw bias isn’t on long races though, the draw bias here is on 5, 6 and 7-furlong races. Because of where they put the starting stalls, a high draw is much closer to the running rail and that gives horses drawn high a big edge. It’s always generally easier to run against a rail for horses, and the high stalls have to do much less work to get a good position compared to low-drawn horses.
Newmarket is a classic example of a massively wide track that can have a draw bias on either side of the track. A lot will depend on the weather and the going heading into each meeting. We’ve all seen those massive fields all spread across the track in the 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas! Usually, it pays to have a high draw which is near the stands rail. To be honest, the Newmarket draw bias can change on the day and this is something that will be carefully monitored by professional gamblers. Because Newmarket is such a wide track, we can have cases where part of the track is overwatered compared to the other side, thus resulting in faster ground on one side. We all remember the scenes of Frankel thundering up the middle of the Rowley Mile, and usually Newmarket is a major track where jockeys will want to straight course in the morning to form an opinion of where the best ground is.
Royal Ascot was given as a classic example of a draw bias above because we’ve all seen the big 30+ runner handicaps with a draw bias! The Ascot draw bias is mainly up the stands side so that would be horses with a high draw. The thinking behind that is that we only get 30+ runner races at Royal Ascot so the ground is fresher. Plus, Ascot also had a round course and every race run on that course would naturally come up the far side against the rails. Ascot is another course very similar to Newmarket in the sense that it’s a very wide track and we can get different types of ground on different parts of the track. Sides can be overwatered and the Ascot draw bias can indeed change on the day.
We saw a lot of criticism of Ascot one year at Royal Ascot because we had a draw bias for the high horses one day, and then the clerk of the course watered, and the following day the far side had a draw bias! Professional punters will focus on the going and the weather at Ascot to confirm the draw bias, but most of the time you want that high draw.
How Does The Draw Affect Horse Racing Outcomes?
We’ve given plenty of examples above on how the draw bias in horse racing will affect the outcome, but let’s put them all together now. In a nutshell, the draw bias in horse racing will come down to these factors; ground, distance travelled and race position. Chester is a very good example because it makes a lot of sense that over 50% of winners come from stalls 1 to 4 with the track being a circle. Imagine running around in a circle with your mate; you’d want to be on the inside to cover less distance!
Getting the rail is an obvious advantage because most horses will run better against a rail. It keeps them running in a straight line, thus giving up less ground too. Race position plays a huge role as well; it’s no surprise that the biggest edges come over shorter races because the horses drawn well get the best position – if they break well that is! Having a good draw in stall 1 to 4 at Chester for example is no good if you completely miss the break and get shuffled back. Draw bias in horse racing is probably the biggest factor in flat racing, but so much also has to go well. For example, a horse’s running style will also have to suit the conditions. Let’s use the Chester example again; if you have a horse who likes to be held up and come late, getting drawn in stalls 1 to 4 poses a problem because you don’t want to give away a good draw by holding up your horse. You want to bounce out and get into the best position close to the rail, and make other horses come around you, thus making them cover more ground. In that example, it would nearly be better for a horse like that not to even run at Chester!
The draw can give horses some huge advantages, especially in 30+ runners handicaps like we see at Royal Ascot – but everything still has to go their way. They have to run well, be able to take a good position to actually take advantage of the draw edge and then handle the going on the day of the race. There’s more to winning a race than just the draw bias, but it does play a massive role.
The Length of a Race
The length of a race is another key aspect of finding a draw bias in horse racing. When we went through the tracks in the UK with the biggest draw bias, you might have noticed it was mainly short races. This is generally because of the longer distances the draw makes less of an impact – obviously, you have tracks like Chester where the draw is always a factor, but on other courses, it’s only a factor at certain distances. It’s mainly over 5-furlong races because the draw will give horses a massive edge very quickly – it might be that the bend comes quickly or the stalls are closer to a rail – things like that can make a massive difference over 5 furlongs.
Once you get distances over 1 mile then the draw tends not to play a massive part. Some horses will like making the running or being held up, and they will all take a position based on that. At courses like Newmarket and Ascot, we will only have straight races up to a certain distance – once you go onto the round courses the draw plays less of a part. We will generally see the biggest edges over the shorter distances, and generally, straight races where parts of the track will offer a bigger edge over the other ‘side.’
Type of Ground Horses Run On…
A major factor as well as the draw is the type of ground we see. Ground conditions can easily give a draw bias in horse racing. You’ve read the examples above of what ground conditions can do at tracks like Newmarket and Ascot. Most professional punters pay very close attention to the weather forecast and how much rain has fallen at each track. You can get huge draw bias’ on certain parts of the track when we get heavy ground, or maybe good to firm ground. We tend not to see firm ground much these days as most clerks of the course will water to avoid firm ground. On heavy ground is always a slight advantage to be running up against a rail – it keeps horses running straight as they get tired, and of course, heavy conditions will mean horses getting more tired quicker. Depending on the horses age, weight and sex this may have a big impact. When the ground gets heavy after a lot of rain, you want to see where the stalls are in relation to the rails, and it’s likely it will favour those horses.
Track Layout and Shape
It’s obvious when the Chester draw bias is the biggest draw bias in horse racing, that the track layout, size and shape is a key factor! Chester is a circle so horses are always turning; it makes sense that stalls 1 to 4 have a massive edge. Most of the big edges we see are over small distances, and they also generally have a quick bend or kink in the track that will give horses a huge advantage. Most straight courses won’t have an advantage unless they are very wide – Royal Ascot being a good example of a massively wide course. What you want is a quick bend, and a horse drawn close to the rail.
Horse’s Running Preference
The last thing to consider when looking at draw bias in horse racing is what style of running the horse likes. As I said above, ideally you don’t want a hold-up horse on a tight track. If you have a horse-drawn 1 to 4 at Chester but doesn’t like being up in the box seat, then you have a massive problem. Generally in 5 furlong races, it will pay to stay close to the pace when you have a good draw. Holding them up will just counter the fact that they’ve been given an edge with a good draw! Generally, you want to look for front-running horses on tight tracks with a good draw.