Does The Stall Draw Affect The Chance Of Winning In Flat Horse Racing?

horse racing stallsIn horse racing, there are two main forms of race; over the ‘flat’ or over ‘jumps’. When horses are racing over jumps, they line up in front of an orange tape stretched across the course and the starter releases the tape when he feels satisfied that the horses are ready to race.  Jump races are typically a lot longer than flat races and so the starting position has less affect on the result, plus the fact they have to jump over hurdles and fences, which will have a far greater impact on the outcome of the race than where the horse started from.

When starting a flat race, the process is a bit different because handlers place the horses into stalls and these have an electromechanical release system that is operated by the race’s starter. Once all of the horses are loaded into their stalls, the starter will press a button on the release system which springs open the doors on the stalls and prompts the horses to start racing.

The lowest draw possible (often referred to as the inside draw) is stall 1 which is always the closest starting stall to the rail, and the highest draw possible depends on how many horses are entered in the race, and the highest-drawn starting stall is the furthest away from the rail.

It is worth noting that in horse racing it is commonly considered a significant benefit to a horse’s chances of winning a race if the horse is running tight to one of the railings which line either side of the race track.

Usually, the high draw ranges anywhere between 8 and 14, but in meetings at tracks such as Newmarket, York, Ascot, and Goodwood there will often be over 20 horses fielded in any one race, and with this comes a highest possible draw somewhere in the 20s.

The draw is carried out at random by a company called Weatherbys, who you can think of as the governors of British racing - of sorts. This means that if a horse draws number 1 then it will start from stall 1, if it draws number 2 it starts in stall 2, and so on.

There are various factors which determine the level of draw bias in a race, as well as what degree the factors play a part in the shape of the race and there will even be a consideration for how the various factors affecting draw bias in a race can cancel each other out to an extent

How Can The Draw Affect The Outcome Of A Race?

There are many different ways in which the draw can have an impact on how a race unfolds, and these can potentially even have an impact on the overall winner. Below we delve into the variable factors which can influence the potential benefits of having a low draw as opposed to a high draw and vice versa, or even having a draw somewhere in the middle.

The Layout And Shape Of The Course

horse racing stalls long

When it comes to horse racing, the tracks on which the horses run come in many different shapes and sizes. This can have potential effects on the draw bias as the shape of the course will naturally dictate the shape and lengths of bends which horses have to negotiate - the longer a bend is or the higher the angle of the bend, the more important it is to have the rail. However, some horses will have different strengths and while being close to the rail might well be more beneficial to horses chances there are plenty of occasions when other horses have had other strengths which has seen them win without having the rail.

There are two main benefits to ‘having the rail’ coming out of a bend, and the first of these is that it means the horse has less distance to run. If a horse is wide out going around a bend, i.e. a few metres away from the rail, then the angle of the bend means it adds to the distance that the horse needs to run.

The second benefit of having the rail is that horses are generally regarded as running better when they have a rail on one side - this helps the horse run in a straighter line and therefore minimise the distance they cover. Some horses when running in the middle of the track will venture left and right and as such give away an advantage to those horses running perfectly straight.

Also, a course that has several bends rather than just one may give further advantages to those horses with a low draw, as the advantage of having the rail occurs multiple times throughout the race.

A good example of this would be races that are over 2 miles 77 yards which feature at Newcastle; this race includes three relatively sharp left-hand turns and as such in a race like this having the inside draw (thus having the ability to occupy the running rail early on) would inevitably favour a horse which likes to make the running over such a long trip.

Length Of The Race

newcastle course layout

In racing, it can be argued that the significance of the draw can be influenced by the distance over which the race is being run.

To take the example of Newcastle as outlined above, a long distance flat race over 2 miles 77 yards would offer several benefits to a horse with a low draw which likes to race from the front. Compare this to races over 5 furlongs to 1 mile, however, and the significance of the draw changes dramatically.

Newcastle racecourse, in a similar way to York and Newmarket, runs its shorter races on a straight - so there is no bend for the horses to take on. This means that races run over 1 mile or less at Newcastle and Newmarket, and over 6 furlongs or less at York can significantly reduce the advantage of having a low draw as there is no major benefit to getting to the running rail as there is no bend to negotiate.

The image above of the shape of Newcastle’s racecourse demonstrates just how much the distance of a race can alter the shape of the course.

As you can see, there is a straight mile whereas the races over 1 mile 2 furlongs not only have a long and gradual bend leftwards to start with, but then there is a very tight bend to the left with only about 3-4 furlongs left to run.

This means that it will usually be very beneficial to have the running rail over 1 mile 2 furlongs, but not so important on races over 1 mile. This is very interesting tactically because a lot of horses will often be changed in racing distance, with 1 mile and 1 mile 2 furlongs being effectively consecutive distances in the pecking order of horse racing distances.

Type Of Ground

GoingDescription
Firm Firm ground is often found in the summer during the flat season when the racing surface is very dry. A dry surface means the horses can run faster and often results in the quickest race times.
Good to firm On the slower side of firm, but still a quick surface. Often if the ground firm, racecourse staff will add water to the track - especially if there is no rain forecast.
Good This is the most common type of ground and arguably the fairest for the majority of horses. It is easy to run on and tracks will often try to ensure good ground in order to suit a wide range of horses and attract bigger fields.
Good to soft Often occurring in the winter months, but also in the summer months at times, good to soft ground is mostly good ground but which is also holding a fair bit of water.
Soft Soft ground is quite common in the British spring and autumn seasons, as the weather tends to be much wetter than the summer and the temperature is much lower. This surface is much harder for horses to run on, and as the ground is deeper and more moist, horses run much slower. There are some horses that prefer this going however, and will run almost exclusively on ground that is soft.
Heavy Heavy ground is a real test of a horse’s stamina and there are very few horses which relish this type of ground. It is often very wet and hard to run on as the water soaks into the ground. Often described as a ‘bog’ in reference to how slow this ground rides.

The type of ground can also play an incredibly significant part in determining how important having a low draw is to a horse’s chance of winning a race.

During the summer months in the UK most of the flat racing takes place on turf, and there are various different aspects of racing on turf which can have implications on whether it is beneficial to have a low draw from the starting stalls as the condition of the ground can vary hugely.

The condition of the ground on the course is often referred to in horse racing as ‘the going’. It is the description given about the ground at a certain racecourse. It is measured by the clerk of the racecourse and it is determined by the amount of moisture in the ground.

There is a range of conditions in which you may find the going on UK turf racecourses, and this is largely due to the unpredictable levels of precipitation which the country has.

heavy going horse raceThere will be race days where the going is firm, which is typically when there has not been any rain for a while, and on the other hand there will be days where the going is heavy - which is when there has been a lot of rainfall and the ground is incredibly soft and is churning up very easily. The following is a breakdown of the most common conditions a course is found in, with a brief description:

It must be said that different horses enjoy different ground conditions, and therefore the reports on the going of the ground prove essential for a horse’s trainer and owner (also known as ‘connections’) in deciding when and where a horse should run. There are often horses racing against each other which prefer slightly different types of ground, however - especially given the fact that the weather in the UK is unpredictable and there is often rain overnight when it was not forecast and vice versa.

On top of this, it can be important to take notice of the conditions across the width of the race track - both at the start of a raceday and as the day goes on. It is often seen that the ground by the running rail is slightly different to the ground in the center or the far side of the track - especially if that course has had several days of racing in a row. Jockeys will be keeping an eye out for variances in the ground across the track as this will help them decide where they want their horse to run, and of course this can have implications on how significant the draw is.

If the going on the rail is relatively soft, but the ground in the center of the track is good and hasn’t been raced on, then quite often jockeys will choose to run their horse down the centre of the track and therefore benefit from faster ground. This means that the benefit of being drawn in a low stall (stalls 1 to 4, normally) is effectively nullified because there is no need to race along the running rail.

On the other hand in the winter months, and to a certain extent during the summer months, a lot of flat racing in the UK occurs on artificial surfaces such as all-weather, fibresand (also known as polytrack) or tapeta. These surfaces offer very high consistency across the entire width of the track and can be raked over by the machinery available to the racecourse to even the surface out.

In terms of what this means for draw bias, races on the artificial surfaces slightly reduce the significance of which stall the horse starts racing from and this is because the horses all run on the same ground. Alternatively in turf racing, if a horse is a couple of metres wide of the horse which is running on the rails, sometimes the two horses will be running on slightly different ground conditions and this means the horse running on slightly better ground will have an advantage - especially so if they also have the rail.

Horse Preference

flat horse raceRace horses differ in many ways, but one way they differ in particular is how they prefer to run. Some horses like to run freely - i.e. not surrounded by other horses, and these horses tend to prefer to lead a race. An extreme draw, whether low or high, would normally suit a horse which likes to run freely.

Other horses prefer to have what is called ‘cover’ in racing. This is where the horse is surrounded by other horses in the running and it can offer several benefits such as lesser wind resistance and the ability to conserve energy for the running down the home straight.

A good example of a horse that made a legacy for herself by riding under cover and using her burst of pace in the last couple of furlongs to see off its competitor is the renowned history-making mare Enable who was recently retired.

This means that draw bias should not really affect a horse like Enable, because whether she had a low, middle or high draw she would be able to sit in the middle of the pack (as per her strengths), see out roughly 70-80 percent of the race taking things at a steady gallop, before turning the heat on in the final stages of the race where she regularly both out-stayed and out-paced her rivals.

UK racecourses With Draw Bias

Let’s explore some of the racecourses in the UK where the draw bias is usually deemed as being the strongest.

Chester

chester course layout

It just so happens that of all the racecourses still in use in the UK, Chester is the oldest - and the smallest. Made up of a mere 1 mile 1 furlong loop, Chester has the most significant draw bias of all UK courses.

The distance in which the draw bias is most extreme at this course is for races that are over 5 furlongs, and there is still quite a draw bias to races over 6 furlongs and 7 furlongs - and the larger the field is, the more important it is to have a low draw.

A very interesting statistic which Chester provides is that in all flat races at this course since 2010, 61.7 percent are won by a horse drawn in stalls 1 to 4. This breaks down as 17.6 percent of winners being from stall 1, 16.5 percent from stall 2, 14.7 percent from stall 3 and 12.9 percent from stall 4. It is also worth noting that no other starting stall boasts more than 10 percent of winners at Chester, which means that it is very easy to see just how important it is for a horse to have a low draw on this track if it is going to have a favourable chance of winning a race.

The following table offers a more complete breakdown of the winning proportion of horses starting from each starting stall, going back to 2010:

Stall no.Win ratio (%)Stall no.Win ratio (%)
1 14.1 8 6.8
2 14.9 9 7.8
3 11.9 10 5.6
4 11.0 11 6.5
5 9 12 2.5
6 9.3 13 5.0
7 8.4 14 3.1

*Note that the above figures given as percentages do not add up to exactly 100 percent because the figures given are the percentage of wins from that stall only when that particular stall has been used in a race - not all stalls are used in every race and this is for a variety of reasons such as non-runners and smaller fields.*

The image included above shows the shape of Chester racecourse, it is very easy to see just how significant the bend is - both in the angles involved but also the fact that there is an almost constant curve to the course. The distances around the edge of the image are the various starting points the racecourse uses.

Beverley

beverley course layout

Races run over 5 furlongs at Beverley have one of the most distinctive draw biases in the UK, with an overwhelming advantage being given to horses drawn low.

The course has an uphill finish, which when combined with the fact that the course slopes away to the left when running towards the finish, those horses who are drawn a bit higher have a lot more ground to cover and thus are at a disadvantage in the running.

The following table depicts the proportion of winning horses from each stall, where the stall in question is used, since the year 2010

Stall no.Win ratio (%)Stall no.Win ratio (%)
1 14.2 9 9.6
2 13.7 10 7.9
3 13.3 11 4.7
4 12.6 12 8.0
5 11.6 13 4.8
6 11.7 14 6.1
7 10.2 15 12.1
8 8.2 16 12.5

*Note that the above figures given as percentages do not add up to exactly 100 percent because the figures given are the percentage of wins from that stall only when that particular stall has been used in a race - not all stalls are used in every race and this is for a variety of reasons such as non-runners and smaller fields.*

That being said, it is abundantly clear to see from the statistics above that a significant proportion of horses that go on to win races at Beverley start from a low draw.

What is interesting, however, is that when there is such a large field that stalls 15 and 16 are required, that these highly-drawn stalls have a tendency to return winners at a rate similar to stalls which would be regarded as a low draw.

This could be down to several reasons; the first and most logical reason would be that the leftward slope when approaching the finish plateaus out towards the stand-side rails, which is exactly where severely high-drawn horses in a large field would usually be running, and this could put them on a similar footing as horses from a low draw.

On top of this, the ground on which highly-drawn horses run on could potentially be better than what the horses from low and middle draws are running on, as it will be lightly raced on due to the fact that not many races have more than 12 or 14 horses participating.

The image at the top of this section depicts the shape of the course at Beverley, with the starting point for each racing distance clearly outline around the outskirts of the track.

While the draw bias over the 5 furlong trip is mostly influenced by the significant slope across the course, it is also very easy to see from the shape of the course just how significant draw bias is over trips such as 7 furlongs, 1 mile and 1 mile 3 ½ furlongs.

This is because all of these starting points not only have to negotiate a very tight bend relatively early on in the race but because they are double-bends, which only enhances the importance of having the running rail - and as established earlier, the best chance of achieving positioning on the running rail early on is by starting from a low draw - usually stalls 1 to 4.

Lingfield (turf)

lingfield park course layout

Quite unconventionally, the turf course at Lingfield significantly favours horses which are given a high draw in the starting stalls when the race is over either 5 furlongs, 6 furlongs or 7 furlongs and this is because the high draw is closer to the running rail, which means the horses have less distance to travel.

There is little to no draw bias over trips which cover the round course, however.

The following table depicts the proportion of winning horses from each stall, where the stall in question is used, since the year 2010:

Stall no.Win ratio (%)Stall no.Win ratio (%)
1 6.2 8 11.2
2 8.4 9 9.1
3 8.7 10 7.7
4 8.6 11 13.1
5 8.9 12 8.6
6 11.3 13 10.7
7 10.9 14 12.5

*Note that the above figures given as percentages do not add up to exactly 100% because the figures given are the percentage of wins from that stall only when that particular stall has been used in a race - not all stalls are used in every race and this is for a variety of reasons such as non-runners and smaller fields.*

The statistics from Lingfield show a distinctive benefit to being drawn in stall 6 or higher, perhaps with the exception of stalls 9, 10 and 12. To have the best chance of winning it is very clear that stalls 6, 7, 8, 11, 13 and 14 offer the highest proportion of winners by some margin - so generally speaking a horse will fare a lot better from a higher draw when racing on the turf track at Lingfield as opposed to a lower draw.

The image at the beginning depicts the shape of the course at Lingfield, with the starting point for each racing distance clearly outline around the outskirts of the track.

Thirsk

thirsk course layout

The course at Thirsk offers an advantage to those horses which are starting from a middle to high stall, with the highest drawn horses being closest to the running rail - this offers the best track position for horses which break from the starting stalls well.

Thirsk can have a tendency to offer slow ground, however, and this means that a lot of jockeys prefer to run their horses over the centre of the course rather than vying for position on the running rails. To a certain extent, this can nullify the benefit of having a high draw on days when the going is soft.

With that being said, the figures speak for themselves - the highest proportion of winners start in stall 7 or higher at Thirsk, as the following table depicts:

Stall no.Win ratio (%)Stall no.Win ratio (%)
1 7.3 11 9.7
2 6.0 12 8.8
3 7.4 13 7.7
4 9.0 14 5.8
5 7.3 15 3.7
6 9.1 16 12.5
7 9.7 17 5.8
8 8.9 18 8.3
9 9.9 19 5.9
10 8.9    

*Note that the above figures given as percentages do not add up to exactly 100% because the figures given are the percentage of wins from that stall only when that particular stall has been used in a race - not all stalls are used in every race and this is for a variety of reasons such as non-runners and smaller fields.*

It is very easy to see from the table above that in normal-sized racing fields of 8 to 12 horses then the high draw produces more winners than the low draw does, albeit not by an overwhelming margin - again this could be due to the fact that the ground at Thirsk is often soft and this results in jockeys racing up the middle of the course, thereby mitigating the significance of the draw.

What is very interesting, however, is that stall 16 produces 12.5 percent of all winners in races which this stall is used. It is worth noting that it will be relatively rare that a race at a course such as Thirsk has a field of 16 runners or more, but it is clear that when it does, a significant proportion - 12.5 percent - of these races are won by the horse coming from stall 16.

It is quite odd that stalls 15 and 17 only produce 3.7 percent and 5.8 percent of winners respectively, given that the stall between them returns such a high proportion of winners, but this could potentially be due to such a high drawn starting stall being so wide on the track that it provides better running conditions for horses from this stall.

The graphic shown earlier offers a clear depiction of the various starting points for distances run at Thirsk, and the respective shape of each race

What is particularly interesting about Thirsk is the significant difference between 6 furlong races and races over 7 furlongs or 1 mile. This is interesting because some owners will change the distances some of their horses run over by a furlong or two at a time, depending on what they think suits the horse.

A relatively common change is to see a horse go from 6 furlongs to 7 furlongs if it looks like it is more of a ‘stayer’ than a flat-out sprinter - especially early on in the horse’s racing career - and conversely to see a horse go from 7 furlongs to 6 furlongs if it gets too tired in the last furlong or two of a 7 furlong race.

Because of this, quite a few horses will have run over Thirsk at both 6 furlongs and 7 furlongs, and as the picture above details, the 6 furlong course is a perfectly straight run. The 7 furlong course, however, has about a 3 furlong straight before what it is fair to say is an incredibly sharp 180-degree turn, followed by a 3 furlong straight finish.

It can therefore be said that races which are over 7 furlongs will most definitely offer more benefits to horses running close to the rails, whereas there is no such demand for the rail in races over 5 or 6 furlongs. This means that in 7 furlong races it is technically beneficial to be drawn either really low or really high. Jockeys on horses drawn really low, assuming they start well, will be able to position themselves on the rail and in the lead early in the race.

Jockeys on horses from a very wide draw, however, will be able to ease into their start, sit in at the back end of the racing pack, navigate to the inside rail and bide their time in the running for a sprint finish while benefiting from having been on the rail and saved having to run a further distance from being drawn out wide.

What Can We Take From This?

horses in stalls ready to race

Overall, the focal point to be aware of when considering to what extent the draw may influence the outcome of the race is that there are many different factors that both, directly and indirectly, affect the shape of the race.

In extreme circumstances, these factors can combine to result in the draw effectively determining the outcome of the whole race before it has even started, and on the other hand, it is often seen in horse racing that these factors balance each other out.

The major influence that draw bias has on a race is the benefit it gives to horses by giving them the best chance of achieving a position on the running rail early on in the race. However, this benefit is still subject to a range of other variables being suitable to the horse.

The most notable of these is the ground by the rail being a good standard compared to the rest of the course because if the ground on the rail was heavy or deep, and the ground in the centre or on the far side of the course was good to firm, then jockeys will very often opt to try and position their horse on the better ground even if they had a draw which requires them to maneuver the horse to a different part of the track.

On top of this, the shape of the course on which the race is taking place can influence the degree to which there is draw bias. A straight race over completely level ground, where the going is very consistent across the width of the course, will have a minimal draw bias.

Conversely, a race with several very tight bends with one of the bends very early on in the race, with firm ground on the rail but testing ground elsewhere will mean a low draw in stalls 1 to 4 is a major factor in a horse having a chance of winning - if it were drawn out wide in these conditions then the horse would have a lot of work to do to gain a respectable position in the race.

Hopefully, this article has clearly outlined the various factors to take into account when determining to what extent there is draw bias in a particular race and provided plenty of insight as to why these factors can influence a race in the ways they so consistently do.