Is Betting on Middle Distance Specialists the Way Forward?

Generally speaking, middle distance races range from 1m 2f to 1m 4f. It is a distance for horses that lack the raw speed of sprinters or the exceptional stamina of long-distance runners. However, it is a test of both speed and stamina which is why several of the UK’s most prominent races take place over middle distance.

If we’re going to be pedantic, we’ll note the Epsom Derby and the Oaks are 10 yards above 1m 4f but, are usually placed in the middle distance category anyway. Other notable races within this distance range include the Eclipse Stakes, King George IV and Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the Champion Stakes.


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For many punters, these races are worth avoiding because they rely on tactics more than speed. While an honestly-run race will test the stamina of even the best horses, it is normal for 1m 4f events to be run at a canter over the first half mile which effectively reduces the race to a one-mile showdown.

Even so, it is a distance range that you could say “finds out” horses. Saxon Warrior was brilliant when winning the 2,000 Guineas over one mile but was found wanting over 1m 4f at the Epsom Derby.

Therefore, our questions today are: is it possible to make money by focusing on middle distance specialists? Can you beat the bookies by finding one of these horses and backing them to defeat more talented opponents that are not quite able to find the right speed and stamina combination?

Going the Distance

To begin with, I looked at the performances of horses over a distance of 1m 2f and 1m 4.5f since the beginning of 2010. I divided the table according to the number of times a horse has run over the distance in the past.

Previous Runs over DistanceBetsWinsStrike RateROI (BF)
050,9895,34010.47%-4.32%
124,4462,92911.98%-5.57%
214,3431,75012.2%-8.19%
39,3351,06411.37%-4.35%
4+29,2972,99310.22%-6.57%

The main issue here is that several horses met the criteria in each race. While the table says that horses with 0 previous runs over the distance had a low strike rate of 10.47%, 43% of races featuring horses with no previous runs over the same distance was won by one, a much higher percentage than for any other category. Horses with 4+ races were next best.

It made sense to look at the performance of clear favourites using the same table format.

Previous Runs over DistanceBetsWinsStrike RateROI (BF)
04,8671,76436.24%-3.14%
12,9411,01834.61%-2.23%
21,74561435.19%2.78%

There isn’t much to choose from although favourites with precisely two runs over the distance offered a slight profit. When you focus on Flat races only, the profit goes up to 3.92% with small profits in six of the nine years. Even so, there isn’t much to get excited about here. Then again, we are talking about specialists, a term usually reserved for winners.

A Winning Habit?

I decided to use the same table format. This time, however, I focused on horses with previous wins.

Previous Wins over DistanceBetsWinsStrike RateROI (BF)
096,79810,12810.46%-4.78%
120,2502,59512.81%-7.6%
27,44891512.22%-9.48%
33,13733910.81%-7.74%
4+2,8602829.85%-12.84%

Oddly enough, horses with 4+ wins over the distance fare worst of all. Even allowing for the fact that races often have more than one horse to meet the criteria, only 12.07% of races featuring horses with 4+ wins over the distance are won by them. If you believe it is because such horses get slaughtered by the handicappers, think again. They perform poorly in non-handicap events too with only 21.76% of the total wins.

Is it a different story when we focus on clear favourites?

Previous Wins over DistanceBetsWinsStrike RateROI (BF)
08,8913,12435.14%-1.3%
12,73987431.91%-6.77%
286329434.07%-1%
32789433.81%0.26%
4+2367833.05%-13.52%

Amazingly, clear favourites with 4+ wins over the distance have the worst losses and the second lowest strike rate. Favourites that have never won over the distance perform okay in comparison and have the highest strike rate. In non-handicaps, the strike rate rises to 43.34%, but there is still a slight loss.

If you look at non-handicap flat races with 1-10 runners, there is a profit of 3.27%. Although the strike rate of clear favourites with no previous wins over the distance jumps to 46%, the bookies are well aware of the potential of such runners and have priced them up accordingly.

Final Thoughts on Middle Distance Specialists

I went into this article wondering if middle distance specialists could help you make a profit. In the end, I discovered that horses with no previous wins over the distance performed better than runners with several wins! It may represent a unique test of speed and stamina, but there is no effective system attached to middle distance specialists.

The best horses over this distance can stay the trip while also possessing the capacity to speed up at a crucial stage. While there are undoubtedly individual horses with a genuine ability over distances between 1m 2f and 1m 4f, having a previous win over middle distance is probably not as important as you might think.