Draw Bias in Horse Racing

Aside from understanding that a left-handed horse can have an advantage on a left-handed track, bettors take note of the draw biases for the track’s direction as well. However, this only applies to flat racing events, not national hunts or jump races, since they do not use stalls. 

Let us first dissect and understand the essential terms to learn what draw bias is – the draw numbers, stalls, and rails. If you are a beginner and planning to understand horse betting, you should watch horse racing. Notice that before every flat racing starts, every horse has a designated number matched with their stall numbers or starting gate – their draw numbers. The numbers were assigned for each horse based on a draw. The draw refers to the literal act of drawing a random number for each horse. The number the horse can get differs for every race, as the random draw is made on the day of the race card. 

What is a stall? In flat racing, horses line up inside what are known in Britain and Ireland as the stalls. In other territories, these can be known as starting gates or barriers, while in America, a horses draw is known as post position.’

How about the rail? The rails are the barriers on either side of the racing surface.

Moving forward, after understanding the terms and how the numbers of each horse were designated, it is now essential to learn how draws can create biases when it is supposed to make the sport as fair as possible.  

First, the rulings on how or where to position the numbers in stalls or starting gates may differ from time to time. However, the current rule for all British courses is that the numbers start from the inside position or near the rail. So, regardless of whether a track is right or left-handed, the lowest draw is adjacent to the inside rail, and the highest draw is the farthest (refer to the image). In other words, drawing numbers 1 to 5 has an advantage over drawing numbers 6 to 10. 

Why is that so? Remember that the ground nearest the inside rails (inner lane) will cover a lesser length than the ground farther from the inside rails (outer lane), as most racetracks are oval or have turns. In other words, the inner lane would have an advantage over the other lanes due to the shorter distance to the curve.  

Hence, the horse might travel a shorter distance if the horse’s draw number is 1 and vice versa – the farther a horse is raced from the inside rail (higher numbers), the more unfavorable the impact of the draw bias. Why is it just might? Remember that at any time, the positions of the horse can also alter during each race, so it is not 100% guaranteed. However, it projects a higher risk for a horse-drawn wider as it would have to travel longer distances to pass through horses with the more favorable draw (inner lanes) and a higher chance for draw numbers near the inner rails to have lesser ground to run. Draw bias portrays advantages and disadvantages but cannot guarantee who will win. This only means that, in a sport where milliseconds can often affect the results between who will win and who will lose, draw bias can be seen as a significant part of handicapping. 

Furthermore, horse racetracks are not perfect circles, and several other elements might influence the result of the race and where the draw bias is. The positioning of the numbers near the rails is only the general bias. Still, biases also vary from one racecourse to another. They are influenced by field size, starting positions and bends or shapes of the track, race distance, track and weather conditions, and horse characteristics. 

Factors Resulting to Draw Bias

Field Size

The draw’s impact also varies on the field size. Draw’s impact on smaller fields is usually minimal because the distance between each horse is relatively small. Smaller fields and the horses will all filter down to the inside rail. However, in larger fields, the effect of the draw can become more noticeable as the horses are likely to be spread across the track, as they will struggle to move from one side of the track to the other 

Starting Positions and Bends or Shapes of the Track

Starting positions in races sometimes differ. What makes the draw biased in terms of its starting position is the spatial proximity of the starts from the turn or bend. If the first turn in a race is positioned near the start, the outside runners will have a grueling path to the inside rail before the turn begins. On the other hand, if the race starts farther toward the first turn, the outer lane horses have more advantage to get their way through the inside rail. 

On turning tracks, the wider the draw position, the wider a horse must travel around the first bend, which can be a disadvantage. In other words, sharp bends give an advantage to horses with early speed drawn on the inner rail.

Race Distance

After the starting positions, races also vary in length. Shorter races of 5, 6, and 7 furlongs around a bend often have a more pronounced bias, as there is less time for the horses to spread out and for outer lane-drawn horses to find a position inside the inner lane. In longer races with more than 7 furlongs in length, the bias is typically less noticeable, as there is more opportunity for horses in the outer lane to rally and position themselves inside the rail. However, this might still vary in every racetrack because even in races like the 2m2f Chester Cup, a low draw or draws near the inner rails still has a notable advantage. To better understand draw biases for each racetrack, you can also check each racetracks Track Details (see List of Racetracks).

Track and Weather Conditions

Track condition refers to the condition of the tracks surface, and weather can alter track condition by either adding water to the ground (rain) or drying up the ground (heat of the sun). Weather can affect track conditions differently depending on the track’s surface type and the weather’s extent. However, in general, track bias is commonly due to extreme weather. Consistent wet, dry, or even freezing weather can drastically change track conditions from time to time. (Refer to our article Types of Horse Racetrack Surfaces and Conditions to better understand and identify the different types of track conditions). 

How does it affect the horse? 

Horses also have different preferences about track types and conditions suited to their hooves. Some horses like a dry track and run faster in such situations, while others can show their best performance in wet tracks. In countries like Australia, where wet tracks are prevalent due to the weather, they call these horses who seem to have an extra leg in wet tracks mud-runners, mudlarks, or swimmers.  

So, how does it connect to draw bias? 

Remember that tracks implement drainage and irrigation systems differently, and the flat tracks are not entirely flat. Hence, it is not impossible for the inner lane and outer lane to have different track conditions. 

Example 

When it rains, horses drawn on the outer lane may find an advantage in races on soft or heavy ground, as the ground may be less hammered. Sometimes, the inside rail is the lowest part of the track and is wetter compared to the other lane of the course. In this case, course drainage can play a significant part in the bias, as the track condition might not become favorable to the horse even if the horse is positioned near the rail. Hence, biases may reverse depending on which lane (outer or inner) is best suited for a kind of horse due to the wet seasons and its drainage system. 

To Sum Up 

The draw bias affected by the track condition can only be specifically understood based on the specific track details for each horse racetrack. Based on their irrigation and drainage system, bettors can further understand what lane (outer or inner) or draw numbers they should be careful of, depending on the weather and horses they choose.  

Therefore, it is a good move to see the specific track details first (see List of Racetracks) and the data of their horses before concluding what draw number is the best. Aside from track conditions, weather can also affect horse racing in other ways. To learn more, see Importance of Learning Weather Conditions in Horse Racing.” 

Horse Characteristics

Veterans already know that horses have different characteristics and likes, including their hooves’ favorite track conditions. It is already mentioned above that the track conditions can affect draw bias because horses can perform well in each of their suitable grounds. So you must first check what track condition the horse likes and see what drawing number best suits him in a particular track. 

Aside from that, horses also have different running styles that affect draw bias in a race (see Types of Running Styles of Racehorses). One of the running styles a horse can have is called a front-runner or pacesetter. This type of horse likes to lead the race and sometimes speed up right after the start of the race. If they are drawn inside the rail, this gives them an advantage. If the draw was on the outside, it may affect him later in the race as he would use more energy and ultimately run further, trying to take an early lead on the inside rail. Another running style you must check to understand draw bias is the stalkers or chasers. They are the type of horse that likes to stay behind the leaders or front-runners. However, in some cases, the contenders lack a true front-runner, so you can assume that the stalkers can become the leader during the race. In that case, if you are eyeing a stalker horse, you first need to assess its draw number and see if it is favorable. 

Draw Bias Chart

Factors Outer Lane/ Outside Rail Inner Lane/ Inside Rail How it creates Bias

Field Size

Great disadvantage for Large Fields.

Minimal disadvantage in small fields.

Great advantage in Large Fields.

Minimal advantage for Small Fields

It matters the distance between each horse – the larger the space, the more difficult it is to save grounds.

Starting Positions

Great disadvantage if the starting position is near the first bend.

So it is better to have the starting position father from the first bend.

Advantage if the starting position is near the first bend.

Minimal Advantage if the starting position is far from the first bend.

The spatial proximity of the starts from the turn or bend – the farther the starting positions to the bend, the better for outer laners and vice versa for inner laners.

Shape

Disadvantage in sharp bends.

Less disadvantages to long and sweeping bends.

Advantage in sharp bends for early-speed horses

The shape of the bend – the more short and sharp, the more advantage.

Race Distance

Great disadvantage for short races like 5-7 furlongs.

Less disadvantage for longer races.

Great Advantage for short races like 5-7 furlongs.

Minimal advantage for longer races.

Race distance – the shorter the race, the greater the advantage. However, it still depends on the racetrack as some racecourses can still create a great advantage for long races.

Track and Weather Conditions

Depending on the Weather and Drainage System

One cannot fully determine from which lane is better (inside or outside rail) since it can greatly impact the horses if the track condition is not suitable for their hooves. This can only be assessed if you understand the horse and the track.

Horse Characteristics

Disadvantage for pacesetters or front-runners

Advantage for pacesetters or front-runners

Front-runners will speed up right after the race begins, so the shorter the distance they need to travel, the better.

Conclusion

Draw bias is sometimes overlooked by other handicappers but can play a significant role in understanding which horse to bet. The abovementioned factors are just the general rule on how draw bias played out in tracks. However, some racetracks are unique and sometimes reverse the general rules. Hence, it is still essential to understand each track before concluding which draw is biased or not and who to bet or not.