Improving the odds? How to pick the winner of the English Derby

Marlin, D.J., Williams, J.M. and Parkin, T. (2014) Improving the odds? How to pick the winner of the English Derby. Comparative Exercise Physiology, 10(1), pp. 57-62. (doi: 10.3920/CEP10017)

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Many consider the English Derby on Epsom Downs to be ‘The Blue Riband of the Turf’. The Epsom Derby has been run annually since 1780 and the colt Diomed was the first winner. Today the Epsom Derby, run over 1.5 miles, is one of five classic races and is the second leg of the English Triple Crown, preceded by the 2,000 Guineas and followed by the St Leger. The prize money for 2010 has been in excess of £1.25 million. To the best of our knowledge, whilst epidemiological techniques have previously been applied in an attempt to identify risk factors for injury, the purpose of the present study, which we believe is unique, was to use an epidemiological approach to analyse factors that may be predictive of success (or failure) in a single race over the course of a number of consecutive years: The Epsom Derby. Information on the horses competing in the last 22 runnings of the Epsom Derby between 1988 and 2009. Univariate and multivariable single-level and mixed effects logistic regression models were developed using winning the Epsom Derby as the dependent variable. Between 1988 and 2009 in 22 runnings of the Derby, a total of 344 horses started the Epsom Derby. The number of runners in the race has varied between 12 and 25 over the same time period. On average the probability of winning the Derby between 1988 and 2009 was approximately 6% (22/344), without accounting for any potentially predictive variables. Variables that were related to an increased chance of success were being the favourite (odds ratio (OR) 4.75; 95 % confidence interval (CI) 1.58-14.3; P=0.006), the number of 2-year old wins (OR 1.45; CI 1.03-2.04; P=0.03), being foaled in Ireland (OR 2.80; CI 1.12-7.04; P=0.041) and having the same jockey in all races throughout the horses career up to and including the Derby (OR 2.53; CI 1.0-6.41; P=0.05). The highest predictive probability was for horses that started the race as a favourite, were Irish bred, had been ridden by a single jockey and had won twice as a 2-year old. Although the point estimate for this probability was 52% the degree of uncertainty around this estimate was wide, i.e. the 95% CI was 17.5 to 86.5%. Nevertheless even at the lower confidence interval this still represents a significant improvement on the approximately 6% chance of picking a winner at random. In conclusion, using mixed effects logistic regression models would allow one to improve the odds of picking the winner of the Epsom Derby over the past 22 runnings.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Parkin, Prof Timothy
Authors: Marlin, D.J., Williams, J.M., and Parkin, T.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Veterinary Medicine
Journal Name:Comparative Exercise Physiology
Publisher:Wageningen Academic Publishers
ISSN (Online):1755-2559

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