Every track has its quirks, its specialists and its own unique characteristics. I have been analyzing French racing on a full-time basis for over 3 years now, having been doing it in my spare time for a lot longer before that and having watched more than 10,000 races, with times and notes for most of those, I feel like I have a strong understanding of the courses in France and what is required to win at those tracks. At Paris Longchamp you need a low draw and a jockey who understands the importance of waiting until they have reached the finishing straight before making their run. At Cagnes-Sur-Mer over obstacles, you need a horse that stays well and a jockey that knows the importance of racing away from the inside rail. These ideas have been built up over several years and whilst there will always be the odd exception that disproves those kinds of rules, sticking to them in the long term has generally delivered a profit over time. However, whenever I think that I have begun to crack the game, along comes an All-Weather card at Marseille Vivaux to bring me back down to earth with a bump.
I like this track. It was here in June 2020 that I witnessed an extraordinary performance from Tiger Tanaka in a 2-year-old Claimer, from which she began her road to Group 1 glory and over time I have managed to back some winners here, but of all the tracks in France, this is the one that I find most puzzling.
This track is unique. A left-handed All-Weather oval, the full circuit measures just under 6-furlongs around and as such it is often considered to be a speed track dominated by front runners, but is that the case? The meeting on Monday 2ndJanuary seemed to throw up some unexpected results and that inspired me to use some of the data that I have on file to produce this short case study.
Races are held over 3 distances at the track, 1500m, 2000m and 2600m (An extended 7F, 1M2F and 1M5F if you prefer) and the study involves races held over the last 18 months (from Sept 2021 to Dec 2022), a total of 203 races.
In the adjacent table I have produced the average winning time for all 3 distances, which I use to give me a basic guide as to both the speed and pace of a race and perhaps more importantly, to give me an overall picture of how the track is riding at any particular meeting. There is an assumption in Racing that an artificial surface will always ride the same, but this really doesn’t reflect in the data and Marseille is a very good example of this. From 2nd February 2022 to 7th March, there were 22 races held at the track, 20 of which were slower than the average time figures. By contrast, from 4th November 2022 to 5th December there were 24 races held and 19 of those were quicker than the average time, even though many were in the lowest grade.
The races start from 2 run-off chutes that feed into the track, with the 1500m and 2600m in the home straight and the 2000m starting past the first bend. The course averages 8.9 runners per race, but the average winning draw of 5.2 over 1500m and 2600m and 5.3 for the 2000m races would suggest that there is no significant bias from the stalls. With such a tight turning track and a very short home straight, the key to this track is to get into the right racing position when the pace begins to lift, but it is not as obvious as it may seem. Of the 203 races examined, 118 of those were won by horses who raced within 3-lengths of the lead, 49.26%, which is much lower than would perhaps be expected. Over the shortest trip, it increases slight to 54.56% (48/88) and to 57.78% over 2600m (26/45), but the assumption that a track like this would heavily favor front-runners is only partially true. In fact, only 24 of the 203 races sampled have been won by horses who could be considered as having “made all” and only 7 of those wins came at a time when the average times would suggest that the track was riding more slowly. So perhaps looking for a hold up horse is more suitable? Well, the short answer is “No it isn’t”. Just 21 of the 203 races have been won by horses who were held up (10.34%) and of those, 11 were won in times slower than the course average. I am loathed to describe as racetrack as a lottery, but this course is the closest to that I have seen. Getting the first run into the home straight would appear to be the key, though I don’t have any way of accurately recording that. As with most tracks, the key is to deliver the horse at the right time and to have a jockey who has the experience to read the pace and understand when to make their move.
When it comes to understanding how to win at Marseille Vivaux, one man stands clear of the rest, Christophe Soumillon. The great jockey rides the track at a remarkable 35% strike rate, a record that reads 64 winners and 61 places from 180 rides. Given the high-profile nature of the jockey and the high number of SP Favorites that he rides, it is perhaps not a surprise to see that the Level Stakes Profit backing him at the track is just £0.25, but his ability to judge the pace here is unrivalled.
With several other PSF tracks within travelling distance (Pau, Cagnes-Sur-Mer and Lyon La Soie), there are plenty of options for horses on the artificial surfaces in the South and so the specific course specialist can be hard to find. Fabrice Vermeulen (17.16%) and Christophe Escuder (13.83%) do tend to target the track, but they have had 536 runners and 370 runners respectively at the course and backing them blind does not turn a Level Stakes Profit at the International SP. Instead, if you are looking for an angle into this track, it may come in the shape of Patrice Cottier. In 2022, he sent out 59 winners from 412 runners (14.32% Strike rate), 18 of which came at Marseille Vivaux. He has a record of 34 winners from 215 runners at the track overall, a 15.81% strike rate which returns a Level Stakes profit of £166.09 to a £1 stake, though this figure is inflated by a 66/1 winner in 2018. In the last 12 months he has also returned a 16.35% strike rate at the other track in Marseille (Marseille Borely on turf) at a Level stakes profit of £21.25. Right on cue for this piece, he had the 1,2 in Monday night’s 2nd race, but he has consistently sent out winners here in the last 18-months and is a name that will be less well known outside of France.
I won’t let this track beat me, but after watching Monday’s card, it became obvious that I have a limited handle on the racing at Marseille Vivaux and attempting to read the races in advance would have proved very costly if I had got involved in the betting. There were 17 meetings held at the track in 2022 and with the floodlights allowing for evening cards, Marseille comes up on a regular basis once the daylight begins to fade. There doesn’t appear to be any significant draw bias, or pace bias for that matter and despite the impression the track creates, it is much more complicated than simply finding the pace angle. Now that I have taken the time to study the results in more detail, I will be more cautious when studying the form.
Thank you for reading, don’t forget to subscribe to my free email updates on the homepage. If you would like a copy of the data used for this piece, please don’t hesitate to contact me via the contact us link or on twitter and I will arrange for a copy of the data to be sent.