With the November Handicap behind us, and the Open meeting at Cheltenham looming this weekend, racing's easy pivot from flat to jumps is complete, and so I thought it timely to offer some thoughts with which to go to war this winter.
Specifically, I've taken a look at those trainers who know how to 'get the job done' in National Hunt Flat, or bumper, races. These often overlooked contests are the kindergartens for tomorrow's superstars. Although Champion Hurdle winners often come from the flat racing game, the vast majority of National Hunt's biggest stars are bred for jumping, and start out in bumpers.
But which handlers are most adept at a) training, and b) placing their new recruits to winning - and profitable - effect? Here's what I found...
I set my parameters to maximum odds of 20/1, and to look only at 2011, 2012, and 2013. I am also only interested in those trainers to have saddled at least 25 runners under such conditions during that time. Still with me? Marvellous!
Best Win Strike Rates
First, let's look at the guys with the best win strike rates. They won't necessarily be the most profitable to follow: after all, if they're winning often enough, there's more chance of the punting public cottoning on. However, these guys are largely benevolent in the wallet department, and have sufficient winners to keep us in the game too.
Top of the tree is the ferry-hopping Antrim man, Stuart Crawford, who makes regular forays to the mainland in search of bumper winners. Since 2011, he's sent 35 NHF horses over, priced 20/1 or shorter, and eleven of them have won (31%). That was worth £28.01 for a £1 unit stake, and SRB (his initials) is still somewhat under the radar.
That group included smart Aintree Listed winner, Legacy Gold, this spring, ridden - like most of Stuart's runners - by brother, Steven.
In second place is John Ferguson, Sheikh Mohammed's main bloodstock agent, and a man making his own name in the National Hunt game with a combination of regally-bred castoffs and cheap sales purchases. Operating under the Bloomfields banner, Ferguson has sent out twelve winners from 40 runners in the context of this analysis, and that 30% strike rate was worth a profit of £17.60 to a £1 level stake.
The problem with Ferguson is that, since a dazzling debut in 2011, he's been a marked man by bookmakers, to the extent where he barely broke even in 2012 and this year. However, he remains a name to keep very much on the right side through the winter months.
Ignoring the third placed trainer, Nicky Henderson, for all sorts of reasons, mainly that he's hugely unprofitable to follow, brings us to Peter Bowen. Pembrokeshire's finest, Bowen has been a shrewd operator for years, especially mining a rich seam through the summer jumps 'season'. And therein lies the problem: he doesn't seem to reserve too much quality to play with through the more traditional period of the National Hunt game, unfortunately.
In fact, his negative stats between November and April strike him off our top bumper trainers' register.
Next in the lists is Charlie Longsdon, alas another of the known commodities. Akin to King Canute in this sphere through 2011 and 2012, Longsdon has been expensive to back this year, even allowing for a much lower strike rate thus far in 2013.
And finally, as far as win strike rates are concerned, we have Oliver Sherwood, the last man standing in the 25%+ Club. With fifteen winners from sixty runners since the start of 2011, Sherwood is bang on the 25% mark and, if anything, has been of more interest over time.
In 2011, Sherwood was sporting a 19% strike rate (and a healthy profit) but, by 2013, the win percentage is up to 35% whilst maintaining that healthy bottom line. Although that's highly unlikely to be sustainable, Oliver Sherwood remains a man to follow in National Hunt Flat races.
Best Return On Investment
People get hung up on ROI in betting. If you're wagering consistently within a known range - that is, you have a bank, good discipline and understand the average win odds of your selections - then ROI is crucial. For most recreational punters, and some who take it more seriously, it's less important than making a score to stay in the game.
Nevertheless, the bottom line is usually the bottom line, so let's review those trainers who have the best record in pure profit terms, notwithstanding that it may have been generated from a coupe of 'golden shots' or that they may have incurred long losing sequences during the period.
Looking at things in this way reveals Kim Bailey as our king of the hill, with his eleven winners from 51 runners (22%) since 2011 worth a mighty £44.30 to a pound level stake. Consistently profitable in each of the last three seasons, and with an even better return of £53.70 when backing each way (albeit from double the stake), Bailey is one to keep very much onside in bumper contests.
In the silver medal position in the 'pieces of silver' stakes is Warren Greatrex. Greatrex is a bit of a bumper specialist, and as such he knows what he's got, and where to place it, generally. Again, he's been progressively profitable to follow since 2011, and again a word of caution is murmured in terms of the replicability of his current level of success.
Indeed, in 2013, Greatrex has hit a 28% win rate for £20.48 level stakes profit. That's from a total 2011-now haul of 18 winners from 83 runners (22%) and an overall profit of £42.73.
In third position and rounding out the ROI podium is J W 'Seamus' Mullins. Whilst I wouldn't necessarily be confident in Mullins maintaining his performance level going forwards (I don't know much about him, in truth, except that he's Willie's cousin), he is a man who hits the mark at big prices.
To wit, he's recorded winners at 20/1 twice and 16/1 twice in his last thirty qualifying runners, one of them as recently as 23rd October (Sidbury Hill). That 20/1 shot was sent off at 29.0 on Betfair, and his horses might very well be more playable on the exchanges as a rule.
The key here is to beware the low win strike rate of just 14%, or one-in-seven. That could lead to some painful losing runs if not properly managed, so a bank and/or some common sense are prerequisites for chasing Seamus' rainbows.
Honourable mentions go to Fergal O'Brien, Tom George, Brendan Powell and Anthony Honeyball, but the three above are those of most note.
Putting our sextet together to create a portfolio covering both strike rate and profit angles gives us the following:
- National Hunt Flat races in UK only
- 20/1 or shorter
- Kim Bailey, Stuart Crawford, John Ferguson, Warren Greatrex, Seamus Mullins, and Oliver Sherwood only
Since 2011, that group would have yielded a profit of £209.73 to a £1 level stake. There have been 76 winners from 331 runners (23% strike rate), and the ROI is 63%.
Backing each way when applicable (five or more runners) brings the strike rate up to 51%, and the profit up to £270.60, albeit while reducing the ROI due to the win and place parts of an each way wager doubling the invested stakes.
Encouragingly, this collective was also profitable to follow in 2010, and broke even in 2009. Thus, there is a fairly strong chronological correlation to the profit figures.