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Handicap Losers and Official Rating Change: A Study

In my previous piece, I wrote about last time out handicap winners and reviewed what differences changes in their rating made when they next run, writes Dave Renham. This time, I am going to look at other handicap finishing positions (e.g. 2nd or worse).

Introduction / Overview

As with the first article I will be sticking to horses which raced in a turf handicap last time out (LTO) and which are running in a turf handicap on their next outing. Qualifying races will be flat turf races run in the UK covering 2016 to 2023 with all profits/losses calculated to Betfair SP less 5% commission.

As I mentioned previously, when any horse runs in a handicap, the official handicapper assesses their performance and will adjust their Official Rating as they see fit. So the first thing I wanted to understand this time was the percentage of ‘non-winners’ that saw their rating go up, stay the same, or go down. Here are the splits:

 

 

As can be seen, over half of the runners were dropped in the ratings, around a third stayed the same, while less than one in seven horses saw their OR raised. How did each group fared in terms of results next time? Here is what I found:

 

 

Horses that performed better LTO have won more often but the ROI% figures are within just 0.4% of each other.

I now want to focus on horses that finished 2nd LTO.

 

LTO finishing position 2nd

Firstly, let me look at the general stats based on whether their rating went up, went down, or stayed the same:

 

 

In terms of returns there has been a slight edge to those LTO runners up whose rating was elevated. This group has also provided the biggest number of qualifiers, whereas it is relatively rare for such runners to be dropped in the ratings.

Below is a more detailed look at runners-up that were raised in the ratings. The table shows a next time out performance breakdown by specific rating change:

 

 

Caution is advised with the profit figures for horses that have been upped by 6lb or more as these stats have been skewed by two winners priced more than 40 BSP at 40.59 and 55.51.

During the study period, over 3000 horses that were 2nd LTO were raised in the ratings by just 1lb. These runners are close to breaking even to BSP, so it is worth digging further to see if there are any interesting stats from within this group.

Class change is one area that I looked at and I would like to share the follow-up results for all LTO turf handicap runners up that were raised exactly 1lb in the ratings, in terms of the class of race change:

 

 

These stats show that LTO 2nds when upped in class have proved good value. These runners have also been profitable in five of the last six seasons. In contrast, those dropped in class have provided very poor value losing over 22p in the £ for every £1 staked.

Sticking with these LTO runners up who have been raised by exactly 1lb, let me share their results when looking at the class of race contested:

 

 

In terms of the profit and loss column we can see that the two lowest Classes (5 & 6) have both incurred losses, with Class 5 losses especially steep. In contrast, Classes 2, 3 and 4 have all proved profitable with Class 3 results very solid including an excellent A/E index of 1.02.

Finally for this group of runners (2nd LTO / up 1lb) it is worth sharing that if restricting qualifiers to sprint handicaps (5f and 6f only) they have produced a decent profit. This subset of runners won 161 times from 930 attempts (SR 17.3%) for a BSP profit of £127.02 (ROI +13.7%). The A/E index was an impressive 1.01. The even better news is that these results are not skewed by bigger priced successes. Indeed, if restricting qualifiers to the top four in the betting we get the following:

 

 

An excellent A/E of 1.04 and returns equating to over 15p for every £1 bet.

 

LTO finishing position 3rd

Onto horses that finished 3rd on their last start. As I did with runners-up let me start by sharing some general stats based on whether their rating went up, down, or stayed the same. Unsurprisingly, far fewer horses were raised in the ratings compared to those who finished 2nd LTO:

 

 

Again, they are a remarkably similar set of figures with no edge to any of the three groups, and the win strike rates indicate a very solid performance by the official handicapper. Let me examine the horses that went up in the ratings and look at the effect of different changes in Official Ratings:

 

 

More than half of the runners upped in the ratings went up just 1lb, but they produced losses of nearly 11 pence in the £. Those raised 3lbs made a profit but take out a BSP 70.0 winner and that becomes a loss. Likewise, the 4+ group had two big-priced winners which again made the bottom line look better than it really is. It should also be noted that all 30 runners upped 7lb or more all lost.

 

LTO finishing position 4th or worse

As we move into horses that did not make the first three LTO, an even greater proportion of these will end up dropping in the ratings as the pie chart below shows.

 

 

From this cohort nearly seven in ten run next time with a lower rating, with just 4% getting raised. This should not come as a surprise considering how they ran previously. The splits for each group look thus:

 

 

Horses that went up in the ratings have provided the worst returns by a few pence in the £ and, based on next time out win strike rates, it could be argued they’ve been harshly treated as a whole.

With the group going down in the ratings being such a big one I am going to look in more detail at them.

 

LTO finishing position 4th or worse + went down in ratings

With over 50,000 horses in this sample one would hope to find some worthwhile angles be they positive or negative. So let’s break their records down by looking at the effect of different drops in OR. Firstly, a look at next time win strike rate based OR difference from prior run:

 

 

The smaller the drop in the ratings the higher the strike rate. Let’s examine how that correlates with return on investment (ROI%):

 

 

There is sound correlation between strike rates and returns: the better value has been with horses dropped either one or two pounds and I would generally avoid horses dropped more than 4lbs.

The most interesting finding concerning horses that were dropped in the ratings having finished 4th or worse was when I looked at their market rank on the betting exchanges. Here is what I found:

 

 

Both favourites and second favourites have produced profits, each with strong A/E indices of 0.98. While returns were modest in ROI terms, considering that would have been achieved from backing all such runners ‘blind’ it can certainly be viewed as a positive. Also, this top two in the market group combined to produce six winning years out of eight, thus showing good consistency.

Those fourth in the betting have provided a decent profit, too, and although 3rd favourites did not, the top four in the betting have proved far better value than those fifth or worse in the betting.

Going back to favourites/2nd favourites here are the BSP profits and losses when splitting their results by Class of Race:

 

 

There has been promising profit from Class 3, 4 and 5 events, especially when considering market position. Class 2 qualifiers lost a tiny amount, but Class 6 favs/2nd favs have under-performed in comparison. Class 6 races are often contested by more inconsistent types, and considering we are looking at horses that finished 4th or worse LTO, albeit first or second in the betting, I am not too surprised at these poorer figures.

 

Main Takeaways

Before closing, I have picked out what I think are the strongest positives and negatives uncovered in this research into the impact of ratings changes on beaten horses in turf handicaps.

 

 

There are a few areas of interest arising for me so it has been a worthwhile continuation from the last article. In the future I hope to revisit Official Rating Change with one potential idea being comparing their current OR rating with their highest winning rating.

Until next time…

  • DR

Monday Musings: Willie’s Big Nose(s)

I was going to try to demean a little Willie Mullins’ amazing Saturday at Ayr, his four-timer surely guaranteeing him a first and unique UK NH trainers title for an overseas stable, writes Tony Stafford.

My line was: where were the Gordon Elliott hordes, seven in the previous week’s Grand National and, who can forget, 14 in the Troytown Chase at Navan in November?

I thought maybe the two dominant forces (one rather more than the other it’s true) might have had a chat, but on further research, I see Gordon didn’t run anything in the Ayr race last year either!

So it was left to Willie to run six, mostly horses that had been slogging through heavy ground all winter and now faced with a much faster surface. The shortest-priced, Mr Incredible, refused to jump the first fence from miles behind, and another unseated there, but that was it.

The remaining quartet finished first, for £110k, then fourth, fifth and sixth in the 26-runner race – if they can run 26 around Ayr, why not 40 at Aintree? Only one horse fell.

Here, it’s about time we started to marvel at the skills of Paul Townend, for so long dismissed in some circles as merely an inferior replacement for Ruby Walsh. Like the big-race win on Macdermott, ridden by Danny Mullins, the following three-mile handicap hurdle success on Chosen Witness was also by a nose, clinched in the last stride.

Earlier, multiple Grade 1 hurdle winner Sharjah was coaxed to stay a previously never attempted three miles under 12st in a novice handicap chase in the patient hands of Townend. Might we see the winner in next year’s Grand National as a 12-year-old?

There was a marmite-like divided reaction to the no-fall Grand National debate last weekend. The BHA and no doubt the top Irish trainers, for; others, like Chris Cook of the Racing Post and Geoff Greetham, former boss of Timeform, sharing my view that it’s not really a Grand National anymore. Probably, if anything, the once-feared fences will remain at best as they were last weekend, or even become easier to placate the ever-closer attention of the Animal Welfare adherents.

Gordon Elliott does have entries for Sandown’s end-of-season party on Saturday but unlike in the earlier days of the Pipe/Henderson and Pipe/Nicholls last-day cliff-hangers, his will only add to the potential Irish domination on the day.

The four Mullins horses that took chunks of the money on offer in Saturday’s big race would generally have been hard to assess, mostly stepping up in class. The trainer has an abundance of horses already at the top but many more coming through the grades. How can you (or maybe even he) put a figure on such potential for improvement?

After Sandown, there’s Punchestown of course. I wondered how many of our top trainers will be involved in a competitive way? Nicky Henderson has ten entered at the opening stage, including Aintree winners Jonbon and Sir Gino, slipped in surreptitiously almost into a Mullins-dominated meeting often with up to ten potential contenders in each race.

Mostly, none of the stars was needed to collect the two biggest prizes at Aintree and Ayr.

Dan Skelton seems to be giving it a miss while Paul Nicholls’ trio includes the so far unraced for him but eagerly anticipated €740k buy Coldwell Potter. Jonjo has a quartet in one bumper and we might see Aintree bumper runner-up Tripoli Flyer for Fergal O’Brien. Less likely, there’s an entry for Corach Rambler.

As I said last week, Willie Mullins takes his success with great dignity, but it does tend to get on one’s nerves after the continuing monopoly!

*

The 2024 flat-race season finally got going with Newmarket and Newbury last week and now it’s less than a fortnight to the first two Classic races. If anyone was expecting the Craven Stakes to indicate a potential threat to City Of Troy, they would probably be thinking again.

Richard Hannon had his Haatem ready to make a winning return and last year’s Group 2 Richmond Stakes scorer added another good prize to his tally with an authoritative three-and-a-half length verdict over the Gosdens’ Eben Shaddad. Sighters from the Charlie Appleby and Aidan O’Brien teams were well behind.

When Haatem won the Richmond, it followed an earlier six-and-a-half length demolition by the O’Brien colt in the Superlative Sakes on Newmarket’s July Course. Haatem’s final run coincided with City Of Troy on his next appearance, an all-the-way victory in the Dewhurst Stakes by almost four lengths from Alyanaabi – Haatem was eight-and-a- half lengths back in fifth.

You can still get 4/6 about the brilliant Coolmore horse, his price only buttressed by second favourite Rosallion, trained by Haatem’s handler Richard Hannon. His horses have made a great start to the season, not least winning nice races for long-standing stable owner Julie Wood.

I love her strategy. Rather than keep her good horses, she enjoys racing them and then, even the fillies, sells them on. Last week she had two first time out winners on the same Newbury card, Voyage in the ten-furlong maiden, and Star Style, a Zoustar filly in the seven-furlong newcomers’ race.

Stretching more than five lengths clear of some well-related if less talented fillies, Star Style filled the usual Julie Wood sourcing pattern.

Preferring to buy on her own judgment as foals rather than wait for agents to tell her what’s nice a year later, she happened to take a liking to this filly, who is out of a mare she raced, Sweet Cicely. Star Style will, I’m sure, more than live up to her name.

One agent who is becoming ever more prominent is Sam Sangster, with his horses with Brian Meehan. Last year they had Isaac Shelby as an example of his skills at the sales and, at Newmarket last week, Jayarebe romped home in the Feilden Stakes in the manner of a guaranteed high-class performer.

Up with the pace throughout, he strode clear of some smart types to win by almost four lengths in the fastest time of the day on the drying ground.

Half an hour later Godolphin’s five-year-old Ottoman Fleet gained a repeat victory in the Group 3 Earl of Sefton Stakes, fully extended to hold fast-finishing Astro King, winner of last year’s Cambridgeshire under a record weight, and Hi Royal, last year’s 2000 Guineas runner-up. The two winners carried the same weight of 9st2lb which makes the three-year-old’s performance 10lb superior, allowing for weight-for-age.

He carries the lucky (for Meehan) colours of Iraj Parvizi, whose Dangerous Midge won the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Turf for Meehan at Churchill Downs. Jayarebe has no Classic entries, but the likelihood is that he could be supplemented for the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) at Chantilly.

Later on the card, there was a suggestion of yet another great buy by Sam Sangster when the three-year-old filly Kathmandu outran her 40/1 odds to finish third in the Group 3 Nell Gwyn Stakes behind Pretty Crystal, trained by Richard Fahey, and 1000 Guineas hopeful Dance Sequence, trained by Charlie Appleby.

It was a messy race and many thought Dance Sequence ought to have won. She’s still only 7/1 for the Classic on May 5.

Before the race, Kathmandu’s connections – they go by Sangster and (Ed) Babington and she runs in Robert Sangster’s colours - were already on a winner with their 50 grand purchase. The previous evening, Kathmandu’s two-year-old half-sister by New Bay was bought for 525,000gns to join Godolphin on the first stage of the Craven Breeze-Up sale. That and black type, too.

“We’ve always thought she was good, so we entered her three weeks ago for the French 1000 Guineas. The decision on whether she runs, as ever, will be left to Brian.” Quite right too!

- TS

Monday Musings: Fences

We wait all year for the Grand National, anticipating the sternest examination in jump racing anywhere in the world, writes Tony Stafford. Such is the conditioned attitude that the great race has engendered over so many years, owners who have been around for a while, when lucky enough to own a top steeplechaser, are more often than not terrified of taking up the challenge.

We, or rather they, consider the fearsome fences, like the Chair, Becher’s Brook and the rest, and shrink away. Are they wise? Well let me give you a definitive if an admittedly after-timing answer. No, they are not!

The three races over said fences, Thursday’s Fox Hunters, Friday’s Topham and Saturday’s Randox-sponsored £1 million feature, carried big fields by day to day standards, even if the latest modification (or rather mutilation) of the big race has reduced the maximum field to  34 – denuded further with two on-the-day defections on Saturday - more about that later.

The Chair did prove too much of a jumping test for two of the 24 runners among Thursday’s hunter chasers – we were used to seeing 30 - two of them falling at that point. Then again, one was a 50/1 shot, the other was 66’s.

So the biggest of the 16 obstacles and which, along with the water in front of the stands, is one of only two to be jumped once, would surely take more fallers over the next two days. It didn’t, and nor did any of the other 15 obstacles over all three.

Thus, I’m sure we had the first ever Grand National where there had not been a single faller. True, four horses unseated their riders, ironically one of them was last year’s winner Corach Rambler, who continued only briefly having left Derek Fox on the deck at the opening obstacle days after the jockey had recovered from injury just in time to aim for the repeat. Corach Rambler actually did fall, unencumbered by a jockey, at the very next fence and then was seen veering to the right having refused at the third. Three-in-one, unseated, fell and refused at the first three obstacles!

Seven were pulled up, so that left 21 of the 32 starters to complete the course. In the Fox Hunters, in addition to those two fallers at the Chair (fence three), three unseated and seven pulled up, leaving ten finishers. The Topham also had 24 starters, one of which unseated and six more pulled up leaving an almost unfathomable 17 (71%) to get round. These are unprecedented figures, especially on soft or heavy going.

In my usual way of securing a comprehensive analysis, I thought a quick look back two decades to one of my most memorable races, 2004, the year that Graham Lee rode that wonderful race on Ginger McCain’s Amberleigh House, would provide a useful yardstick.

Graham’s ride that day was the Grand National performance I always considered the best I’d seen. He coolly took a pull when most jockeys would have gone hell for leather at the third-last, saving enough in the testing ground to come out on top. Graham rode quite a few winners for me in his Wilf Storey days and it’s a poignant thought that he suffered his horrific injuries after switching to the flat.

The ground was testing that week twenty years ago, but times for the three respective races, the Fox Hunters, Topham and Grand National were all significantly faster than the 2024 versions. This year’s Fox Hunters took around 18 seconds longer to complete; the Topham 12 seconds more and the Grand National seven seconds more even though the course had dried significantly over the previous 24 hours.

The 2004 Fox Hunters had six fallers, two brought down and two pulled up. The Topham that year had eight fallers, two brought down and one refusal while four horses pulled up. In Amberleigh House’s Grand National, nine fell, two were brought down, two refused, seven unseated rider and eight pulled up.

All the modifications have done is to make it little more than a park race. High-class chasers, especially those so redolent of the Irish steeplechasing scene, can continue year to year, mopping up the many Graded and Listed races around their country and maintaining a status that guarantees a place in next year’s field.

Here, the good horses have to run in the few well-endowed but ultra-competitive high-class handicap chases in the calendar like the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury in early December or the Welsh Grand National, also sponsored by Coral at Chepstow on the day after Boxing Day.

Nassalam has been the unwitting vehicle for the grossest example of a handicapping error from his win in the Welsh National, and for once I’m not blaming the official it concerns, but our system. Nassalam had already won a handicap chase at Chepstow a month earlier when he went back to the track for the 3m5f feature. Gary Moore’s gelding was always in contention but in heavy ground, as they moved out of the back straight, his mastery was already evident.

In an eerie foreshadowing of Saturday’s big race, there were no fallers that day at Chepstow, largely because by the time most of them had got to the end of the back straight, they had already given up. Of the 19 horses that set off, five completed, with Iron Bridge off levels with the winner, nearest but beaten 34 lengths.

Iron Bridge, trained by Jonjo O’Neill in the Hemmings Racing colours, and at eight two years senior to Nassalam, hadn’t won a race for some time and his best chase form, far from in top races, had been in novice handicap chases. If the handicapper had been able to wait until the four other horses that completed ran again, he might have acted a little less extravagantly. None of the quartet has done a thing since. All of them were probably bottomed by their run behind Nassalam, so to rate that as a 16lb improvement was simply horrific.

I think Gary Moore, brave enough to let him take his chance in the Grand National even after pulling up in between at Cheltenham in the Gold Cup, has a very strong case to appeal. By going to 161 he was giving weight to a former Gold Cup winner in Minella Indo on Saturday. That one finished third, behind and just ahead of the Gordon Elliott pair Delta Work and Galvin, both habitual competitors at the top level, as well as winner I Am Maximus. Last time out, he had given Vanillier, the 2023 runner-up 12lb and a 14-length beating in a four-runner Grade 3 chase at Fairyhouse.

I Am Maximus received 2lb from Nassalam on Saturday, but had the Grand National weight assessor had available evidence of Fairyhouse to hand, he would have been conceding 3lb to Nassalam. I think having seen him start at 50/1 and after making a couple of mistakes, yet still valiantly completed, the UK handicappers might start adjusting their reaction to what have been hitherto perceived as key races.

If in a 19-runner handicap like the Welsh National it is obvious that only a few horses handled conditions, a more measured approach might be in order. Horses like I Am Maximus, Delta Work (close to dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll more than once), Minella Indo and Galvin should not be receiving weight from a horse with a single performance that sticks out like a sore thumb.

Elsewhere, great credit must go to David Maxwell. Most 45-year-old estate agents would have been in the hospitality area if inclined to visit the Grand National. Instead, he bought Ain’t That A Shame, 105 lengths behind Corach Rambler in last year’s National under Rachael Blackmore and pulled up more recently in the Munster National and guided him into sixth place – and a £30k instalment on the purchase price - only 15.75 lengths adrift of I Am Maximus. Rachael, on the third Minella Indo, still had the edge in the Henry de Bromhead team, so a good piece of business all round.

Most interesting for me, having put forward one of J P McManus’s other runners, Limerick Lace, as my selection last week, it was a shock to see her price contract to 7/1 joint-favourite with the winner.

She finished tenth after making some mistakes, beginning when interfered with, as far as I could see on a single viewing, at the Canal Turn first time round. She was going on very well at the finish, and if she does come back next year, whatever happens in the meantime (almost) I’ll be with her.

Changing tack, something though has to be done about a situation where two trainers can know from months out they can share half the Grand National field between them without fear of serious challenge. This also prevents other potential candidates lower down the handicap scale – usually the best chance for one of ours – to get in. I do think a cap on the maximum number of runners for a trainer or owner, or both, might well need to be an interim measure before trainers here totally pull up the white flag.

Dan Skelton, Ben Pauling and a few others have stepped forward to bolster the long-established leaders Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls. Irishman Fergal O’Brien is well entrenched in Gloucestershire and all five of those talented men had winners over the three days last week.

In a way the £500,000 first prize, along with £200,000, £100,000 and £65,000 for the next three places does nothing for the race, except in enabling people to say it’s the biggest prize in UK jump racing. So what?! It’s our race and we need our top and highly skilled trainers and their owners to have a shot of winning it.

A first step would be to let owners know that the old antipathy against running in the race for fear of an early end to a jumper’s career is no longer valid. If it always gives an imbalance to the trainers' championship too, that’s a side effect. When Aidan O’Brien habitually contests the flat trainers' title with the Gosdens and others, he needs to win Classics and numerous Group 1 races to make up for the numerical advantage of his British counterparts. There’s no such balancing act in jumping – it’s Willie first, the rest nowhere!

On the point of non-runners, Gordon Elliott reduced his big team by one via a vet’s certificate, but Chambard, trained by Venetia William, was withdrawn on a self-certificate. For a normal race I would say the self-cert rule is fine, but for a race like the Grand National, surely not. For contests of a certain value and status, specific reasons should be required. Two horses were denied the chance to run for the big pot and I bet their connections are fuming!

- TS

2025 Grand National Trends

2025 Grand National Betting Trends and Tips - The Randox Health Grand National is simply the biggest and most famous horse race in the world. Run at Aintree racecourse each year in early April the gruelling contest is run over a trip of 4 1/4 miles with the first ever winner being the appropriately-named Lottery.

With 34 runners to go through one popular angle on whittling down the field is to use some key trends - apply these to the 2025 Grand National runners and you'll at least build up a profile of the type of horse it takes to win the Liverpool marathon.

Did you know that since 1978 only three horses have won carrying more than 11-5 in weight, while we've only had one winning 7 year-old to win since 1940........but that was Noble Yeats in 2022.

Here at GEEGEEZ we look back at past winners and highlights the key betting trends ahead of the 2024 Aintree Grand National - this year run on Saturday 12th April - and sponsored by Randox Health.

Ok, at first glance with now 34 runners (reduced from 40) contesting 30 fences for 4 1/4 miles the Aintree Grand National does have quite a scary look to it when it comes to trying to hunt down the winner – however, despite those daunting factors you can often find the Grand National winner by following a few simple tips and trends.

The 2025 Grand National is on Saturday 12th April at another new time - 4pm.

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Positive Grand National Pointers……………….

  • Horses that had won or finished placed in a National race of any description
  • Note horses wearing a tongue-tie (5 of the last 7)
  • Aged between 8-10, but last 9 have all been aged 9 or younger
  • Look for horses that raced over hurdles at some point earlier that season
  • Horses that like to be ridden up with the pace in their races often do well (avoid horses that like to be held up)
  • Irish-trained horses have a great recent record in the Grand National (won 6 of the last 8)
  • Irish-bred horses have the best recent Grand National record
  • Look for horses that finished unplaced in the previous season’s Grand National – they often do well
  • Horses that have won over 3miles in the past is virtual ‘must-have’

Negative Grand National Pointers…………………

  • Horses aged 13 or older don’t have a great Grand National winning record – you have to go back to 1923!
  • Runners that have fallen or unseated three or more times often don’t run well
  • Past Grand National winners and previous Grand National placed horses have bad returning records
  • Horses that had last raced over 56 days ago often don’t run well
  • Runners that had hard races at the Cheltenham Festival, run the previous month, don’t fare well, although Tiger Roll kicked this trend into touch again in 2019 and Corach Rambler won at Cheltenaham before winning the National in 2023.

 

Weight Watchers: Some recent winners have carried 11st (or more) to victory - including I Am Maximus (11-6) in 2024. But looking back at recent trends make this weight your cut-off point. If you look back over the winners we’ve only seen the mighty Red Rum (1974 & 1977) and Many Clouds (2015) carry 11-8 or more – 25 of the last 33 winners carried 10-13 or less.

Staying Power: Stamina is an absolute must when scanning down the entries. Year-after-year there are always plenty of hype horses that are certainly talented, but the big question surrounding their chance is will they stay the gruelling 4m 1/4f trip?  29 of the last 33 winners had won over 3m+ in the past, but it's worth noting that the 2021 Minella Times - had only won over 2m6f before heading to National glory.

Age Concern: Experience is a vital attribute when looking back at past Grand National winners with horses aged 9 years-old or OLDER certainly the ones to focus on. Before Noble Yeats won as a 7 year-old in 2022 - you had to go back to 1940 (Bogskar) to find the last 7 year-old to grab the Merseyside marathon! So, don’t be too put off if your fancy is in their twilight years – but not a teenager - 26 of the last 33 winners were aged 9 or older, but it is worth pointing out 5 of the last 9 winners were 8 year-olds, suggesting there might be a bit of a turning point in this age stat. Including I Am Maximus in 2024.

Tongue-Tie: An interesting stat that's building up is that five of the last 7 National winners wore a tongue-tie. Backed up again in 2023 with Corach Rambler sporting this form of headgear or equipment. We can expect several of the runners to follow suit, but this emerging trend should also help knock out many. While 3 of the last 6 winners wore headgear of some sort.

Luck Of The Irish: Our friends from the across the Irish Sea have raided these shores to win the Aintree Grand National many times in recent years, so certainly take a second glance at any of their runners. 9 of the last 18 winners came from Irish-based stables, including 6 of the last 8 and another in 2024 with the Willie Mullins-trained I Am Maximus.

Fencing Master: With thirty of the most unique obstacles in horse racing to contend with then having previous form over the tricky Grand National fences can be a huge advantage. Many recent Grand National winners had previously been tried over these Grand National-style fences in the past. The Topham Chase and Becher Chase - or a previous run in the big race itself – are the main races that are staged at Aintree racecourse over the same Grand National-style fences to look back at.

Who’s Your Favourite: The betting on the Grand National always picks up pace in the weeks building up to the big day, but on the Saturday itself, when the once-a-year punters hit the high streets, this is when the betting market really kicks into gear. It’s also worth noting that the weights for the Grand National are issued well in advance (February each year), so with some horses often running well after they’ve been given their allocated weight and before the race then this can also impact the ante post Grand National betting. 8 of the last 33 runnings have been won by the favourite (24%), while 19 of the last 33 (58%) market leaders were placed (top 4 finish)! The last two runnings have now been won by the favourite (or joint) too.

Market Toppers: We’ve already talked about the actual favourite, but this Grand National trend can be taken a bit further when you actually drill down into recent runnings. In fact, most winners in recent years started in the first eight of the Grand National betting market – indicating that despite the Venetia Williams-trained, Mon Mome, popping-up at 100/1 in 2009, that punters generally tend to get this race right. 13 of the last 21 winners came from the top 8 in the betting market.

Fitness First: Probably the biggest trend in recent years, and a really easy way to whittle the 34 strong field down in one easy swoop, is just check how many days ago your fancy last ran. The majority of the recent Grand National winners had their previous race no more than 48 days prior to the big day. While if you want to drill this trend down a bit further than you’ll notice that a large amount of recent winners of the Grand National actually raced less than 40 days prior to landing the greatest steeplechase in the world. 31 of the last 33 winners ran no more than 55 days ago, while 25 of the last 33 raced no more than 34 days ago! In 2021, Minella Times, did defy this trend after winning the National off a 62-day break, while the 2023 winner Corach Rambler ran just 32 days prior, when 1st in the Ultima Handicap Chase in 2023 at the Cheltenham Festival. 12 months ago, I Am Maximus was last in action 49 days before winning the race.

Recent Grand National Winners

2024 - I Am Maximus (7/1 jfav)
2023 - Corach Rambler (8/1 fav)
2022 – Noble Yeats (50/1)
2021 - Minella Times (11/1)
2020 - Cancelled (Covid)
2019 - Tiger Roll (4/1 fav)
2018 - Tiger Roll (10/1)
2017 - One For Arthur (14/1)
2016 – Rule The World 33/1
2015 – Many Clouds 25/1
2014 – Pineau De Re 25/1
2013 – Auroras Encore 66/1
2012 - Neptune Collonges 33/1
2011 - Ballabriggs 14/1
2010 - Don't Push It 10/1jfav
2009 - Mon Mome 100/1
2008 - Comply or Die 7/1 jfav
2007 - Silver Birch 33/1
2006 - Numbersixvalverde 11/1
2005 - Hedgehunter 7/1 fav
2004 - Amberleigh House 16/1
2003 - Monty’s Pass 16/1
2002 - Bindaree 20/1
2001 - Red Marauder 33/1
2000 - Papillon 10/1
1999 - Bobbyjo 10/1
1998 - Earth Summit 7/1 fav
1997 - Lord Gyllene 14/1
1996 - Rough Quest 7/1 fav
1995 - Royal Athlete 40/1
1994 - Miinnehoma 16/1
1993 - VOID RACE
1992 - Party Politics 14/1
1991 - Seagram 12/1
1990 - Mr Frisk 16/1

Aintree Grand National Trends

  • 32/33 – Officially rated 137 or higher
  • 31/33 – Ran no more than 55 days ago
  • 29/33 – Had won over at least 3m (chase) before
  • 29/33 – Had won no more than 6 times over fences before
  • 25/33 – Returned a double-figure price
  • 25/33 – Ran no more than 34 days ago
  • 25/33 – Carried 10-13 OR LESS
  • 25/33 – Aged 9 or older
  • 23/33 – Came from outside the top 3 in the betting
  • 22/33 - Aged 10 years-old or younger
  • 21/33 – Had won between 4-6 times over fences before
  • 21/33 – Finished in the top 4 last time out
  • 19/33 – Won by an Irish-bred horse
  • 19/33 – Placed favourites
  • 18/33 – Carried 10-8 OR LESS
  • 16/33 – Aged 9 or 10 years-old
  • 13/33 – Ran at Cheltenham last time out
  • 13/33 – Trained in Ireland (inc 10 of the last 18 years)
  • 9/33 – Won last time out
  • 8/33 – Won by the favourite or joint favourite
  • 7/33 – Ran in a previous Grand National (but 14 of the last 16 were having their debuts)
  • 3/33 – Trained by Gordon Elliott
  • 2/33 – Trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies
  • 2/33 - Trained by Willie Mullins
  • 2/33 - Trained by Lucinda Russell (2 of the last 7)
  • 1/33 – Won by a horse aged 7 years-old OR LESS

Aintree Grand National Facts

  • Since 1978, 146 horses have tried to win with more than 11-5 – with just three winners – I Am Maximus (2024), Many Clouds (11-9) in 2015 & Neptune Collonges (11-6) in 2012
  • 19 of the last 25 winners were bred in Ireland
  • 5 of the last 7 winners wore a tongue tie
  • 22 of the last 30 winners aged between 8-10
  • Only 4 horses that won at the Cheltenham Festival that same season has won since 1961 (Corach Rambler did the double in 2023)
  • 14 of the last 16 Grand National winners were having their first run in the race
  • Just one 7 year-old or younger to win since 1940 (Noble Yeats, 2022)
  • 15 of the last 27 winners had won or been placed in a National-type race before
  • No horse aged 13 or older has won since 1923 or placed since 1969
  • 3 of the last 15 winners ran in the Scottish National the previous season
  • 10 of the last 21 winners had run over hurdles at some stage earlier in the season
  • 5 of the last 22 winners had been unplaced in the National last year
  • Only five 8 year-olds have won the last 29 renewals (but 5 in the last 9 years)
  • Just two past winners or placed horse from the previous year’s race has won for 38 years (86 have attempted)
  • 25 of the last 27 winners had fallen or unseated no more than twice in their careers
  • Just two back-to-back winners since 1974 Red Rum (1974) and Tiger Roll (2019)

Aintree Grand National Betting Trends (21 Year)

21/21 – Carried 11st 9lbs or less
19/21 – Officially rated 137 or higher
18/21 – Carried 11st 5lbs or less
18/21 – Had won over at least 3m previously
18/21 – Ran less than 50 days ago
15/21 – Won by a horse aged 9 or older
13/21 – Winners from the top 8 in the betting
13/21 – Finished in the top 3 last time out
10/21 – Won by an Irish-trained horse
9/21 – Won by horses aged in double-figures
8/21 – Experienced the National fences before
8/21 – Carried 11-0 or more in weight
7/21 – Won their last race
6/21 – Winning favourites (2 joint)
5/21 - (Won by a horse aged 8 years-old (5 of the last 9)
5/21– Won by a horse aged 10 years-old
3/21 – Won by the Gordon Elliott yard
2/21 – Won by the McCain yard
2/21 - Won by the Lucinda Russell yard
2/21 - Won by the Willie Mullins yard

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Handicap Winners and Official Rating Change: A Study

As the title suggests, in this article I examine last time out (LTO) handicap winners and look to see what impact, if any, different changes to their rating makes when they race again, writes Dave Renham. I will also be grouping together all LTO winners upped in the ratings to explore general trends and stats.

Introduction

When any horse runs in a handicap, the Official Handicapper assesses the performance and decides whether the Official Rating – a number that determines in which class a horse should run and how much weight it should carry – should go up, down or stay the same.

These ratings are adjusted and published every Tuesday so there will be times when a handicap winner runs again before it gets reassessed. When this occurs, the horse in question must carry a fixed penalty of extra weight in order to meet its rivals on somewhat fairer terms. This is 6lb for a 2yo or 3yo, 5lb for a 4-6yo, and 4lb for a 7yo+.

Hence a seven-year-old horse that won off a handicap mark of 76 LTO will carry a 4lb fixed penalty if running prior to reassessment and will race off a handicap mark of 80 in that race (76+4).

When a horse wins a handicap, the Official Handicapper needs to decide by how much to raise its rating. If it wins narrowly, it is likely the rise will be small; but if the horse wins comfortably by several lengths, then the rise is likely to be more significant. This is why some jockeys ease their mounts up near the finish in an attempt to narrow the winning margin in hope of a smaller rating rise. Ratings points equate to 1lb in terms of weight carried.

Now, when horses switch from turf flat to all-weather or vice versa there are potential issues such as when a horse is far better on one surface than the other. In these circumstances the handicapper has the option of allotting a ‘split’ handicap rating, different for each surface. In this article I am avoiding that scenario by sticking to horses which won a turf handicap LTO and who are running in a turf handicap on their next start. I have concentrated on turf flat races run in the UK covering a time span from 2016 to 2023. All profits/losses have been calculated to Betfair SP less 5% commission.

Official Rating (OR) Change – All turf winners

To begin with let me share data for all LTO turf winners and the effect of different changes in Official Ratings:

 

 

As the table indicates from the number of runners in each row, the rise tends to be between 3 and 6 pounds. Generally, the more a horse has been raised the more it increases its chances of winning. However, this does not equate to profit! Looking at ROI% figures one could argue the better value in terms of horses going up in the ratings are with those raised between one and two pounds.

A handful of horses saw their Official Rating decrease. There are a few reasons why this might happen. It could be due to a big race having early declarations and they win just before that race takes place. It could also be due to a horse being off the track for a long time. For example, Soldier in Action won a handicap at Goodwood in September 2018 off a mark of 94 but was not seen again on the track for four years. He raced off 90 on his return as the handicapper has the discretion to drop a rating in these circumstances, when in possession of a lot more information about the value of the previous race-winning form. These runners have made a profit from a very small sample.

For the remainder of the article, I am going ignore the two small groups of LTO winners that either stayed the same rating or indeed raced from a lower rating, meaning that I will be focusing only on runners whose Official Rating increased.

Rise in Official Ratings by Race Class

I would like to split the results of handicap winners raised at least 1lb or more by Race Class. Does this make any difference? Firstly, I looked at win strike rates:

 

 

It is interesting to see the increase in win percentage as the level of race gets easier. However, we know strike rates are not instructive from a ledger perspective so we need to examine returns. Also, Class 2 handicaps do tend to have bigger fields so one would expect the win SR% for that group to be lower.

Unsurprisingly, all race classes made a loss, and the splits are shown in the graph below:

 

There is not much in it when comparing the returns of Classes 2 through to 5. However, Class 6 LTO handicap winners have got close to breaking even (loss of just over 2p in the £) and they seem to have offered the best value during the period of study. If you had concentrated on Class 6 qualifiers that won a Class 6 handicap LTO then these runners would have lost less than 1p in the £.

Sticking with LTO handicap winners racing at Class 6 level, it is very interesting when we split the results by how much the horse was raised. I have grouped them together in batches to give bigger sample sizes:

 

 

The table suggests that the less a horse has gone up in the weights the better from a value perspective. It should be noted that the results for Class 6 runners upped between 1 and 3 pounds have+ not been skewed by huge-priced winners. Indeed, when these runners started favourite, they returned over 14p in the £ thanks to 72 winners from 228 qualifiers (SR 31.6%) for a BSP profit of £32.37. Second favourites were also profitable though only just.

So we see that, in Class 6 handicaps, horses upped by eight pounds or more have proved very poor value albeit from a small sample. But what about horses upped by eight pounds-plus in other Class grades? Here are the stats:

 

 

As you can see Class 3 runners have snuck into profit. However, Class 5 runners have struggled losing nearly 25p in the £. Hence horses raised 8lb or more have struggled in the two lowest classes (5 and 6) – they look worth swerving.

Rise in Official Ratings by Age

A look now at whether the age of a horse makes a difference when trying to repeat a handicap win having been upped in the weights/ratings. I want to look at win strike rate first as there is a pattern:

 

 

As the graph indicates, in terms of win percentage horses aged two to five outperform those six and older. Once we get to 9yos and older the win rate drops below 10%. Let me share now the Betfair return on investment figures to see if they correlate with the strike rates:

 

 

There is good correlation between the ROI% and the win strike rates. 7yos buck the trend slightly but the graph otherwise trends in the right direction. 9yos+ have been very poor value losing nearly 28p in the £. 2yos have proved the best value although would still have lost a shade under 4p in the £ for every £1 staked.

As 3yos provide the biggest group of LTO turf handicap winners by some margin, let me drill into their record in more detail. If we narrow our 3yos down to those who were raised just one or two pounds we get the following results – 72 winners from 410 (SR 17.6%) for a BSP profit of £102.08 (ROI +24.9%). Each of the last four years has produced a profit to BSP.

Remarkably the biggest hike in the weights/ratings for a LTO winning 3yo has been a massive 23lbs! It should be noted that when the rise gets beyond 10lbs, 3yos have been less successful. Under these circumstances they have managed to win just 17 of 117 races (SR 14.5%) for a loss of £31.44 (ROI -26.9%)

I have one last age-related stat to share: horses aged nine or older when raised just 1-2lbs have won only twice from 50 attempts (SR 4%). Betting all qualifiers would have lost a massive 76p in the £. 43 of these 50 runners had won LTO by less than a length so my guess is that they had nothing ‘in hand’ when winning and hence going into their next race it made a repeat win very difficult.

Rise in Official Ratings by Sex

Do male horses or female horses perform better when raised in the weights after a turf handicap win? Here are the splits:

 

 

Female runners have outperformed their male counterparts across the board, delivering a higher strike rate, better returns, and a higher A/E index. This is interesting because when we look at all flat runners, males tend to win slightly more often than females.

It makes sense to look at this female group in more detail. Firstly, let me examine their stats by Class of race:

 

 

In the ‘run of the mill’ handicaps of Class 4 and 5, female runners have performed far less well. However, at either end of the scale, Classes 2 to 3, and Class 6, their record has been very solid. At the basement level of Class 6 they have made a good profit and with the highest priced success being 22.58 BSP, these figures have not been skewed by a random 50/1+ winner or two.

Another stat worth sharing is that female qualifiers who were raised just 1 or 2 pounds would have been worth following thanks to 70 winners from 423 (SR 16.6%) for a BSP profit of £54.35 (ROI +12.9%).

Sticking with these LTO female winners, they seem to have a favoured time of the year. Below are the A/E indices split between two time frames – March to June and July to November.

 

 

Runners racing in July to November have proved far better value than those seen earlier in the season. The ROI percentages correlate with these figures as female runners from March to June would have lost you over 16p in the £, females racing between July to November have essentially broken even. There is a theory about fillies and mares enjoying the sun on their backs and, while that may or may not be true, the data appear to support it.

Before moving on there are three more female stats worth sharing:

 

 

As we can see, LTO turf handicap winners raised in the weights who were female have proved profitable in a variety of situations.

 

Rise in Official Ratings – Comparison with Class LTO

When a horse wins a handicap and goes up in the ratings there will be times when they will be rated too high for the class of race that they contested last time. Hence there will be far more horses stepping up in class than dropping in class. Obviously, there will be some that will contest the same class as last time. Let us look at the overall figures for all LTO turf handicaps winners that went up 1lb or more in the ratings:

 

 

Horses dropped in class have won more often than those upped in class but they have been poor value, losing around 19p in the £. Horses remaining in the same class have offered the best returns/value, but they still produced losses of around 7p in the £.

Drilling down in class change + rating change there is one positive I have found. Horses that were raised in class but upped just 1 or 2lbs have made positive returns. The 509 qualifiers have provided profits of £97.69 (ROI +19.2%) thanks to 73 winners. The overall A/E index is a solid 0.94, and results have been consistent over the last four years as all four have turned a profit.

Conclusions / Main Takeaways

Ratings change in handicap winners is not an area that I have investigated in much detail in the past, but it has highlighted a few interesting stats well worth noting through the season.

Below I have picked out what I think are the strongest positives and negatives to keep in mind.

 

 

Good luck.

- DR

Monday Musings: My Idea of the National Winner is…

It’s a horrible thought, but if all the horses eligible to run before today’s five-day stage for the Randox Grand National stood their ground and then took up the engagement on Thursday morning, only six of the drastically reduced field this year, from 40 to 34, will be trained in the UK, writes Tony Stafford.

Even more salutary, between them, Gordon Elliott (ten) and Willie Mullins (eight) will have more than a 50% chance of knocking off the £500,000 first prize and the better than acceptable place money from second, £200k, down to five grand for tenth.

The inertia once horses get to a certain level – and this time there’s no fault being found about handicapping on either side of the Irish Sea - means it takes a lot for, say, a 150-rated animal to drop out of his guaranteed place in the line-up from year to year. That’s why they race so infrequently – where else can you have a shot at half a million?

The lucky six this time would be supplemented if the big two fine down their options. Six of the next ten are trained over here so it could at least bring, if not a level playing field, one that offers a hint of promise. Of the guaranteed sextet, connections of the 11-year-old Latenightpass will be on a winner even before the gelding lines up.

Fourth under multiple champion and overall point-to-point lady record holder Gina Andrews in last year’s Foxhunters at the National meeting over the same fences, the gelding will be her first ride in a Grand National. He’s safely in on 24, and Gina, the multiple point-to-point champion and by far the winning-most lady rider in that sphere, rides the family gelding for husband Tom Ellis, king of the point-to-point trainers.

In racecard order as they stood this morning, the top two from the UK are number 3 Nassalam and number 8 Corach Rambler. After his excellent third behind Galopin Des Champs in last month’s Gold Cup, Corach Rambler is only a 4/1 shot to repeat last year’s victory for Lucinda Russell. Nassalam concedes him 2lb because of two spectacular performances around Chepstow in December but was then pulled up in the Gold Cup, so the market’s preference is understandable.

But such was Nassalam’s astonishing demolition job on the Welsh Grand National field in his last race before Cheltenham – unfortunately causing Gary Moore’s gelding that abrupt jump in his rating – he must be a contender especially as we’ll be having heavy ground bar a miracle with the weather by Saturday.

Nassalam also looked good around the big Aintree fences in the autumn, staying on well from a long way back in the Grand Sefton over a woefully inadequate 2m5f, gathering momentum as the race neared its climax. He’s one of the best equipped to handle both ground and distance in the field and although he did carry a big weight in the 3m6f Welsh National, his mark soared another 16lb after that.

I reckon every 1lb will be worth two under these conditions, so with regret I’ve been looking down the list. Sadly, apart from the obvious claims of Corach Rambler – and repeat winners aren’t exactly unheard of - even if the ground might not be totally to his liking, I’ve landed on an Irish contender.

The same age as Nassalam, that’s seven, and significantly the 2022 winner Noble Yeats was also that age at the time, I find it hard to get away from the Gavin Cromwell-trained and, need I say it, J P McManus-owned mare Limerick Lace.

Limerick Lace would be the first of her sex to win the race since 1951 and indeed only three mares, Shannon Lass (James Hackett) in 1902, 1948 Sheila’s Cottage (40/1) trained by Nevile Crump, and Nickel Coin (50/1) for Jack O’Donoghue, won the race in the entire 20th Century. It will take something special to quell that statistic but maybe Limerick Lace is that entity.

She had the effrontery to intrude on Elliott’s second most heinous action as a trainer when he supplied 14 of the 20 runners in Navan’s Troytown Chase in November. Limerick Lace didn’t win the three-miler on heavy ground but got within a couple of lengths of Coko Beach, who did, a fair old run for a 6yo.

She will meet Coko Beach on 2lb better terms, fair enough, and equally being put up 6lb for that was entirely understandable. But she’s run twice and won twice since then, both in the UK. Firstly, she came over to Doncaster for a mares’ chase and bolted up by six lengths with her mark already on the 147 allotted after Navan, and that remained unchanged.

Then she took in the Grade 2 2m5f Mares’ Chase at Cheltenham last month and won it nicely from Willie Mullins’ Dinoblue, who was rated 13lb her superior. Cromwell’s mare did a touch of tail-flashing but showed plenty of resolution and her official mark is now 153, but a bargain 147 for this early closing race only.

In all she has five wins from ten starts over fences with three seconds and a third as back-up. I’m going for a rarity, but one that did happen twice in the first five years of my life – I wasn’t out quite in time for Shannon Lass! Limerick Lace to beat Nassalam and Corach Rambler.

**

My copy of Horses in Training finally came on Friday and I’ve enjoyed trying to work out which stable has the most horses, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. Inevitably, we have to guess a bit as two of the biggest strings each year decline sending full lists. The Gosdens have 149 three-year-olds and up but are keeping their two-year-olds a secret while Richard Fahey won’t tell us a thing.

Generally, the boys with more than 200 in their care are the ones that will be challenging for top honours most of the time. But while not yet at that rarified atmosphere numerically, one intriguing name which has a lasting place in Grand National history, is undergoing a re-vamp.

I noticed his list on first skim through but then when wanting to look again, couldn’t find it. The book is in alphabetical order, but Dr Richard Newland and joint licensee Jamie Insole are sandwiched between Tina Jackson and Iain Jardine.

Ten years ago, I backed the doctor’s Grand National winner, Pineau De Re. Now he and Jamie have 100 horses in their care and are obviously going much more seriously at the flat. Last year’s 73 were all older horses. This time, of their 100, 20 are juveniles and all bar one was acquired at the sales, at prices between 16 grand and 110k.

They joined forces late last season, by the end of which they had four wins from their first six runners on the flat. A further four have come at the more sustainable rate of ten per cent this year. The jumpers have provided the partnership with five wins from 77 runs. Until the switch-around, Dr Newland alone had 18 jumps wins from 158 runners.

Insole, 26, is from an Irish family with plenty of NH riding history behind it. He grew up, some might say, curiously in Billericay in deepest Essex but has been involved in the sport for most of his life from adolescence. After jobs with such as Alan King, he went the whole hog into flat racing as a pupil assistant to Charlie Hills.

Of all the stables that have caught my attention, in Grand National week I can’t stop thinking that if someone like the doctor (and his owners) have invested the best part of £1million at the sales to get this embryo partnership under way, they must have the utmost faith in their new recruit. I can’t wait for their first juvenile runner. Royal Ascot maybe?

- TS

Roving Reports: Chasing the Easter Money

It’s a busy time for bookmakers, is Easter, with a whole raft of meetings both Flat and Jumps to attend, although the early news on Saturday is not great, writes David Massey. Not only has Musselburgh bitten the dust after an early morning deluge, but for the Midlands bookmakers, the point-to-point at Sandon, near Stafford, has also been called off. That’s usually a really well-attended event, and will be a big miss for them. There will be no chance to see Eddie Redmayne, and his dogs, there this year. 

This matters not to us, as we’re off to Haydock for their family fun day. The weather looks mixed, to say the least, and it’s grey and damp as we set off. By the time we get there, however, the sun is trying to break through and things look brighter, literally. 

Other meetings being off means more bookmakers than there were last year at Haydock; four more, in fact, and this means betting on two lines rather than the one we were in last year. (The line takes 17 bookmakers.) When all the punters are in front of you, business is better; if you’re on the front line, you run the risk of a bookmaker betting behind you, and taking a share of your business. Such is the bookmaking life. 

We know what today will be like - all small money, lots of bets on “named” horses (it cannot be coincidence that one of the best backed horses all day with us is called Holly) and now the sun is fully out, we should have a decent day. 

Quiet to get going, as ever, and putting the forecast up for the four-runner first event is a waste of time. Nobody has a clue what it is, and nobody asks. I’d have been better putting the weather forecast up. It might have been more informative. 

As stated, the aforementioned Holly is an each-way disaster in the second race for us, and with the favourite, Brentford Hope, winning it’s a losing race. Secret Trix is much better in the next, but there’s a dinosaur show on for the kids, and business isn’t as strong. 

There are often dinosaurs in the betting ring - most of them will take your bets with a smile - but these two are bigger than the norm. One is a T-Rex and the other one isn’t. Some of the younger kids find it all a bit much. If you’ve bought “crying children” at 15 at the start of the day, go collect. 

Numitor is actually an okay result but Daly Tiger finishing third knocks a fair bit of the place money out. I go to get the coffees and offer up a loyalty card. Despite buying three drinks, it’s only stamped once. “One stamp per visit”, we are told. I shake my head. Come racing. 

Duke Of Deception is a good result but the enormous gamble on One Big Bang is joined in by a fair proportion of the crowd, and that’s not. Said crowd ebbs away pretty quickly after the sixth, with tired and emotional children in tow, carrying their dinosaur merchandise. Elleon wins the last, a good result, and it’s time to go home, although somehow I manage to join the wrong lane at the Haydock Island roundabout and end up taking a three-mile detour to get myself on the M6. 

Sunday sees me at Southwell, and in truth there’s little to say. Southwell are only allowing 100 public in, on top of owners, trainers and annual members, with the downstairs grandstand still out of operation. There’s only three bookmakers in the ring, and one on the rail, and whilst there’s enough business for the four, there’s only just enough. It’s families again, although with a cold, grey day, most are in the warmth upstairs, bar one family determined to stick it out on a couple of picnic tables. There’s an ice-cream van on the premises, but you wouldn’t want a share in it today. Results are irrelevant with the business - at least for four races - when suddenly a big punter appears, wanting a grand each-way Squeaker. He gets laid, and the business, rather than going back to the machine, is shared around the books. Squeaker looks beat at halfway but rattles home and is beaten under a length. He’s copped the each-way money for him, at least. He doesn’t bet the next but smashes into Brother Dave in the penultimate, and when that cops, it looks bleak. We get a bit back off him in the last but we’ve stood all day for very little. And it’s freezing. 

On to Huntingdon on Monday. This is more like it. My first McDonalds of any description for 41 days (not that I’m counting, you never do when you’re on a diet, do you?) is a Bacon Roll and Hash Brown as we make our way down the A14. God, I’d forgotten how good a bacon roll tastes. Everyone knows calories don’t count on Bank Holidays. Just for once, the Shredded Wheat can be passed over. 

After a rainy start, the sun really does come shining through - I contemplated sun cream at one point, no, honestly - and a good crowd are still piling in as the first goes off. If the money was small at Haydock, it’s positively minute here, with about 50% of the bets either £2 win or £1 e/w. Families having five or six bets, novices placing their first ever bets, mums taking advice from their kids, they’re all here today. Two families, from Cambridge, apparently remember my face from last year and have their knicker each-way bets with me all day. “You were very polite”, they tell me. That’s the game on these days - price is irrelevant, customer service everything. This is proven by the very first bet I take - £10 on Annie Day at 10-1 in the first race, when next door to me is 11s. Smile, be nice, have a joke. It works. 

However, I’ve got a problem. Two, to be precise. Because the firm have no fewer then seven pitches running between Huntingdon and the other half of the crew at Fakenham, it means that bits of kit that wouldn’t normally be used are wheeled out today. The laptop I’m using was the very one that Noah used to count the animals onto the Ark two-by-two with. The light board is old too, and for some reason, the bottom half of it isn’t working, which is far from ideal. The laptop crashes, at various inconvenient points throughout the afternoon, no fewer than eight times, and each time I have to restart everything. At the end of the day, I reckon that’s probably cost me a monkey’s worth of business. The temptation to launch the damned thing into the bin at close of play is great, but it’s not my equipment...

This is doubly frustrating with results as good as they are: not a winning favourite in sight until the last two races, by which time business has notably dropped off anyway, with many families off home after the sixth. We’ve won and won well on the day, and although the urge to double-dip at Maccy D’s on the way home is great, I resist. Just. 

And so finally, to Pontefract. I’m not working, just a day out. It normally takes me an hour and 10 minutes from my house to get to the track, so I leave in good time. Or so I thought. 

I drive into the track as they are going into the stalls for the first. The M1 was bad, the A1 worse, and finally Pontefract town centre itself appeared to be at a standstill. The nearer I got to the track, the further away I got, time wise, according to Google Maps. That’s never a good thing. So as you can imagine, I’ve fallen out with myself before I’m even parked up, and when the only parking space left appears to be in the middle of a lake of a puddle, the appeal of turning the car around and going home is strong. 

But I'm glad I didn’t, as it was quite an enjoyable day overall, bumping into a few old friends, backing a winner, then giving most of it back, and probably seeing a future winner in Vallamorey. However, if anyone wants to pop round and clean my car in readiness for Aintree next week (when it’ll DEFINITELY get dirty again) then don’t let me stop you...

- DM

What Happens on Next Run After The Cheltenham Festival?

Despite the turf flat slowly beginning to click into gear, I am going to dip my toe back into the world of National Hunt racing for one final time this season, writes Dave Renham. With the Aintree and Punchestown festivals to come there is plenty of great jumps racing still to look forward to.

In this article I will look at the performance of horses on their very next start having had their last race at the Cheltenham Festival. What should be looking for? Is a win at the festival a positive for the next run? How do Cheltenham Festival runners fare at Aintree? What about if they return to the racetrack at the Punchestown Festival? These questions and more will be examined in what follows. Let's dive in.

The data have been taken from 2015 to 2024 and profits / losses calculated to Betfair Starting Price less 5% commission.

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What impact does Cheltenham Festival finishing position have on next start?

The first port of call is where the horse finished last time out (LTO) at the Cheltenham Festival. Here are the splits:

 

 

Fallers look to be a group of runners to ignore next time: their one in eight win rate came at a cost of over 38p lost for every pound invested. Likewise, those who finished 11th or worse but completed the course had an identical strike rate and similarly eye-watering (-33%) ROI.

In terms of positives, winners at the Cheltenhm Festival have an excellent record on their next start, doubling up just shy of 40% of the time. As a group, they have also returned a steady profit of better than 18p in the pound. Not only that, but they have a positive A/E index of 1.05 implying sustainable profit. If we look at the yearly figures for Cheltenham Festival winners, we see the following in terms of profit / loss:

 

 

Seven of the nine years have turned a profit, albeit a small one in some cases; and the two losing years were far from disastrous. It looks as though Cheltenham Festival winners require very close scrutiny on their next start.

Somewhat surprisingly given the success of LTO winners, horses that finished second at Cheltenham have performed quite poorly when considering the profit/loss column, losing over 33p in the £ and with a low A/E index of 0.74. These runners look to be significantly over-bet and well worth a swerve.

Which Courses have been best for LTO Cheltenham Festival runners?

Next, I wanted to investigate which courses fared best when Festival runners visited on their follow-up run...

 

 

Three courses recorded a profit – Ascot, Cheltenham and Punchestown. However, the Cheltenham bottom line is completely skewed by Premier Magic who was successful in the 2023 Hunter Chase at the huge BSP of 110.14 having been pulled up in the same contest a year earlier.

Next time out at Fairyhouse

At the other end of scale, horses that have headed to Fairyhouse have performed poorly from a decent sample size. Indeed, at the Fairyhouse Easter Festival from last weekend, 23 Cheltenham Festival runners showed up but only one won - Jade De Grugy at odds of 7/4. The 22 beaten included Ferns Lock at 2/7 and Zarak The Brave at 5/6 as well as six other horses at 9/2 or shorter.

It may be worth noting that only 7% of Cheltenham Festival runners make their next start at Fairyhouse.

Next time out at Punchestown

The vast majority of next time out Punchestown runners (roughly 90% of the qualifiers) did run at the Punchestown Festival which is held at the end of April / beginning of May. There are two stats worth noting in terms of these Punchestown runners:

  1. Horses that won LTO at the Cheltenham Festival have an excellent record when turning out at Punchestown next time: there were 34 winners from 75 runners (SR 45.3%) in the sample period for a BSP profit of £40.97 (ROI +54.62).
  2. Clear favourites have also turned a profit at the Irish track thanks to a 50.8% strike rate (63 wins from 124) amounting to a small profit of £13.64 (ROI +11%).

Not many horses head to Ascot on their next outing after the Cheltenham Festival but they tend to run well. There have been six winning years out of nine and with no winners returned above 20/1 the stats have not been enhanced by big priced scorers. Clear favourites have done well from a limited sample winning 9 from 16 (SR 56.3%) for a BSP profit of 12.34 (ROI +77.1%).

Next time out at Aintree

Focusing in now on Aintree, of the 927 runners that ran at the Liverpool track next time 867 of these ran at the showpiece Grand National meeting. 92 of these won (SR 10.6%) for a BSP loss of £55.45 (ROI -6.4%).

If we focus solely on horses that started in the top three of the Aintree betting, we can sneak into profit to BSP. This subset of runners won 67 of their 306 starts (SR 21.9%) for a profit of £13.41 (ROI +4.4%).

Cheltenham Festival winners have also done a good job of backing up that win when turning out next time at Aintree with 18 winners from 62 (SR 29%) for a profit to Betfair SP of £12.54, just over 20p in the £ ROI.

In terms of negative stats, it looks best to swerve horses that were either beaten by 30+ lengths at Cheltenham and those who failed to complete the course. These runners when coming to the Aintree Festival have combined to win just 14 races from 233 runs (SR 6%) with heavy losses of £105.81 (ROI -45.4%)

Race type – handicap v non-handicap

There is a significant difference in terms of performance between horses that contest a handicap after the Cheltenham Festival as opposed to a non-handicap. If we compare the A/E indices of each group we see a marked differential:

 

 

Horses that run in a non-handicap after the Cheltenham showpiece have been far better value than those who went on to contest handicaps. If we look at the BSP returns, we can see that the figures correlate strongly with the A/E indices:

 

 

As can be seen, horses that ran in a handicap next time lost over 20p in the £, whereas non-handicappers lost less than 4p. In fact, if we stick to horses that raced in a handicap at the Cheltenham Festival and then contested another handicap next time, the record is even worse:

 

 

These results make for very poor reading. I wonder if it is because most of the horses would have been trained with Cheltenham as their main target. Whatever the reason, I would not be keen on backing handicappers from the Cheltenham Festival when contesting another handicap next time. I should add that one of the handicap winners was priced 94.51 BSP so taking that one out means the other 1326 runners would have lost you over 32 pence per £1 staked, even more distressing than the 25% losses with that brief respite included!

 

Days since Cheltenham Festival run

Let's now consider the time between a horse's Cheltenham Festival run and its next appearance. Here are the splits:

 

 

A very small proportion of runners are seen again quickly (within two weeks) and this group has made a profit from a one in four strike rate. A good proportion of the 43-to-70 days group ran at the Punchestown Festival which perhaps explains the strike rate, the small losses and decent A/E index. The 181-to-270 group has the most interesting results for me. We are roughly talking about a break of between six and nine months which essentially takes us to the start of the following National Hunt season. These runners have just about broken even to BSP, with a near to one in four win rate and a very solid A/E index. Horses that started clear favourite after this 181-to-270-day break have performed well thanks to 125 wins from 235 (SR 53.2%) for a BSP profit of £24.24 (ROI +10.3%).

 

Market factors for LTO Cheltenham Festival runners on their next start

The next area I wish to look at is the price of the runners on their next start after the Cheltenham festival. I am look at the Betfair SP price and the table below looks at the key stats:

 

 

Although the 2.02 to 3 group have incurred relatively big losses, it generally has been preferable to stick to horses BSP priced under 9. Horses priced 21 or more have offered poor value and incurred significant losses of over 28p for every £1 staked.

If we compare the A/E indices between horses priced 9 or lower with those 9.2 or higher, we see a big difference:

 

 

To get the best value, horses priced 9 or shorter are the ones to concentrate on. Also, given the non-handicap data I shared earlier, it should come as no surprise that if sticking to this shorter price range in non-handicaps the record improves further. This subset of runners has edged into profit thanks to 443 wins from 1275 runners (SR 34.8%). The profit stands at £19.15 (ROI 1.5%).

Class Move Next Time after Running at Cheltenham Festival

Before finishing the main body of the article I have a couple of additional stats to share based on the race class difference between the Cheltenham Festival run and next start – they are both negative:

 

 

UK-trained horses going up in class on their next start have struck less than once every 18 starts for an enormous 43% loss, while those trained anywhere stepping up to Grade 1 level from a lower class run at the Cheltenham Festival were similarly catastrophic to follow in terms of both strike rate and ROI. Horses from these groups should generally be avoided!

 

Summary – Key Takeaways 

Below are the key findings from this article.

 

 

It's a pity publication has followed the (early this year) Fairyhouse Easter Festival [apologies, my fault - Ed.] as that was predictably disastrous for Cheltenham Festival follow-up runners. But, with Aintree and Punchestown still ahead, as well as the start of the next season, there's plenty to heed, and hopefully profit from, to come.

- DR

Monday Musings: Emollient

At any time over the past 20-odd years you would never have believed it possible, writes Tony Stafford. But when Tower Of London came with a breathtaking run from the back under Ryan Moore to win the Dubai Gold Cup, there was a beaming Michael Tabor on hand to welcome the Aidan O’Brien-trained colt into the winner’s enclosure.

Back home in the UK, I needed a second take as Nick Luck came across to interview him. “Congratulations”, said Luck. “Thank you, it’s my first time here”, replied Tabor.

“Your first time at Meydan?”, continued the interviewer. “Not just at Meydan, my first time ever in Dubai. It’s fantastic, not just the racecourse, the whole of Dubai!”

Whether Michael would have been quite as amiable following a third career bomb from Auguste Rodin in the £2.7milion to the winner Sheema Classic just over three hours later is immaterial. He said it and if the £400-odd grand victory for Tower Of London was chicken-feed in relation to the riches on offer later on, it still made the journey a success for Tabor and a number of elated fellow travellers celebrating the victory in the unsaddling enclosure afterwards.

For those two decades at the start of the millennium, Coolmore, especially Michael Tabor, had been sworn racecourse adversaries of the men from Dubai, largely in the person of Sheikh Mohammed Al Rashid bin Maktoum, Ruler of that Emirate.

Their mild-mannered if ultra-competitive trainer Aidan O’Brien would never have viewed the rivalry with anything like the fierceness of his owner, but I think we should applaud one man for the emollient qualities that made Saturday’s moment possible.

Step forward Charlie Appleby, the always-amiable Devonian who took over the training of half of Godolphin’s UK team. This occurred as a result of the misdeeds of Mahmood al Zarooni and his proven use of illicit means to propel his already formidable horses even further forward. Saeed bin Suroor was, and remains, supervising the other gradually shrinking portion.

One of the horses found to have been doped – but not at the time of his biggest success – was the 2012 St Leger winner Encke. It was in the spring of the following year that the eight-year punishment was handed down to the Dubai national. Ban served, he started to train again domestically with a much smaller team.

Appleby was al Zarooni’s assistant at the time of Encke’s St Leger and the biggest effect of that victory was that it denied Camelot, winner of that year’s 2000 Guineas and Derby, of what would have been the first Triple Crown in the UK since Vincent O’Brien and Nijinsky in 1970.

Al Zarooni’s ban came following a BHA inspection the following year after the St Leger found 11 horses testing positive to the presence of anabolic steroids in their systems. The steroids, he said, were brought back in his suitcase from the UAE, adding he “didn’t know they were prohibited”.

By the time of the ban, al Zarooni had won three races, two at the 2013 Craven meeting and another in the same week at Wolverhampton. Appleby took over soon after and sent out 80 winners that season. After almost two years off the track after his Classic success, Encke, still an entire, had three placed runs under the Appleby banner before disappearing without a trace.

The Appleby-Coolmore thawing of relations began with the mutual respect that Charlie and Aidan O’Brien invariably showed each other for their respective successes in major races. Also, Appleby’s and Ryan Moore’s children know each other very well. Charlie had no qualms about regularly congratulating Aidan and the owners, most often Michael Tabor, for their successes and Aidan responded in kind. Images of their mutual celebrations at Santa Anita and the like are still fresh in the memory.

Last year, there was the usual triumphal season for Coolmore and Aidan with yet another Derby, and other achievements, for Auguste Rodin. Contrastingly, it was the first time for a while that Appleby’s Classic generation had been below par. Last year’s two-year-olds will need to step up in the major races in 2024.

It didn’t take long though for Appleby to enjoy himself on his own terms. Despite struggling with periodic absences through his career, the Dubawi gelding Rebel’s Romance had proved himself a high-class performer, making the Breeders’ Cup Turf race in October 2022, his ninth win in only 12 starts.

After three disappointing performances last year he got back on track in a Listed race at Kempton in December and even though he followed up with a £1 million-plus pot in Doha last month he was allowed to start at 25/1. So now it’s 12 wins in 18, and £6.173m in prizemoney. Not bad!

While Auguste Rodin languished at the rear, reminiscent of his Guineas and King George meltdowns from last year, William Buick always had Rebel’s Romance in touch behind the front-running duo of Point Lonsdale, Auguste’s pacemaker, and the Japanese Stars On Earth. That Point Lonsdale, a 100/1 shot, could finish 6th, picking up almost £100k, shows just how far below expectations the favourite ran.

Hopefully, as last year, that first comeback run will be forgotten when he gets fully into stride. Nowadays it’s more a case of what a potential stallion has won rather the times he has lost that govern his marketability and, as a son of Deep Impact, there’ll always be room for him in Japan. They can afford him too!

Back in the Sheema Classic, Buick merely had to go past the front pair and wait for the expected late runners, but none came. Then a half-hour later, Charlie was just as delighted when the former Bob Baffert-trained Laurel River, now handled in Dubai by Bhupat Seemar made a mockery of the £10 million Dubai World Cup, never looking like relinquishing the long lead jockey Tadhg O’Shea initiated early in the ten-furlong dirt race.

The first prize of £5m should equate to about half a million quid for the rider who a decade or so ago regularly came to ride work for Brian Meehan at Manton, ostensibly in his job as he recalls it as number two (or more accurately surely three behind the late Hamdan Al Maktoum’s first jockey Paul Hanagan and recently retired Dane O’Neill). I always found Tadhg a friendly young man. It was a surprise at the time when he decided to go – like so many other fringe jockeys – to Dubai. He’s Beyond the Fringe now.

Laurel River was allowed to start at 17/2 amid a deluge of money for the Kazakhstan entry – sounds more like one of the heats of the Eurovision Song Contest – Kabirkhan, winner of 11 of his previous 12 starts.

A son of California Chrome, the 2014 Kentucky Derby and 2016 Dubai World Cup victor, Kabirkhan was a $12k buy from bargain basement Book 5 at Keeneland yearling sales in 2021. Sent to Kazakhstan where he went unbeaten at two, he was similarly never finding anything remotely to test him in his three-year-old season in Russia.

Now in the care of legendary locally based American handler Doug Watson and ridden by another of the long-term second-string jockeys Pat Dobbs, he was perfectly poised on the rail as Laurel River took off.

While Laurel River just went further and further away, the favourite faded and it was left to last year’s winner, the Japanese Ushba Tesoro, who came from miles behind to take second. Not quite the riches from 2023, but still worth nigh on £2 million for connections of the seven-year-old entire.

Frankie Dettori was back in ninth on Bob Baffert’s Newgate but, earlier, restored to the Godolphin blue, because amazingly he, unlike Buick, can ride at 8st5lb – given a few weeks’ notice, of course – he rode Appleby’s filly Star Of Mystery into second place behind six-year-old California Spangle, trained in Hong Kong by Tony Cruz, in the Al Quoz Sprint.

It wasn’t all gloom for Baffert. His colt Muth, by Good Magic (2nd Kentucky Derby) won the Arkansas Derby comfortably at Oaklawn Park. That race was worth £620k and Baffert used it successfully as the prep back in 2015 when his American Pharoah became the first US Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

Justify in 2018 is the most recent of 13 horses to achieve that feat. He, like American Pharoah, is based at Ashford stud in Kentucky, Coolmore’s US base. Justify’s sons and daughters are already showing extraordinary ability, led of course by City Of Troy.

The winter 2000 Guineas favourite had his first look at a racecourse in 2024 at Leopardstown (re-scheduled from waterlogged Naas) a week ago. From the time he did what he did to his useful opponents in the Superlative Stakes at Newmarket last July, I’ve been convinced he’s the best two-year-old I’ve seen.

The Dewhurst win was just as emphatic, his all-the-way near four-length margin earning a 125 rating. Roll on May!

Talking of the Derby, there was a hark back to another time when an old-style “chalk jockey” won the race. Back in the height of Covid, the 2020 running was won by Serpentine, 25/1, ridden by the unknown, possibly even to his parents, Emmet McNamara, to the quietest ever reception for a Derby winner. I’m sure Bernard Kantor would have been quite bemused, consulting his race card as he supervised formalities after the race.

Serpentine, now a seven-year-old, won a 10-furlong Group 3 race at Rosehill, Australia, over the weekend. By Galileo, he was having his 18th race and first success since his Derby triumph, the last twelve following a gelding operation in March two years ago. He is now trained by close Coolmore friend Gai Waterhouse and joint licence-holder Adrian Bott.

  • TS

Top Draw Biases for the 2024 Flat Season

Over the past week I have finished collating thousands of stats, and crunching most of them, in order to be primed and ready for the new turf flat season, writes Dave Renham.

The first things I always update in the close season are draw statistics for each course and distance. If possible, I want to stay ahead of the crowd by noticing whether biases seem to be strengthening, weakening, or potential new biases are emerging. When analysing draw bias, I tend to focus on handicaps only with at least eight runners (generally the more runners the better). A good chunk of the data shared in this piece will be from 8+ runner handicaps only.

While draw bias may not have the overall impact it had twenty to thirty years ago, there are still enough edges in play to give shrewd punters a leg up. However, it is crucial to fully understand how strong any biases are and whether the market has compensated, or in some cases over-compensated. It has been two years since I last looked at draw bias on Geegeez so let’s crack on and review a selection of my recent findings and their potential ramifications.

 

Ascot 5f to 1 mile (straight course)

The straight track at Ascot is one I keep a close eye on, not just year on year, but meeting by meeting, day by day. Draw biases seem to come and go at the Berkshire track and it is not always easy to predict how strong they will be and which part of the track, if any, will be favoured. Biases are most likely to occur in big field handicaps where the runners tend to split into two or sometimes three groups.

At the Royal Meeting in 2023 there were six straight course handicaps where the field sizes ranged from 26 to 30 runners. The first such contest of the week, the Royal Hunt Cup, produced the following result. The first ten finishers are shown:

 

 

Although the winner Jimi Hendrix was drawn in single figures the next six finishers were drawn in the 20s and eight of the top ten were drawn between 20 and 30. This race suggested that higher draws held a decent edge over middle / low draws. Now, just because one race displays a draw bias like this, we cannot be certain that this will be replicated in subsequent races during the same meeting. However, last year, by the end of the Thursday punters should have been fairly confident that there was a playable high draw bias, as the Buckingham Palace handicap that ended proceedings on the third day of the Royal meeting delivered the first five horses home from stalls 24, 23, 12, 21 and 22.

Indeed, this high draw bias was repeated in all three of the big field handicaps that took place on the Friday and the Saturday. For example, the first six in the Sandringham were drawn 25, 16, 18, 24, 20 and 29, while in the Palace of Holyroodhouse the first six finishers were drawn 25, 16, 17, 20, 27 and 29.

I mentioned earlier that draw biases at Ascot are not always replicated in subsequent races. This comes from watching and punting on many past Royal meetings. There have been times where the draw bias seems to have flip-flopped from race to race. Why this happens is not always clear. It could be that what appears to be a draw bias might in fact be down to a pace-based bias. As punters we need to make an informed judgement whenever we see what appears to be a draw bias at a specific meeting, to decide whether it actually is one or not.

The Royal Meeting, though, does provide the best opportunity to profit from draw bias at Ascot. Essentially, for me there are three ways I tend to play the draw at Royal Ascot on the straight course:

  1. Split the stalls into three and focus solely on that part of the draw from which I think there will be an advantage. If I am right, then by eliminating two-thirds of the runners, my chances of profiting increase considerably. I can take this view before any big field handicaps have taken place or I can wait for one or two to give me a steer.
  2. Wait for the first race or two and if one or both races have shown a strong bias, take the contrarian view and focus on what looks to be the unfavoured side. Bookmakers will be aware of the previous races and are likely to shorten up the expected ‘favoured’ side and push out prices of those drawn on the presumed unfavoured side. If the bias flip-flops, as mentioned earlier that it can do, then we have secured have excellent value. This is a risk-reward approach.
  3. Back horses on either flank – one high, one low. Or if the field is in the mid-20s or higher I often play two either side. Alternatively, I go one high, one low, one middle. This is a hedging approach and I probably use this method the most taking the view I have more options covered and can still get value prices backing three or four runners due to the big field sizes.

Certainly 2023 was high draw friendly at Ascot on the straight course. If we look at all handicaps across the year with 14 or more runners we see the following draw splits:

 

 

As can be seen, high draws dominated the win strike rate, the P/L bottom line, PRB, A/E indices and Impact Values.

Will high draws dominate in 2024? Only time will tell. However, with big fields we should be able to get some value prices especially if the draw turns out to be in our favour.

 

Brighton 1 mile

Two years ago, when I wrote a series of articles on the draw, I mentioned the 1-mile Brighton bias in the third article. At the time, I had not previously been aware of this bias. In that piece the draw data from 2016 to 2021 suggested that high draws held an edge with low draws being at a disadvantage. Looking at the 2023 figures for handicaps with 8+ runners we see the following:

 

 

Obviously, the sample size of eight races is tiny, but the PRB figures are especially potent in terms of suggesting a bias still exists. Indeed, combining last year’s results with 2022 we get a bigger sample and the same pattern:

 

 

So, in the two years since sharing the high draw bias with Geegeez readers, we can see nothing appears to have changed. In fact, one could argue the bias looks slightly more pronounced. There are two additional findings I would like to share. Firstly, horses drawn 11 and higher have a PRB figure of 0.65 over this 2-year period. Secondly, if you had permed the highest three draws in combination forecasts you would have secured an 18.63-point profit.

 

Catterick 5f

About 15 to 20 years ago Catterick offered draw punters two biases – a low draw bias on good or firmer, and a high draw bias on soft or heavy. These days, for whatever reason, the low draw bias on firmer ground does not seem to exist. However, when the going gets soft, higher draws still have an edge. This is because the ground is better the wider you go in the straight. There have only been seven qualifying races in the past two seasons, but the figures strongly favour high draws as the table below shows:

 

 

Five of the seven races have been won by high draws, with good correlation across the A/E indices, Impact Values and the PRB figures. A good example of how strong the bias has been under these conditions can be seen by looking at the result of the Millbury Hill Country Store Handicap which took place on October 25th 2022:

 

 

As you can see the first three home were drawn in the top three stalls, the first five home were drawn in the top five stalls, the top seven home came from the top seven stalls, and those who finished in the final five spots from 8th to 12th came from the lowest five stalls.

Going further back in time to give us a bigger sample (2016 to 2023), we see the following:

 

 

These figures indicate that soft ground bias at Catterick over 5f gives punters a playable bias to work with. Indeed, you could have backed the highest three draws ‘blind’ over these 28 races and secured a profit to SP of £27.00 (ROI +32.1%); to BSP it would have been £43.44 (ROI +51.7%).

Before moving on, let us look at a smoothed-out graph of stall positions based on PRB figures from soft/heavy 5f handicaps from 2016-2023 using the Geegeez metric PRB3:

 

 

This gives us excellent correlation with all the other stats for this C&D on soft/heavy clearly showing the bias.

 

Goodwood 7f

Goodwood was the first course I ever visited in terms of going racing and I fell in love with it then and still love it to this day. I have been there more times than all other racecourses combined. Back in the 1990s I made huge profits in 7f handicaps as horses closest to the inside rail enjoyed a massive edge. Course officials eventually cottoned on to the bias around 2005/2006 and they have managed to even the playing field to some extent since then. However, low to middle draws still tend to hold sway with very highest draws finding it difficult to win. If we look at the last two years the 8+ runner handicap splits are as follows:

 

 

During this time frame middle draws have edged it in terms of wins and have secured decent profits. Low draws have performed well in terms of places, and they comfortably have the highest PRB figure. Now some people looking at these stats will acknowledge that higher draws seem at a disadvantage, but they may dismiss it as a course where the draw bias is not potent enough to be of interest. However, I would like to compare the performance of horses drawn 1 to 6 with those drawn 7 or higher:

 

 

This data seems to demonstrate there has been a strong draw bias at work in the past two seasons. It also demonstrates that as punters it is worth analysing data in different ways to build the most accurate picture we can. This is especially true when we are looking at small to medium sized samples.

Before moving on here are the basic draw splits for Goodwood 7f handicaps (8+ runners) since 2016:

 

 

This longer-term data set shows that the bias is something that we do need to consider.  The value lies with lower draws as they have provided roughly 50% of all winners (from 33.3% of the total runners) although one still needs to find the right horse(s) as they are not profitable to follow blindly.

 

Gowran Park 7f

Over to Ireland now and the 7f trip at Gowran Park. This course and distance was highlighted in the same draw series of two years ago showing a decent low draw bias especially on good or firmer going. Since then we have had 15 more qualifying races similarly quick turf with the following draw third splits:

 

 

Those are strong figures, backing up the data shared previously. To save you having to scroll through past articles here are the 2016-2021 stats I shared then.

 

 

Again, we can see excellent correlation between both tables: not only have low draws enjoyed a strong edge, but higher draws have had a very poor time of it. In fact, combining all horses that were drawn 9 or higher in the past eight seasons under these conditions would have seen just six wins from 260 runners! Losses of 71p in the £ to SP just underlines the difficulty these higher draws have.

For fans of perming lower draws in forecasts, you would have made hay in 2023 thanks to one race. The first division of the Coast to Curragh Charity Cycle Handicap on 16th August 2023 saw The Fog Horn (drawn 1) win with Kodihill (drawn 2) coming second. A £1 reverse forecast on these two lowest draws would have yielded a monumental return of £976.71; the reverse exacta would have paid even more at an eye-watering £1674.50 return for a £2 stake.

Gowran Park is a course where I will be looking for draw-based opportunities in 2024.

 

Pontefract 1 mile

This mile trip at Pontefract has offered a strong low draw bias for many years now. Over the past two seasons there have 28 handicaps with 8+ runners, of which half of them (14) were won by one of the three lowest stalls. Here are the draw results for all stalls during this time frame:

 

 

These results clearly show the strength of the bias – just look at the PRB figures and the placed percentages for the lowest draws. If we include stall 4 with the bottom three stalls, we get the following splits in terms of placed percentages:

 

 

That is getting close to three times the number of placed runners from the inside four stalls. In terms of PRB figures the difference is equally significant:

 

 

My strategy over this track and trip has long been to focus on the lowest draws. I have tended to concentrate on stalls 5 or lower, with the lower the better. The good news from a punting perspective is that the market has still not adjusted fully and there remains some value to had with these lower draws.

*

I hope this article has shown you that draw bias is still alive and well albeit at a handful of course and distances. This is not an exhaustive list but hopefully there has been enough here to give you some useful and profitable pointers for the season ahead.

- DR

Monday Musings: Waiting…

W H Smith said the 2024 version of Horses In Training would be available for dispatching from March 20th, writes Tony Stafford. Normally, I would buy my copy a few days earlier than that, at Cheltenham, but this time I wasn’t there, and rather inconveniently forgot to ask the Editor, who was, to collect one for me.

Age doesn’t help. A few years ago, I bought a copy from the Racing Post shop there and duly left it in the box that was obligingly made available – necessary as I’d not bothered to book a press badge for the week.

WHS said – or rather its web site did, it seems they don’t have any actual people working for them nowadays – that it would take two or three days to arrive. It hasn’t. I’m a bit worried because on the same ordering page, they still have Horses In Training 2023 available at the same price. Few authors can share editor Graham Dench’s smugness that an out-of-date issue is as valuable as the new one.

You might ask why I should be worried that a company with the worldwide reputation of W H Smith to protect could be thought to be that slipshod. Last year, when the wonderful Sir Rupert Mackeson arranged through his sources to get me HIT 2023, it duly arrived from the year before so I’m holding (or not) my breath. They did send the correct one out eventually.

Why am I so het up about it? Well, it’s the start of the flat and I always like to look at which yards have accumulated more horses than before and note the trainers who prefer not to reveal their equine strengths.

In general, the big get bigger, the small struggle and it needs something a little different for a trainer to make an early impact. As George Boughey has shown over the past few years, being youthful as well as able comes into it, and he was up to 165 officially last year. I wonder how many in 2024 – no don’t tell me – I’ll wait until tomorrow or whenever the priceless volume arrives.

When I was introduced by our mutual friend Michelle Fernandes to Dylan Cunha at the April sale in Newmarket last year, I confess I hadn’t heard of him, or if I had, it would have skimmed over my consciousness like so many things do nowadays. But looking at HIT after our chat, I saw he had 17 horses in his yard in Windsor Road, Newmarket.

Dylan is from South Africa and left the land of his birth a couple of years ago to see if he could make it over here. A winning Group 1 trainer back home, he had chanced him arm but with the help of the highly-talented Silver Sword in the yard – an impressive winner of the last race at York’s Ebor meeting last year – he made quite a stir.

Needing a larger premises as the numbers crept up, he did a deal to take over the famed Phantom House Stables of William Jarvis when the last trainer of that revered surname decided to call time – understandably keeping the family home on the premises.

A great friend and contemporary from Harrow school of William Haggas, it must have become in part a frustration to see his pal’s career travelling in the opposite direction, perhaps one day even to the extent that Haggas might make it to champion trainer, but it will need a slowing-down from the Gosdens and Aidan O’Brien, maybe even Roger Varian, to permit that.

The move sorted, Dylan was always active at the sales and by this point he has 50 horses under his care – I’m not sure whether HIT will have caught up with it. Last week I read an article in the admirable South African Monday to Friday racing publication Turf Talk that published an interview with the family man who is doing his home country proud.

It revealed that he was running a two-year-old in the Brocklesby on the opening day of the flat. Traditionally the first juvenile race of the season from its time until 1964 at Lincoln racecourse, it often brings out a nice debutant.

Zminiature, named for his size but clearly not his ability, dealt with his 14 opponents in authoritative style, expertly guided home by Rhys Clutterbuck, nicely settled into his new role as Dylan’s stable jockey. They also had a winner together with 9/1 shot Gogo Yubari the previous afternoon at Lingfield.

Zminiature was the first of his 25 juveniles to be seen out and the win gives him the enviable position of putting down a marker for the rest of them when getting close to running. I do fear for the South African bookmakers who must have been subjected to a bit of a hammering from this well-touted, over there at least, first-day winner.

Another new partnership on the opening day provided an even more significant, and unexpected, result for the talented David Egan, new first rider for Amo Racing. David had spent some of the weeks leading up to Saturday with a few choice rides and wins in the US for Amo’s boss, football agent Kia Joorabchian, and this first UK winner together since the announcement of their new partnership couldn’t have been better timed for the rider.

The five-year-old Mr Professor, a 33/1 shot, was one of seven Amo horses listed in Alice Haynes’ 2023 team, but they, like so many others, have moved on. Likewise, Alice, who has added the spacious Machell Place to her existing yard around the corner at Cadland stables at the foot of Warren Hill in Newmarket as her numbers increase.

Dominic Ffrench Davis has always been a popular man with his fellow trainers and one who has proved he can succeed over jumps and on the flat. This year will be his 31st with a licence and promises to be his best yet.

When the 2023 book came out, it listed just one Amo horse. In the event, 32 individual horses for the mercurial owner won 16 races, double Dominic’s previous best from 14 years ago. His prizemoney haul of £480k was almost five times his existing record.

Victory in the Lincoln already has Dominic above £80k for the year, a figure he has only three times previously exceeded, with a maximum of just over £100k in 2022. Egan meanwhile cannot wait to partner King Of Steel, still in training as a four-year-old with Roger Varian, for whom he has ridden so many winners.

Having finished second to Auguste Rodin in the Derby, King Of Steel won at Royal Ascot and again on Champions Day there, gaining a first Group 1. Where Kevin Stott did not gel with the owner for whatever reason, the ultra-sharp Egan, whose father John is still riding well into his 50’s when he has time between his bloodstock dealing, will be hoping his relationship with Kia lasts rather longer.

The new season also provided a big welcome back for Silvestre de Sousa, after his ban in the ultra-sensitive world of Hong Kong racing. The triple UK champion returned with a winner on his first ride at Newcastle less than a fortnight ago, and he is up to four after Varian’s Charyn, three times toiling last year in the wake of Paddington, took his chance to win the first turf flat race of the year – a Listed affair – under de Sousa.

Races like the Lockinge were immediately mentioned on his likely agenda and de Sousa, who has ridden off 8st3lb over the past year, is one of those rare creatures that can do light when a top trainer needs one. He will be hard to resist in such circumstances and might even make a play at challenging William Buick and Oisin Murphy for the title.

- TS

Is Recent Trainer Form Important?

Spring is upon us, and the turf flat kicks off this weekend, writes Dave Renham. It is my favourite time of the year as all of my winter research can be unleashed in an attempt to hammer the bookies! Of course, despite all the hard work put in it, it does not guarantee profits for the year ahead. No doubt it will be the usual rollercoaster of good weeks, bad weeks, and indifferent ones. Hopefully, though, there will be more good than bad!

In this article I am going to investigate recent trainer form to see what I can unearth. Newspapers, betting sites and some pundits seem to place a lot of stock in trainer form; I must admit that I tend not to, but I am prepared to change my mind depending on what I discover: have I been missing a trick all these years? Let’s see.

I have taken flat and all-weather data from 2021 to 2023 for UK racing and profits/losses have been calculated to Betfair Starting Price less 5% commission (readers can do better than those results by selecting the 2% commission option in your Betfair account).

My focus is going to be on 14-day trainer form, but with a caveat. The caveat is that a trainer must have had at least 20 runners during that time frame. I’m adding this to make sure we eliminate small samples which are unreliable.

To try and explain how small samples can be unreliable, a trainer could theoretically have had five runners in a 14-day period with one win and four losers giving them a recent win strike rate of 20%. Generally, a strike rate of 20% for trainers at any time is considered very good. However, firstly that 20% strike rate is based on very limited data. Secondly, let us imagine all five runners had been odds-on favourite – that would not be crying out good trainer form. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that 20 runners in a 14-day period is the perfect number of runs, but it seems as sensible an arbitrary figure as any.

General 'Recent Form' Trainer Statistics

Time to review the first set of data. Here, I am looking at trainer strike rates – both win and each way linking with the win percentage individual trainers had achieved in the previous 14 days.

 

 

This initial piece of evidence suggests, at least from a strike rate angle, that trainers who had been in better form over the past 14 days outperform those whose recent form had been less good. Both the orange line (Win SR%) and the blue one (EW SR%) show solid correlation with the graph, on an upward trajectory.

However, as a recent article of mine suggested, strike rates are not the be all and end all; we need to look at value and profit / loss. The table below gives us a breakdown of this:

 

 

This presents a less clear picture but, looking at the returns, the trainers who have scored 5% or less with their last 20+ runners over the most recent two-week period have provided the worst returns. Looking at the trainers with the highest recent strike rate (31% or more), it appears that the betting market has compensated for this to a great extent given losses of more than 13p in the £.

Of course, the data shared so far looks at all trainers combined. This gives us a general starting point, but to get a better overall perspective we need to split the trainers into groups. This is because comparing the 14-day win strike rate of Charlie Appleby, say, with Liam Bailey makes little sense. Appleby has a 29.6% strike rate during the time frame compared to Bailey’s 4.3%. In addition, Appleby’s A/E index of 0.94 is nearly double that of Bailey whose figure stands at 0.48. Hence in a scenario when Appleby and Bailey have secured a 15%-win strike rate in the past 14 days, we should be aware that Bailey is performing well above his norm and Appleby well below. Looking at all trainer data therefore gives us a flavour but cannot paint the full picture.

To mitigate somewhat for this, I am going to consider split trainers into groups based on their annual win rate while analysing recent form (14-day results).

I have split them into five groups: those with an annual strike rate of 8% or less, those between 9% and 12%, 13% to 16%, 17% to 20%, and finally trainers winning at a rate of 21% or more.

Trainers with a yearly win strike rate of 8% or less  

Looking at all trainers who had run at least 200 runners from 2021 to 2023, around a fifth of them had an overall win strike rate of 8% or less. With this group I would not expect to see many qualifiers in the higher 14-day strike rate groupings.

 

 

The biggest group of qualifiers has occurred in the 6-10% 14-day strike rate (SR%) bracket and they have made a BSP profit. However, this is down to two unusually big-priced winners of 451.93 and 350.0 which skew the figures considerably. What is clear is that once trainers in this group hit 16% or more with 20+ runners in a 14-day period they do start to have better results. Combining the results of the 16%+ group they have returned 10p in the £ with a solid A/E index of 0.93 from a sample of around 400 runners.

Trainers with a yearly win strike rate of between 9% and 12% 

This group of trainers is the biggest and includes runners from the stables of Richard Hannon, Richard Fahey, David O’Meara, Kevin Ryan, and Jim Goldie to name but five. Let us look at the overall win and each way strike rate first:

 

 

The graph shows that this group of trainers have performed quite poorly in terms of win strike rate if their 14-day Win SR% had been between 21 and 30%, which is surprising. I expected the orange and blue lines to rise gradually and relatively smoothly from left to right.

When we compare the A/E indices we see a similar pattern:

 

 

Combining the runners from the 21-25% group and the 26-30% group would have lost over 16p in the £ to BSP. Even the 31%+ group lost 15p in the £ despite a decent A/E index. It seems that the market is aware when these types of trainers are showing good recent form and prices have been more than adjusted to account for it. Here is a tabular view of this group:

 

 

The 0% group has performed better than expected. However, as we will see, this turns out to be an outlier when considering the rest of the research I share.

 

Trainers with a yearly win strike rate of between 13% and 16% 

This group of trainers includes Charlie Johnston, Archie Watson, and Clive Cox. Here are their stats:

 

 

There are better strike rates across each grouping as we would expect from higher general strike rate trainers, but these handlers look worth avoiding if they have had no winners from 20+ runners in the past 14 days. Losses of over 26p in the £ is steep albeir on a smaller sample size.

The picture is not much brighter at the other end of the scale – trainers that seem to be in flying form with a 14-day SR% of 31% or more have made losses of over 14p in the £. Their strike rate is relatively poor, too, at 15.09% and their A/E index a modest 0.86. These are the two key discoveries from what is essentially another mixed bag of findings.

 

Trainers with a yearly win strike rate of between 17% and 20% 

Let’s see if this smaller group of trainers can give us some stronger patterns. Ralph Beckett and Sir Michael Stoute are two trainers who are included here in the following results:

 

 

When these trainers are out of form (14-day SR% of 5% or less) they look worth avoiding. Combining the top two rows of data we see significant losses of 27p in the £. Conversely, when they hit the dizzy heights of 31% winners or better in the past 14 days this cohort has edged into profit. I would guess that it will come as less of a surprise for such trainers to hit these levels from time to time and perhaps the market has failed to properly adjust.

Overall, these stats are strong with a decent strike rate of close to one in four, returns of over 7p in the £ and an excellent A/E index of 1.04. In general, these stats correlate better with what I would have expected to see.

 

Trainers with a yearly win strike rate of 21% or more 

We are now looking at a very select band of trainers including Charlie Appleby and Willie Haggas. Here are their win strike rates based on recent form:

 

 

I want to focus on win percentages (hence no EW ones on this graph) to help illustrate how little difference there is in some of the numbers. For example, when this group of trainers had previously had a 6-10% win SR% over the past 14 days their win rate was 19.8%. When it was 21-25% in the previous 14 days their win rate was virtually the same at 19.9%. Let me share the fuller picture:

 

 

The first thing to point out is that a 14-day SR% of 5% or less is extremely rare in this collective, as one would expect. Secondly, I want to highlight the poor performance of the 31%+ group which incurred losses of over 18p in the £ and produced a disappointing A/E index of just 0.83.

There is no easy explanation as to why the 26-30% group have fared so well in comparison. My reading of the data is that when these yards seem a little under par (previous 14-day SR% of 11 to 20%) their runners may offer a little bit of value. I guess punters could be put off by the relatively modest recent strike rate, but essentially these runners are still scoring close to each trainer’s norm.

At this juncture the picture is quite muddy when it comes to 14-day trainer form. The strongest and most important finding is that we can say that a 14-day win SR% percentage of 5% or less is a negative.

*

Individual 'Recent Form' Trainer Statistics

It is time now to look at individual trainers. With each trainer plying their trade in a different way, one would hope there might be more insights to glean here. Fifty of the leading trainers are shown in the table below in terms of their win strike rate (missing cells are due to limited data):

 

 

Before going into more detail let me share their A/E indices with you as well. I have colour coded the A/E indices with positive figures of 1.00 or more in green and negative ones of 0.70 or less in red.

 

 

Individual Trainer Angles to Note

These are what I think are the most significant findings:

  1. Andrew Balding does unexpectedly well when his recent 14-day SR% is less than 5% returning 37p in the £ on all runners. He also made a BSP profit with his 6-10% group.
  1. Ralph Beckett looks a stable to follow when he hits the 14-day win SR% of 26% or more. An A/E index of 1.05 and a small profit to boot.
  1. The Crisford stable has a bizarre set of strike rates and A/E indices:

 

Both metrics correlate with each other which gives us confidence in the findings, but the data is suggesting that the poorer the recent form of the stable the better.

  1. Don’t be put off by low recent 14-day win strike rates for Eve Johnson Houghton. When her strike rate was 5% or less in the previous two weeks her runners have offered good value. Backing all runners blind in this context would have secured a small profit.
  1. When Alan King’s 14-day SR% has been between 21% and 25% he has managed just one winner from 62 runners. Losses of 90p in the £ would have been recorded backing horses from a so called ‘hot’ stable.
  1. Daniel Mark Loughnane has the type of profile I was expecting more of. When his 14-day SR% is 5% or less his record is very poor. When it hits 26% or more his record has been excellent. He does a look a clear case of “avoid when his stable is cold, take advantage when the stable is hot”.
  1. When the Kevin Ryan stable is out of form, his runners are probably worth swerving, especially if he has failed to record a winner from 20+ runners in the previous 14 days.
  1. Saeed Bin Suroor’s A/E indices for the four groupings in which he has enough data are all above 0.90 suggesting his stable perform in a similar vein regardless of very recent form.
  1. Grant Tuer shows a similar pattern to Crisford implying that the poorer the recent form of the stable the better from a betting perspective.

 

*

Summary

So, what are the main takeaways from this research? When looking at the general picture, I think the data indicate that poor 14-day form has more of an effect on performance than good 14-day form. ‘Cold’ stables with 14-day win rates of 5% or less from 20+ runners are best avoided (with a few individual exceptions).

In terms of when a stable has been ‘hot’ over the past 14 days we see an uptick in win rate, but this does not guarantee value or profitability due to such form being fully exposed in the market.

Regarding when a ‘hot’ trainer should potentially be followed I would use the individual trainer table of A/E indices looking for figures close to, or greater than, 1.00.

I plan to revisit this idea in the future, looking at a slightly longer prior time frame to see what difference, if any, that makes. I could also delve into NH trainer stats as well. But that’s for another day. I hope you have enjoyed this piece, and good luck with your early flat season betting.

  • DR

My 2024 Cheltenham Festival Betting P&L

As has become somewhat customary, I've taken a few moments to publicly critique the wagering positions from which I stood to gain or lose during that marvellous week of racing action, the 2024 Cheltenham Festival.

It won't be interesting to everyone, perhaps only to very few, and I publish not to boast/wallow (*delete annually as applicable) but to share my own lessons learned from this most immersive of punting processes. As ever, stakes are irrelevant - many bet more than me, many bet less, whatever; the key is how the journey went and, to a much lesser degree, what the destination looked like.

If that makes little sense, now is a good time to plug into the below. [Usual reminder that I speak kinda slowly, so feel free to use the little 'cog' icon bottom right to increase the playback speed to something more acceptable for your lugs].

Below the video are a few screen grabs of various bets just to show when they were placed (many at the time of publication of the posts in which they were nominated as suggestions). And if you want to review the previews, as it were, I've linked to those right here:

Day 1 preview      Day 2 preview      Day 3 preview      Day 4 preview

 

 

Selected bets

For those of you of a notably vicarious disposition, here are some slips...

The Good

A lot of the good stuff for me - in fact, pretty much all of the good stuff - happened in the novice hurdles this year. Slade Steel (Supreme), Ballyburn (Gallagher), Majborough (Triumph) and Stellar Story (Albert Bartlett) basically were the profit side of the ledger.

 

 

 

Stellar Story was, well, just that, especially as Gavin also tipped him on the preview. He returned a Betfair SP of 46, so I didn't get the value here - maybe it should go in the 'bad' section...

 

Plus Captain Guinness, who really only expunged the El Floppiolo entry (see The Ugly below)...

 

A saver on Jade de Grugy to place (see The Bad below)...

 

And Limerick Lace, an alliterative late lump of lustre on the ledger...

 

The Bad

Not bad in value terms, more like bad beats - though of course those wily bookie chaps usually know what they're about. I was lucky that Jade was the final leg (excluding WPM and Prestbury Cup which were nigh on certs) which made it hedgeable. Got a profit overall by laying Jade for a place - see above.

 

Nowhere to go with this, and I didn't even do the smart thing and back Absurde (who finished fourth behind these three last time out, and won the County Hurdle at 12/1, 15.5 BSP) for a couple of quid.

 

The Ugly

And this was an ugly one. Actually, only in terms of its predictable outcome was it disfigured; the double (2/5 and 2/9) paid 8/11 come the hour, and I'd secured 11/10 so it was a value play. As can be seen, I cashed a slice out when I first got a wobble about it; and as referenced in the video I hedged a little back, too, so it probably wasn't as ugly as I was thinking.

 

 

Doing debriefs can be very cathartic! [And absolutely objectifies what can be misguided subjective perspectives on the ledger - definitely worth your time to fill out the spreadie in my view]

 

Summary

Overall, it was a brilliant week from a sporting perspective though I (and I'm sure most readers) really felt for Nicky Henderson. That said, it's a strong case for making hay while the sun shines: the singular focus on the Festival is unhealthy and, when the horses are, erm, unhealthy during that week in March, there's no Plan B. Hoping at least some of those good horses will show up at Aintree and/or Punchestown.

Punting wise, for yours true it was very good - and a rarity to get quids on 'Give Back Friday'. This year, it was the bookies giving back to me. Nice. Normal service is expected to resume on Friday 14th March 2025.

Until then...

Matt

p.s. how was Cheltenham for you? Best sporting moment? Best bet / worst bad beat? Leave a comment and let us know.

Monday Musings: Some Absurde Numbers

There was plenty of talk last week about what a numbers game racing has become, writes Tony Stafford. Cheltenham became hostage once more to Irish stables, Willie Mullins leading the way of course. I have come to enjoy his successes if only that it gives me another chance to show that in his constant interviews, he is the most polite, unassuming man you could get for all that success. Then again there was plenty of excitement going around after Ballyburn.

Dan and Harry Skelton were second only to Willie, and if Dan could usurp his long-time mentor Paul Nicholls and win a first trainers’ championship that would also be nice, joining brother Harry who was champion jockey a few years ago.

No, but it’s two other different numbers that have taken my fancy: 11 (and a little bit) and 3,000. One concerning race times – the other an auction price that shows even modest investments can sometimes buy into some exceedingly desirable bloodlines at a time when everyone is there to have a crack.

First the race times. I think last week provided some of the most testing ground ever to have been seen, certainly since before the days of racecourse drainage systems.

I can now reveal that one race last week was run in a slower time than any of the Grand Nationals since 1883. So, what could it be? The ground was certainly heavy for the running of the 4m2f Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter on Saturday, with Irish-style water on the course in places.

The winner went round in 9 minutes 43.10 seconds, slower than any of the Aintree showpieces since Red Marauder and Richard Guest led home three surviving rivals in a funereal 11 minutes, 0.1 seconds 23 years ago.

But it wasn’t that time that stands supreme. Hexham operated last week with a going stick figure of 3.2 - I cannot remember one of those. It was heavy at the corresponding meeting in 2023, when the four-mile handicap chase was completed in 9 minutes 57.57 seconds. Last week it took Breeze Of Wind a mind-numbing 11 minutes 0.20 seconds, equivalent to between three and four furlongs extra in distance.

If you think he must have been left all alone in that race – far from it. Five of the six runners were still in contention coming to the final fence as the rather unlikely distances over the line reveal: 1.25 lengths, short head, neck and then 3.75 lengths to the final finisher.

You might also expect any horse to have undertaken the gruelling examination of Hexham that day to need to stay at home for a few weeks of R and R. Not a bit of it. Philip Kirby’s Heritier De Sivola galloped clear of his rivals to win Thursday’s three-mile handicap chase eased down by 32 lengths. Two days later at Newcastle, carrying a 7lb penalty for the Hexham win, he bolted up by more than five lengths, again on heavy ground on one of the country’s most demanding tracks.

Reverting to the time question, it took Breeze Of Wind and chums one-tenth of a second more to complete the four miles of the BK Racing Hexham Marathon Handicap even than Red Marauder to win his Grand National in the days when the big race was a full 4m4f. His time had not been exceeded since 1883 when owner-rider Count Karel Kinsky won on Zoedone in 11 minutes 39 seconds flat.

With the ground everywhere – except the amazing track that is Kempton – susceptible to the slightest shower, so high is the water table, fears for the prospective going for the Lincoln this week and the Grand National next month are realistic.

Now for the other number. Imagine you are at a bloodstock sale and have your eye on a two-year-old filly – in this case from the remaining dispersal of the late Sir Robert Ogden’s horses - and are waiting for lot 618, a filly by Showcasing.

But you’ve also looked at lot 617, a daughter of Kingman – stud fee 125k – and accept she will be way out of your price range. There was a negative about her, though, as she had scarred knees and the white obviously scared everyone off risking the unraced two-year-old.

But Julia Feilden had done her research and found out that before he died in March 2022, Sir Robert sanctioned a £20,000 operation to help correct a serious physical problem with the filly’s forelegs, the impact of the splints leaving unsightly (to some) white hairs on her knees as a consequence.

While wanting to wait for her number one pick, Julia watched in amazement as the bidding stalled on the Kingman filly, and after she stepped in, stopped, to her amazement, at her bid of 3,000gns.

The following lot was knocked down to Sam Sangster for 50k – “miles beyond my limit”, recalls Julia, but that filly has won already, second time out in a novice for the Brian Meehan stable at Southwell and looks set for a decent career as a three-year-old.

Already named when she bought her, Julia formed a syndicate of which she is a ten-per-cent shareholder. On Saturday night at Southwell, having learnt her trade on turf in the summer/autumn, she brought her all-weather form figures to 3211, adding to a recent Chelmsford success.

Dylan Hogan – “either he or my daughter Shelley ride her every day – she’s very buzzy” came from a long way back to get up near the line, Notre Dame showing lots of speed. Rated only 60, Julia reckons she needs to win on the turf to maximise future financial potential. But whatever the truth of that, it does prove that for the professionals, there’s always one that defies logic and slips though the net.

**

The thorny question of how the Irish do so well at Cheltenham was broached upon by the BHA’s Julie Harrington in an earnest publication even as the one-sided (though not quite as much as in some years) battle continued. I think a good proportion of the blame falls to the issue of how our handicappers treat the Irish and then our own horses.

To illustrate my point, you get the feeling that the BHA team hate horses winning races. It seems their brief is to allow one win, maybe two and then to put the handbrake on.

Last week I felt so sorry for Sophie Leech and family and their owners for the treatment of their Madara after he won at the Dublin Racing Festival. Only one of three runners from the UK to go over there in early February he added to a nice win at Cheltenham by collecting a valuable 2m1f chase at Leopardstown.

Just a five-year-old, the ex-French gelding came with a flying run that day under James Reveley, beating Henry de Bromhead’s Path d’Oroux by 2.5 lengths. The BHA handicapper’s response was to raise his mark from 133 to 143. Meanwhile the runner-up went up by only 3lb!

In the end neither enjoyed the Grand Annual at the Festival, possibly because of the ground, Madara fading away and the de Bromhead horse always at the back.

Another ridiculous piece of handicapping was the mark allotted to Ebor winner and Melbourne Cup seventh Absurde, a 110 flat-racer. From spring last year, this six-year-old was given a programme that suggested just how highly he was regarded in the Willie Mullins stable targeting big prizes under both codes.

Phase one jumping – aimed at getting a handicap mark – as lenient as possible, so he wins his novice at Killarney in May first-time out very easily at 2/7. Phase one flat – Royal Ascot where he was second to stable-companion Vauban in the Copper Horse Handicap, but 7.5 lengths behind the winner.

Phase two jumping – Listed race at Galway, sixth of nine. Phase two flat, wins Ebor off 104 under Frankie Dettori.

Phase three flat, 7th in Melbourne Cup off new flat mark of 110.

Phases three and four jumping, pulled up behind Coldwell Potter, the 740k buy from the Elliott stable; then 4th at levels and 33/1 behind Ballyburn. Now he’s eligible for a mark.

Phase five, with 138 jumping compared to 110 flat – so with probably at least 12lb and likely a bit more to spare, he shows brilliant speed to stop yet another well-laid-out Skelton fancy going up the hill. Too easy – if you’re Willie Mullins and you have an Ebor winner to work with!

As if that wasn’t enough, ten of the only 13 finishers in the Boodles Handicap Hurdle for four-year-olds were Irish-trained. The Noel George team – with a McManus horse the handicappers dropped 10lb off one run of evidence, Milan Tino – and I’m not sure if he counts as training in France, was 6th; Jack Jones with an ex-Joseph O’Brien horse (he trained the winner) An Bradan Feasa was 8th; and Fergal O’Brien with the Jim Bolger capture Teorie was 10th.

In the old days trainers aiming at Cheltenham used to try to buy from the October HIT sale when there was just the Triumph Hurdle and its field of up to 30 runners to aim at. Now with this handicap to target, the Irish get going well before that. There needs to be a much better co-ordinated programme of worthwhile juvenile contests from August onwards as horses need at least three runs to get a handicap mark.

- TS

Cheltenham Festival 2024: Day Four Preview, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2024: Day Four Preview, Tips

It's been a weird, and occasionally unsatisfying, week with the abandonment of the Cross Country Chase and the lamentable early showings - and subsequent withdrawals - of Nicky Henderson's star players. But here we are, three down one to go and buoyed for a crack at the Foxhunters Gold Cup. If you're behind at this point, the good news is there is still time; the bad news is this is 'Give Back Friday'...

1.30 Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m1f)

Previewed by Matt Bisogno. Although Nicky has had to pull most of his star players, he does - at time of writing, Wednesday morning - still plan to run Sir Gino, strong Triumph Hurdle favourite heretofore but now drifting like The Drifters aboard the Kon-Tiki. Let's consider his form credentials before getting bogged down in the health of the yard. Unbeaten in three, Sir Gino was considered smart enough to debut in a Listed contest at Auteuil. Sent off at bigger than 20/1 on the Paris nanny, he scored by a bit less than two lengths.

Subsequently transferred to Seven Barrows, the first thing they did was give him a wind op (well, it probably wasn't the first thing, but you know what I mean). His breathing facilitated, he scooted up by half the track in a decent Kempton Introductory Hurdle; and he then buried the Burdett Road dream by bashing that one ten lengths in a Grade 2 on the Old course here. His form is miles clear of the rest of the home team, but that bug in the Henderson yard makes it very difficult to accept a shortish price.

That's all the more true when you see what Willie's bringing to the party. Perhaps Majborough will be the pick of his, perhaps he won't; but in time he very well might be, according to 'the vibes'. In any case, his close soft ground third to stablemate Kargese in the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle on first start for over a year - he'd run as a three-year-old at Auteuil on 2nd April 2023 - was expected to blow away the cobwebs and it surely did.

Willie ran five in that race, Majborough only third choice in the betting, and the two ahead of him in the market filled the first two slots home. They were led by second favourite that day, Kargese, who looks a smart filly. Always prominent, she wasn't always fluent, but ran on well in a first time hood. She'll keep that pacifier on here and will again take on Majborough and the second from the Spring, Storm Heart. This ex-French flat horse won a maiden by 22 lengths before his G1 second, and he too retains plenty of upside. It is noteworthy that he's the choice of Paul Townend.

Willie ran five in the Spring Juvenile, and he saddles - wait, let me count them - sEvEn here! Seven. Out of the 14. I mean, what? As with the bumper, there's a chance he doesn't know the pecking order; but unlike the bumper, he's won this with his first string three times in the last four years. That points to Majborough in spite of having to turn the tables with both Kargese and Storm Heart. He's clearly held in high regard.

A quick whizz through the other four Willies - Bunting was fourth in the Spring Juvenile, only a bit more than two lengths behind the winner, and is another who on form could come out in front this time; Ethical Diamond was sixth there, and has five lengths to find - still not impossible; and High Wind was eighth at Leopardstown and ostensibly has plenty on to get past any of the aforementioned Mullins mob.

Meanwhile, Salvator Mundi hasn't run for eleven months since claiming argent at Auteuil in another Listed race. But here's the thing: he was second to none other than Sir Gino! The pair of them pulled ten clear of the third placed horse and, while Sir Gino, was value for a little more than 1 3/4 length margin, that obviously still makes Salvator Mundi 'live' in here if he's fit after that long layoff.

Nurburgring is quite battle hardened but I'm not sure his form with Kala Conti is quite as strong as some of the Closutton collective, or that he has the upside of them.

Back in Blighty, Salver has been winning and winning. He served up (geddit?!) in the G2 Finale at Chepstow having already won his two prior hurdles in lower class; then he won the Victor Ludorum at Haydock. A feature of his most recent brace of scores was very wet underfoot, so conditions ought not to be a concern - whether he's as good as the Irish and/or Sir Gino remains a concern!

I'm struggling to make cases for the rest, though Peking Opera was a very good flat horse and Ithaca's Arrow ploughed through the Newbury mud last time (he also ploughed through quite a few of the hurdles). Fratas has been off for a long time. And I backed Mighty Bandit a long time ago at a shorter price than he is now. He's moved from Elliott to Greatrex and has a clunk last time on his scorecard, though he was clearly wrong that day. He's a lot harder to fancy for that water under the bridge since my guessy ante post voucher, but he did look very good on his first hurdling start.

Triumph Hurdle Pace Map

Bound to be pacey early, with something from the Willie phalanx locking horns most probably with Salver and perhaps Fratas.

Triumph Hurdle Selection

Very tricky in light of the issues surrounding the jolly. He can't possibly be a bet as things stand, which makes punting a guess up. Paul Townend has ridden the three recent Mullins winners, but Mark Walsh is retained by JP McManus for Majborough. Townend rides Storm Heart and that one could be a bit of each way value in a race where there's not a lot between many of them. I'd love to see Salver win.

Suggestion: Try Storm Heart each way at 11/1 or so.

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2.10 County Hurdle (Grade 3 Handicap, 2m1f)

Previewed by Rory Delargy.

I was a bit miffed when Dan Skelton (handicap genius or barefaced cheat – you decide) said he was going to miss the County Hurdle with 2023 winner Faivoir as I’d availed myself of some 28/1 ante-post on the basis of his eye-catching run in the Betfair Hurdle when fifth behind Iberico Lord. Stablemate L’Eau du Sud was runner-up that day and Skelton seemed adamant that the latter would carry his hopes in the County.

I was even more miffed when, hoping to cash in, I napped Faivoir in the Imperial Cup only to see him beaten a nose by Go Dante. He’s clearly well handicapped, and Skelton has decided to let him run again. I thought initially that this sounded like a bad-beat declaration, but my friend Mr Massey mentioned the stable’s record when turning runners out quickly in handicaps. Naturally, I headed over to geegeez.co.uk (pint please, Matt) to double check.

True enough, Skelton’s record with quick turnarounds is excellent with two wins and a second in the last two years from just seven runners, including Heltenham’s 17/2 score at Newbury recently. Looking back further his figures are even better for hurdlers alone with five winners from 12 runners turned out less than a week from a previous start. That’s enough to make Faivoir interesting again even if he did have a hard race at Sandown and presumably he won’t run if there are signs he’s not fully recovered.

L’Eau du Sud ran a stormer in the Betfair and while the form was let down by the winner in the Champion Hurdle, I think we all know that the Henderson lurgy was responsible for that, and ditto Betfair fourth Doddiethegreat’s late capitulation in the Coral Cup. The form of that race is clearly strong, as it always is, and the only negative about L’Eau du Sud is the price, with every man and his dog having hitched on to the Skelton bandwagon.

The other good trial for this race is the 2m Listed handicap hurdle at the DRF which this year was won by Lord Erskine from Magical Zoe and Zenta with a number of horses taken out of the race in what we affectionately refer to as a “shemozzle” at the penultimate flight. One of those brought down was Bialystock, who was travelling well and improving on the inner at the time. I think that trio are all of interest, and while a 7lb rise for the first two seems a little harsh at first glance, Bialystock is only 1lb higher and that also makes him of interest here.

Both Zenta and Magical Zoe were relatively handily placed off the turn, and out of trouble wide on the track, but it’s possible that both went slightly too early as 50/1 winner Lord Erskine was produced very late to swamp them from the final hurdle. One can knock the form because of the odds of the winner, but I think it’s very solid and Lord Erskine came in for a really well judged ride, finding the best of the ground wide on the track and delaying his challenge until late.

In short, there is nothing between Magical Zoe and Zenta on Leopardstown form and the pair can be expected to play a big part in the finish if held on to for slightly longer, while Bialystock is weighted to beat them if you take the view that he would have finished off as strongly as he travelled there. On that point, Ruby Walsh feels that Bialystock needs a fairly sharp 2m to show his best given he’s very speedy and was concerned about the stiff 2m1f here when I mentioned Bialystock as a County possibility. That’s a warning worth heeding but he still merits his place on the list.

Of the others King of Kingsfield and Absurde were third and fourth behind Ballyburn and Slade Steel and are of obvious interest dropping into a handicap from that Grade 1 contest which has thrown up two impressive winners in the big novice hurdles this week. Both are worthy of consideration, but both are also well found already in the market.

County Hurdle Pace Map

Another almost guaranteed quick pace though it's not clear from where the early dash will emerge. Aucunrisque looks a likely but Westport Cove is the only other to have led in its most recent three spins. A handful of others led four back. I still reckon it'll be quick but could be wrong as I don't know who goes on!

County Hurdle Selection

In terms of the final call, price will be crucial, and the favourite is a tad short now for all he could ease on the day. Faivoir is 16/1 in a couple of places which is very fair given the stats quoted above and his attractive mark, while even Ruby’s words don’t completely put me off Bialystock after his eye-catching run at Leopardstown.

Suggestion: Try Faivoir at 16/1 and/or Bialystock at 11/1 each way with as many extra places as you can find.

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2.50 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 3m)

Previewed by Gavin Priestley, FestivalTrends.co.uk.

All of the last 14 winners had their last run over 2m3f-3m 1/2f.

All of the last 14 winners had their last run in the previous 26-90 day period.

12 of the last 13 winners had finished top 3 last time out.

All of the last 12 winners with an official rating were rated 136+.

9 of the last 10 winners returned 11/1 or bigger.

12 of the last 13 winners had raced 7 or fewer times over hurdles.

12 of the last 14 winners were aged 6 or 7yo.

11 of the last 14 winners had won at 2m4 1/2f+.

11 of the last 14 winners had their last start in Graded company (8 in a Grade 2).

10 of the last 14 winners were Irish Bred.

9 of the last 14 winners finished Top 3 in a Graded hurdle last time out.

8 of the last 14 winners had won a Graded hurdle previously.

4 of the last 14 winners returned 33/1 or bigger.

3 of the last 14 winners had raced 15 or more times in their career.

Willie Mullins had 22 straight losers between 2010-2016 but has now won 3 of the last 7.

8 of the last 12 winners had won an Irish PTP.

4 of the last 9 winners wore a tongue tie.

All 6 female runners have finished unplaced.

Only 1 of the last 13 winners had their last race in a handicap (27 such runners).

The sire Oscar has 2 wins and 3 places from 16 runners since the races inception.

The Grade 2 Lyons Of Limerick Jaguar Land Rover Novice Hurdle is a decent Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle trial given that the 2015, 2017 and 2021 Albert Bartlett winners had all taken part in the race prior to winning at Cheltenham, while Fury Road (third by a neck in the 2020 Albert Bartlett) had won that trial back in 2019. This Season's winner, Loughlynn, had looked a progressive horse prior to this win but has been pulled up since in a Grade 1 and gives the race a miss. The runner up at Limerick is here though and Gordon Elliott's 7yo STELLAR STORY looks just the type to go well in this.

A winning Irish pointer who is also a two time NH Flat winner, from three starts, he beat Ile Atlantique and Caldwell Potter on his third bumper start which is cracking form, that pair subsequently doing very well in Grade 1 company over hurdles and the former running third in Gallagher Novices' Hurdle on Wednesday. Stellar Story won first time up over hurdles this season and was then done for pace against a couple of speedier types in a Grade 2 at Navan over 2m4f at the start of December. He was then second in that Limerick Grade 2 Hurdle before staying on late in 4th in the big 2m6f Grade 1 Novice at the Leopardstown Festival a couple of weeks ago. I think he's crying out for this step up to 3 miles and the form of that NH flat race at Naas last February has worked out really well. He ticks all the boxes for Cheltenham, has form on soft ground and given the history of outsiders running well in this race I'm certainly not put off by his price. I like his chances a lot.

Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Pace Map

Quick, and attritional, as it usually is in 'the potato race'. Giggy may get jiggy on the lead, with some help from Wiggie Willie.

Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Selection

Suggestion: Back STELLAR STORY 1pt EW at 25/1.

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Festival Trends

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3.30 Cheltenham Gold Cup (Grade 1, 3m 2 1/2f)

Previewed by Matt Bisogno. A Gold Cup shorn of one of its stars as Shishkin has succumbed to the mystery ailment afflicting Seven Barrows in recent days, but of course the show must go on. We still have the champ, Galopin Des Champs, back to defend a crown he acquired with a seven length beating of Bravemansgame twelve months ago.

Galopin was subsequently beaten not once but twice - either side of his seasonal break - by perrenial rival Fastorslow, before exacting revenge last time in the Irish Gold Cup at the Dublin Racing Festival. It is widely assumed that that finishing order will be maintained, but the market has arguably over-stated that. Regardless, GdC looks on top of his game and his top form is the best in the race. He's a logical and worthy favourite.

Fastorslow has a few less notches on his bedpost, and had something of a bridesmaid look having run up to Corach Rambler in the Ultima last term and also been second in the Coral Cup the year before. He's since, erm, 'got married' (note to self, don't start analogies that will go nowhere) twice in Grade 1 company before that reverse at the hands of Galopin. [*trying desperately to crowbar in the old joke: "I've got two wives, do you think that's bigamy?" "I think that's very big of you!" - there, I did it, apols also for that]

Getting back on track, Bravemansgame was just that one spot away from winning the Blue Riband a year ago, and he's having another crack now. Why wouldn't he? Since then, he's had more seconds than a minute, running up to Gentlemansgame, Royale Pagaille, and Hewick respectively. The most recent was in the King George and that, again, is top form, albeit in defeat. Soft ground would hold no fears though he's unproven on heavy bar a Listed bumper flop at Ascot way back in 2019; that shouldn't be over-factored.

Staying with Team GB, L'Homme Presse will surely be a different dude this time from the shadow of himself that showed up in the Grade 1 Ascot Chase: never put in the race that day (pocket talk, sigh) he finished well enough over a clearly inadequate trip. Lest we forget, he was the 2022 Brown Advisory winner and though I didn't like it at the time, that was a belting prep for this.

Most of Gerri Colombe's best form has been on a sounder surface - Grade 1 Mildmay, Grade 1 Scilly Isles - but he's also got G1 verdicts on soft and soft to heavy. He was duffed up by Galopin Des Champs at Christmas, beaten 23 lengths there, and we've not seen him since. That'd be a worry for me although he's obviously a very talented chap at his best.

And then there's the fairytale ownership story that is Hewick. Bought for £12.50 (or thereabouts), he's won a bet365 Gold Cup, a Galway Plate, an American Grand National, an Oaksey Chase, and a King George. And the Durham National! Wowzers. And he actually cost €850. Just incredible - good luck to those very, very, very lucky owners and the astonishing journey this horse has taken them on. But can he win a Gold Cup?

Well, the answer to can he win a Durham Nash was probably 'no', as it was to 'can he win xyz other big race?', so let's break with that errant tradition and say, yes, he can win a Gold Cup. Whether he will or not is another question entirely. He jumps well and he stays very well so those are great credentials, as is his obvious will to battle and win, but there is a rather large fly in the ointment. ALL of his best form is on quick ground. It will not be that here, "and so I'm out" (said in my most earnest Deborah Meaden voice).

Ground would be a small niggle for Corach Rambler, too. Yes, he won a four runner novice hurdle on heavy back yon, but he will have outclassed his rivals there; and yes, he won the Ultima on soft last season. I actually really like him as a 'running on' play - maybe a place lay to back, or some such - and if I can get four places I'm bound to back him for a little bit. Because he's actually very good. Two wins here in the Ultima and a Grand National triumph tell us that; and he's surely had his mark managed as far as possible hitherto this campaign with a view to a repeat National bid. Those shackles now off he'll bring his A game here.

I can't have any of the rest. Fishcake Monkfish has been fragile and largely absent since his brilliant novice chase season, failing to win in three starts since; it's tough to envisage that streak being broken on his fourth go, in the Gold Cup. Nassalam does love the mud - he blitzed them in the Welsh National on heavy - so if it was a really, really wet day he'd enter minor calculations. Former Brown Advisory winner The Real Whacker has been missing since and isn't for me; and while I respect everything Henry de B runs at the Festival, even I'm having a hard time magicking a case for Jungle Boogie.

Cheltenham Gold Cup Pace Map

Quite a tough one to call pace wise, with a feature of most of the runners being their run style versatility. Galopin Des Champs has led in small fields the last twice but might take a lead here, while the Games - Bravemans and Gentlemans - could also get an early call. Should be a good even gallop and may the best horse win.

Cheltenham Gold Cup Selection

It might be that Galopin Des Champs just wins or that, if he doesn't, Fastorslow does. I'll probably do that 'no brainer' exacta which will pay 5/1 or so. But I kind of like L'Homme Presse as a sleeper in the field and he'll be my each way play. Lower down, Corach Rambler will be running on and can hit the extended frame; and if it's very wet - it might be! - Nassalam could surprise a few.

Suggestion: Try a little on L'Homme Presse each way, and perhaps Corach Rambler (not too wet) or Nassalam (biblical rainfall) with as many places as you can get. But, obviously, no surprise whatsoever if the top of the market outclasses them.

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4.10 Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase (Class 2, 3m 2 1/2f)

Previewed by John Burke, VictorValue.co.uk.

As ever I will begin with a look at a few general race trends:

Ten year-old’s have won six of the last ten renewals of the race – six winners from 47 runners +130.63, 12 placed with the A/E=1.86.

Nine of the last ten winners have been aged 10 or 11.

Favourites are three winners from ten runners -0.24, six placed. But five winners were returned between 16/1 & 66/1.

Eight of the last ten winners had won between 2m7f and 3m2½f.

There have been a number of repeat winners of this race, with Salsify, On The Fringe and Pacha Du Polder enjoying back-to-back successes since 2012.

To the form and the first thing you notice is the number of declared runners. This year’s renewal has attracted just a dozen hunters. 23 ran last year and the race average since 2008 is 22.75. Hopefully it’s a case of quality rather than quantity but I suppose it may also say a lot about the direction of travel of the hunter chase game.

I'll admit that if Matt hadn't asked me to preview the race, I probably wouldn't have given it much attention. However, I'm glad I did because despite the small field, I believe it could be an interesting contest.

Ferns Lock, Its On The Line, Premier Magic, and Samcro all share the top spot on official ratings.

Ferns Lock, although making his first appearance at Cheltenham, is a proficient jumper and a strong traveller. If he manages to stay the extended 3m2f distance, he's the most likely winner, although that's not certain given his racing style.

Its On The Line, recently acquired by JP McManus and trained by Emmet Mullins, boasts a solid record with three consecutive wins in hunter chases. He battled to victory over one of today's rivals, Billaway, in his last outing at Naas and is a strong stayer who could challenge Ferns Lock on the run-in.

Premier Magic secured victory in last year's race and followed up with another win at Cheltenham in May. Although he held off Its On The Line by 1¾ lengths last year, the latter has gained experience since then, and Premier Magic might find it tougher to repeat his success.

Samcro has shown revitalised form in point-to-point races, winning four times between October and November. While he might struggle against the likes of Ferns Lock and Its On The Line, he can't be completely discounted.

Billaway, winner of this race in 2022, fell twelve months ago but showed promise in his recent runner-up finish at Naas. Although his jumping isn't as polished as some of his rivals, his staying power keeps him in the mix.

Quintin’s Man found 2m6f an inadequate stamina test when 3rd of eight at Haydock last month. He won a course and distance hunter chase here last May so the return to today’s trip appears more suitable. He’s going the right way but would need to improve plenty to trouble the principles.

Sine Nomine delivered an improved performance to win a heavy ground hunter chase at Wetherby last month. The mare is now three from five under Rules and, whilst she needs to improve again to even get into the places, she might be capable of doing so.

Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase  Pace Map

The map only shows Rules form, so ignores point to points. As such, it's not to be trusted for all that it implies a fair gallop set by one or both of Billaway and Ferns Lock with possibly 14yo Shantou Flyer wanting a piece, too, if he can keep up!

Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase Selection

The battle seems to be between Ferns Lock and Its On The Line. If Ferns Lock conserves his energy early on, he’s the most likely winner, but Its On The Line is a strong finisher. Premier Magic, last year's winner, can't be dismissed, and for those seeking a value bet, Sine Nomine will hopefully be available at decent each-way odds.

That's a wrap for me. I've thoroughly enjoyed sharing my race previews with you, and I hope you've found them enjoyable and informative. Until next time, happy racing!

Suggestion: Try Ferns Lock to win at 11/4 and/or Sine Nomine each way at 16/1 or bigger.

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4.50 Mares' Chase (Grade 2, 2m 4 1/2f)

Previewed by Matt Bisogno. Ah, the Mares' Chase. An 'after the Lord Mayor's Show' of a race if ever there was. Or maybe 'After the Lord Mares' Show'. Perhaps not. Let's get on with it, shall we?

It's 20/1 bar four and that's mainly because Dinoblue, even money, is in the field. Her form in front of Gentleman De Mee and closest to El Fabiolo the last twice is the best by a margin; but she's only run once at this twenty furlong range, a ten length fourth in a Fairyhouse G1 novice hurdle. She kept on that day, and doubts about stablemate Lossiemouth's stamina for a similar step up were unambiguously dispelled on Tuesday. She'll probably win - she's a really smart mare.

But what if she doesn't stay? In such a scenario, Gavin Cromwell may hold the key. He runs two, Limerick Lace and Brides Hill. Limerick Lace handles soft and heavy ground, stays very well (keeping on second in the three mile Thyestes Chase) and bolted up in a Listed mares' race at this trip in Doncaster last time. I'm not convinced she's quick enough but I'm certain she'll handle conditions.

Brides Hill is on a four-timer, and she looks a trip specialist. She, too, has soft ground form, though not heavy ground form, and she's had a lot of races. She'd not be near the top of my list.

Another with conditions in her corner is Allegorie De Vassy, twice a winner on heavy in her last three starts, both in Listed company. She finished second in this last year and may again have to settle for minor honours, though she probably will go close.

Making a case for anything else is probably folly, but at a massive price Marsh Wren is better suited to conditions than most. Still a novice, she's a winner of eight of 13 starts, three of four in chases, and went to Ireland to beat some of their Listed class mares last time. She has a chunk to find on the book but goes from the front and will, as they say, "give a bold sight".

Mares' Chase Pace Map

This should be a proper test at the trip which may or may not find out the best mare in the field. Kestrel Valley and Marsh Wren, along with Dinoblue's stablemate, Instit (pronounced Ansty, apparently), will be the trailblazers.

Mares' Chase Selection

Dinoblue has to show she stays, and she might. If we knew she did, she wouldn't be evens, I guess, but I still don't like that price given the unanswered question. Limerick Lace is probably quite solid for all that she's probably quite slow (might be what's needed if it's wet) and Allegorie De Vassy is another the market (and I) expect(s) to be on the premises. If you want to go mad - we might need to by this point - Marsh Wren without the favourite, could sneak a minor placing.

Suggestion: I'm going to try to get Dinoblue beaten, which will be a waste of time if she stays. In that context, back Limerick Lace to win at 9/2.

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5.30 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3, 2m 4 1/2f)

Previewed by David MasseyThis year’s Martin Pipe is a slightly strange affair, with a less compressed look to the handicap than is normally the case. It tends to be a 0-145 handicap where the bottom in is usually around the low 130’s but this time around you’ve a few below that mark and bottom weight Russian Ruler, for the not-in-form Nicky Henderson (it has to turn, doesn’t it?), is rated just 122. 

The lowest rating for anything winning this in the last decade is 135, and most of the unexposed ones that tend to do well in the race are 130+, and I think we’ll find the winner there. 

Ocastle Des Mottes is one of the Willie Mullins plots for this and he has a touch of the Galopins about him. The future Gold Cup winner had been sixth in a Grade 1 on his previous start before winning this in 2021 and Ocastle Des Mottes, whilst not competing at that level last time, still went off favourite for the Betfair Hurdle last month. Perhaps all the pre-race shenanigans when he had to be re-shod didn’t help his cause, but he was a little disappointing all the same in finishing eighth. I feel that, given the level of support he had that day, he must be capable of better, and I’d not be writing him off on the back of one run. 

Willie’s Quai De Bourbon is the one that’s come in for all the support ever since the market opened, but he looks underpriced on what he’s achieved so far. His defeat of stablemate Westport Cove looks solid enough, with the runner-up going on to be beaten 12 lengths by Tullyhill at the Dublin Racing Festival, and a mark of 140 looks fair enough. He has one of the most experienced jockeys on board in Michael O’Sullivan and he has plenty of upside to him. The market has him well found, all the same. 

Gordon Elliott has twice won this in recent years and of his battalion Better Days Ahead is the one that makes the most appeal. He didn’t shine in the Champion Bumper last year but has shown steady progression in four hurdles starts, coming up against Slade Steel at Navan two starts ago (not knocked about as the stable’s second string that day, but still not beaten far) and then second to Asian Master over a trip too short at Navan last time. Those two pieces of form look all the stronger after the Supreme and, with the useful Danny Gilligan in the plate, he just about heads up my shortlist. 

It isn’t a totally one-sided affair, as the British have won the Martin Pipe twice in the last four years, with Iroko last year and the game Indefatigable four years ago (seems like yesterday, that) but the home team is not a strong one. You’d like to think at some point David Pipe might win the race named after his father but he’s 0-23 despite chucking some decent ammunition at it over the years. Thanksforthehelp was probably trying to get himself qualified for the Pertemps at Chepstow last time; that failed, and this looks more in hope than any great plan. 

The one I could throw a few quid at each-way from our side is Gary Moore’s Teddy Blue. I’m not entirely convinced he’s in the right race today - the County would have been my preference -  but regardless, he’s developed his own ideas about the game and isn’t one to fully trust. That’s fine if he’s a 40-1 shot, as you don’t have to pay a lot to find out what side of bed he’s got out of, but his recent form is decent enough. He travelled up well to throw down a challenge in the Lanzarote before fading late and, at Ascot last time, was only beaten five lengths in a competitive affair. He will hang left under pressure, and the hope is a fast-run affair will keep him on the bridle long enough before he realises he’s in a race and by then, he’s hopefully got the place part of the bet wrapped up.  

Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle Pace Map

Again, not obviously stacked with pace but hard to see that it won't be truly run. Gordon runs seven so one will likely go on, most likely either or both of Better Days Ahead or Mel Monroe.

Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle Selection

Suggestion: Two bets for me - each-way 10/1 Better Days Ahead and a little win and place at 50/1 Teddy Blue.

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And that, as they say, will be that. I hope that you're having a great week, be it only in sport or with some wagering success too, and wishing you all the best with your Friday plays. Thanks a million for following geegeez this week, and special thanks to the great writing assistance I've received from David, Rory, Gavin and John - top men, all. Do check out their links in the above if you've appreciated their work as much as I have.

Be lucky.

Matt

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