Cheltenham Racecourse. 17/03/17 Festival Day 4 The Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup Steeple Chase. Sizing John ridden by Robbie Power jumps the final fence to win from Djakadam ridden by Ruby Walsh. Photo Andy Watts / Racingfotos.com

Cheltenham Festival: Avoiding the Bad Bets

This article was originally written ahead of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival, and was updated prior to the 2019 Cheltenham Festival. It has been further updated ahead of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival as most of the themes have gained strength since first publication.

The Cheltenham Festival is almost upon us and soon we'll be faced with the unenviable - though highly enjoyable - task of trying to find winners in 28 deeply competitive races. Many sensible players will focus on a subset of the full four-day card but, regardless of your plan of attack, there are some rules of thumb worth keeping in mind.

I've broken the races down into four categories: open Grade 1's, novice Grade 1's (excluding the Bumper and Triumph Hurdle), handicap hurdles (excluding the Fred Winter), and handicap chases. The following races, in addition to the trio mentioned above, are also excluded: NH Chase, Mares' Novice Hurdle, Cross Country Chase, and the Foxhunters' Chase.

That leaves 21 races spread across four groups upon which to focus. For each I was looking for negative angles: in so doing, I'm happy to forego a small percentage of winners if it means there is a far more workable residue of runners who comprise most victors and, crucially, a value edge.

The sample covers the last eleven Festivals, going back to 2008, with commentary on the updated figures and performance at the 2018 and 2019 Festivals appended.

Cheltenham Festival Open Grade 1's

The open Grade 1 races at the Cheltenham Festival are the Champion Hurdle, Mares' Hurdle, Champion Chase, Ryanair Chase, Stayers' Hurdle, and the Gold Cup: six in total. Across the ten years to 2017, that equated to 53 winners (Mares' Hurdle upgraded during the sample window) and 158 placed horses, from 635 runners. To that we add six winners and 17 placed horses from 2018, and a further six winners and 18 places from last year.

Headgear

Those wearing no headgear won 50 of the 53 open Grade 1's in the last decade, from 521 runners. That's 94% of the winners from 82% of the fields.

Just one of the 94 runners sporting blinkers or cheekpieces won - Our Vic in the 2008 Ryanair - and such horses' place strikerate is poor, too.

Be wary of horses wearing headgear, especially blinkers or cheekpieces, in Open Grade 1's at the Festival.

2018 Festival Update: Native River won the Gold Cup wearing cheek pieces, with just one of the other twelve headgear-accoutred runners making the frame. So that's 55 of 59 open Grade 1's now: 93% of the winners from 82% of the runners.

2019 Festival Update: 15 headgear runners across the sextet of open G1 races, and no winners. In fairness, three were placed (Melon, Politologue, and Sam Spinner) at solid prices.

2008-2019 Picture

Those wearing headgear can win (QED) but are 4/142 (2.82% SR) with an A/E of just 0.43.

Age

Horses aged five to nine won 49 of the 53 open Cheltenham Festival Grade 1's in the last decade. The other four were aged ten. From 45 runners, 11+ year-olds have failed to win. These include such sentimental veterans as Cue Card, Big Buck's and Kauto Star, all of whom were sent off at 9/2 or shorter since 2012.

Avoid backing horses aged in double digits in Festival Open Grade 1's.

2018 Festival Update: Two more 11+ year-olds ran in last year's Festival, including the wonderful Cue Card. Wonderful he may be but, sent off at 9/2 and pulled up, he was another mug punt for many. Worse than that, though, was the ten-year-old Un De Sceaux, who was turned over at 8/11. He was one of six ten-year-olds beaten last year.

2019 Festival Update: Nine double-digit aged runners in these big six races in 2019, and no winners. Just the still quite mighty Faugheen - who will bid to defy the stat again next week - made the frame, running third in the Stayers' Hurdle.

2008-2019 Picture

Horses aged ten-plus are now 4/121 since 2008 (3.31% SR), A/E 0.42.

[As an aside, the four winning ten-year-olds did so in the Champion Chase (two) and Ryanair Chase (two).]

Starting Price

None of the 238 horses sent off at 25/1 or bigger managed to win an open Grade 1 at the last ten CheltFests. Moreover, only three priced bigger than 14/1 scored, from 335 to face the starter, with this group losing 274 points at SP. Meanwhile, those priced at 14/1 or shorter won 50 races from 300 starters, and lost just two points at SP. That converted to a BSP profit of 51.75 points.

Ignore horses priced at 16/1 or bigger in Cheltenham Festival Open Grade 1's.

2018 Festival Update: Another blank for 16/1+ horses, who went 0/31 in the Grade 1 open races. Of the four who placed, only one was second - Midnight Tour in a lop-sided Mares' Hurdle - with the other three good enough for no better than third.

2019 Festival Update: The bad news is that there was a winner. 16/1 Espoir D'Allen won the Champion Hurdle as the race fell apart. The good news is that there were also 49 losers! Saying that, nine of the 50 made the frame, so these horses (obviously, duh) can win.

2008-2019 Picture

Overall, then, this group is now 4/416 (0.96% SR) with a loss at SP of 338 points (-81.25% !) and an A/E of just 0.32. Even at Betfair SP, the loss is 322.9 points. I remain happy to let these beat me.

Trainers

Paul Nicholls is still the winning-most Open Grade 1 trainer in the past decade, with ten such victories to his name. Nicky Henderson and Willie Mullins each have nine, and the next best of Jonjo O'Neill, with four.

But... the denizen of Ditcheat has led just one beast - Dodging Bullets in 2015 - into the winner's enclosure since 2012, with none of his eight such runners at the last two Festivals reaching the first four. Notwithstanding that all bar one of that octet was sent off a double-figure price, he's a trainer about which to be apprehensive in this context.

Philip Hobbs is 0 from 17 in this type of race in the review period, and has only had one horse placed. That was Fair Along, third in the 2008 Champion Chase, and Hobbs tends to fare better at Aintree, though he's had a wretched season blighted - one suspects - by a touch of the virus.

Noel Meade has an infamous record at the Festival and, while he's 0 from 13 in this section of races, his Road To Riches was third in both the 2015 Gold Cup and the 2016 Ryanair Chase.

Nevertheless, Messrs. Hobbs and Meade are 0 from 30, three places, which is hard to overlook. Nicholls' 1 from 30 record since 2013 is equally difficult to excuse.

Tread carefully around Cheltenham open Grade 1 runners trained by Paul Nicholls, Philip Hobbs and Noel Meade.

2018 Festival Update: Both Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson have usurped Nicholls at the top of the pile, each having now secured 11 such wins since 2008. Last year, Messrs. Nicholls, Hobbs and Meade went 0/4 (three Nicholls, one Meade) though two of them ran fairly well in fourth. Caution remains the watch word.

2019 Festival Update: Four more qualifiers last year, including a Nicholls winner (lovely Frodon), and two further placed horses. The other finished fifth, and I think rather than the 201-mentioned caution being the watchword, I'd be happy to lose this particular element. It will be expunged from the 2021 preview!

2008-2019 Picture

Overall the figures of 11/112 (-65.07) look like keeping on side. But, while there is normally a premium to be paid for siding with Paul Nicholls especially, he seems to have largely overcome a hiatus in fortunes of a few years ago and, as such, should not be opposed lightly. This one is about to be consigned to the dusty bin.

Cheltenham Festival Open Grade 1 Micro System

Pulling all of these negative stats together makes for a nice little micro system. Specifically:

- No horses wearing blinkers or cheekpieces
- No horses trained by Paul Nicholls, Philip Hobbs or Noel Meade
- No horses priced at 16/1+
- No horses aged 10+

That would have netted 36 winners from 180 runners (20% strike rate, 69% race win strike rate) and a level stakes profit of 46.48 points at Starting Price. That bloats to +69.95 at BSP. Moreover, the approach was profitable in eight of the ten years, exceptions being 2016 and 2009.

2018 Festival Update: The above 'dodge the negatives' angle would have netted you five of the six open G1 winners (excluding the cheek pieced Native River) from just 25 bets. It would have been enough to make you a profit of 6.17 points at SP or a very tidy 13.82 points at BSP.

2019 Festival Update: The mini system had a fine week with wins for Al Boum Photo, Paisley Park and Altior in the big four races, as well as Roksana in the Mares' Hurdle. That was worth a profit of 5.74 points at SP and 6.95 at BSP. Espoir d'Allen was 16/1 and therefore just outside the range.

2020 Festival Angle: We'll remove the trainer element from the above for 2020. Results will be published in due course...

**

Cheltenham Festival Novice Grade 1's (excl. Bumper & Triumph Hurdle)

The novice Grade 1 races at the Cheltenham Festival are the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, Arkle Chase, Ballymore Properties Novices' Hurdle, RSA Chase, JLT Novices' Chase, and Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle: six in all. Across the ten years, that equates to 54 winners (JLT upgraded during the sample window) and 159 placed horses, from 723 runners. To that we add six winners and 17 placed horses, from 76 runners, in 2018.

The Bumper is excluded because it has no obstacles, and the Triumph Hurdle because it is for four-year-olds only.

Here are the negatives...

Headgear

Those wearing no headgear still account for the vast majority of wins - 57 of 60 from 2008 to 2018 - but perform little better than expected, 95% of the wins coming from 93% of the runners.

2019 Update: Headgear is a slight negative seemingly among the novice ranks. In the 12 years from 2008 to 2019, although there were only three winners (from 72 runners), two of them - both in 2014 - returned 33/1, for a profit of 6 points. The starting price A/E of 0.77 suggests these are still types about which to be wary, a feeling which has added credence in the form of two beaten favourites in 2019, Delta Work at 15/8 and Hardline at 10/3.

Age

Again, little of note here except that those novices aged nine or more running in Grade 1 novice races at the Festival have done poorly. They are 0 from 22, though then nine-year-old Whisper nearly benefited from Might Bite's errant course up the hill last year in the RSA Chase. It is worth noting that nine of those 22 were priced at 7/1 or shorter.

Avoid horses aged nine and up in the novice Grade 1's.

2018 Festival Update: No 9yo novices ran at the Festival last year.

2019 Festival Update: Two older novices ran, and were beaten, last year: Articulum ran well to be third at 25/1 in the Arkle (albeit beaten 17 lengths), and the ill-fated Knocknanuss was fifth in the same race.

2008-2019 Picture

These older lads and lasses are now 0 from 24, though Faugheen looks a live chance in a novice chase, probably the Marsh (former JLT) this time around.

Starting Price

There is the occasional shock result in Cheltenham Festival novice Grade 1's. But four, out of 54, is not a percentage on which to hang one's wagering hat. Interestingly, perhaps - or maybe just coincidence - two of the four winners at 16/1 or longer in the last decade came in the Albert Bartlett. It does seem a race where all of the preceding trials have been run on different ground and/or under very different pace scenarios.

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Even allowing a little latitude in the 'potato race', the four rags came from a total population of 336 horses sent off greater than 16/1. They were 'good' for a loss of 208 points at SP.

Naturally, then, the other 50 winners came from horses priced at 16/1 or shorter, the 381 such runners losing just 31 points at SP, and breaking even at BSP.

Be wary of horses sent off at 16/1 or bigger in novice Grade 1 races at the Cheltenham Festival. (With the exception of the Albert Bartlett)

2018 Festival Update: I think I got some sums wrong in the original above. The 16/1+ brigade were 6/379 (1.58% SR, -217, A/E 0.53) going into last year's Fez. Those priced at 16/1 or bigger were 1/42 at last year's Cheltenham Festival, and it was again the Albert Bartlett that provided the shock, with 33/1 Kilbricken Storm prevailing.

And that's now four of seven winning G1 novice rags since 2008 scoring in the spud race, so I'd be even more apprehensive around that event. Indeed, I might even be tempted to actively target outsiders therein. (Those priced 16/1 to 33/1 in the Albert Bartlett are 4/65, 12 places, +54 SP and +104 at BSP since 2008!)

2019 Festival Update: One more 16/1+ winner last year, and guess which race it happened in... yup, 50/1 (FIFTY!) Minella Indo emerged victorious in the Albert Bartlett. Aside from that race, the numbers were 0 from 29 for bigger-priced horses in the novice Grade 1's.

2008-2019 Picture

The overall figures now stand at 8/467 (1.71% SR, A/E 0.58) since 2008. Ignoring the Albert Bartlett, horses priced 16/1+ in novice Grade 1's are now 3/327 (0.92% SR, -251 at SP) since 2008.

The Albert Bartlett picture since 2008 is thus: 5/140 +30 at SP (+183 at BSP!)

Official Rating

Despite being novices, most horses running in the Festival novice races have an official rating. The 39 in the last decade which didn't were all unplaced bar one. Indeed, horses rated 140 or below, including those without a rating, are a combined seven from 308 for a loss at SP of 185 points.

Those rated higher than 140 won 47 races and lost a relatively small 54 points at SP and 2.75 points at BSP.

Avoid horses rated 140 or below.

2018 Festival Update: Those unrated added another three duck eggs to their collective card, though all of the trio were 20/1+. Meanwhile, those unrated or rated 140 or less went 24 spins without so much as a place at last year's Festival.

2019 Festival Update: Three unrated horses ran last year in novice G1's, Minella Indo winning and Allaho running second in the same race. The Albert Bartlett does seem to be a special case.

Those with a rating below 140 were 0/22 last year, just two placed.

2008-2019 Picture

Overall since 2008, then, they're now 8/361 (2.22% SR, A/E 0.62, -187 at SP). But...

Minella Indo was the first such winner since Martello Tower in 2015. Before that, Very Wood in 2014, Weapons Amnesty in 2009 and Nenuphar Collonges in 2008 made it five Albert Bartlett winners from the eight winners to be rated 0-140. The Albert Bartlett usually asks horses to do something they've not done before and, in trying, the pack gets shuffled with slower-but-stronger-staying types able to show mettle beyond the classier horses that had been winning therebefore.

Trainers

Willie Mullins is the dominant player in this sphere over the last decade, his fifteen winners almost double that of the next man (Nicky Henderson has eight). No other trainer has more than two novice G1 wins in the past decade, excluding as we are the Bumper and Triumph Hurdle.

Paul Nicholls is again a man to treat with caution: his one winner, Al Ferof, from 43 starters came in 2011. In PFN's defence, he only had one runner last year, and just two in 2016.

Other handlers to be given a wide berth may include Colin Tizzard (0 from 15, 2 places), Warren Greatrex and Charlie Longsdon (both 0 from 9, no places), and Venetia Williams (0 from 8, no places).

Keep in mind that Paul Nicholls does not have the firepower he once did in this category (and indeed many others).

2018 Festival Update: Nicholls ran two novices in this context last year, Modus (8th of 9 at 12/1) and Black Corton (5th of 10, 5/1).

2019 Festival Update: Again, Nicholls was resurgent in 2019, with Topofthegame winning the RSA Chase at 4/1. This doesn't look an angle worth persevering with and will be dropped for the 2020 update.

Cheltenham Festival Novice Grade 1 Micro System

Again, we can fashion something of a micro system by dodging these negative angles, thus:

- No horses aged nine-plus
- No horses rated 140 or lower, or unrated
- No horses sent off greater than 16/1
- No horses trained by Paul Nicholls

44 of the 54 winners in the sample came from avoiding these negatives, from just 38.5% of the runners. They were collectively worth a profit of 7.57 points at SP, and a slightly more worthwhile 31.15 points at BSP.

2018 Festival Update: If you'd followed this angle last year, you'd have found five of the six winners, 14 places (exception, Kilbricken Storm - see above) from 46 bets. That would have yielded a profit of +9 at SP and +17.41 at BSP.

2019 Festival Update: Not such good news here, as loads of runners and some short odds winners meant the angle lost 16 points at SP and 7.28 points at BSP.

2020 Festival Angle: We'll again remove the trainer angle but caution is advised with this micro generally. I'll not be following it this year.

**

Cheltenham Festival Handicap Hurdles (excluding Fred Winter)

Let us now take a look at the handicap races, beginning with the handicap hurdles but excluding the four-year-olds-only Fred Winter.

Fred Winter aside, there are four handicap hurdles at the Festival: the Coral Cup, Pertemps Final, County and Martin Pipe. The last named was introduced in 2009, meaning we have a sample size of 39 races with which to work. Those races were contested by 964 runners.

Gender

The fairer sex have recorded just one placed effort from 27 starters in the ten year review period. That 3.7% place strike rate (and 0% win rate) compares with a 16.4% place rate for the boys.

It may be safe to exclude fillies and mares in all age Cheltenham Festival handicap hurdles. (Incidentally, fillies have an excellent record in the Fred Winter).

2018 Festival Update: Fillies and mares were 0/9 (1 place) last year.

2019 Festival Update: The females were 0/6 (1 place) last year.

2008-2019 Picture:

Overall since 2008, that now reads 0/42, 3 places.

Headgear

Cheekpieces are again a negative. This time, 84 horses have worn them without a win, and just six places. Conversely, 11 of the 84 blinkered horses (one also wearing a hood) made the frame, and four won. Two of the 45 hood wearers also won, another eight placing; while the visor went 0 from 21, no places.

Cheekpieces or visors appear to have no positive impact on Cheltenham Festival handicap hurdlers. (This is in line with overall Cheltenham Festival statistics, where visor use has a 2.86% win rate in the last decade, compared with cheekpieces 3.15%, hood 4.92%, blinkers 5.57% and no headgear 5.96%)

2018 Festival Update: Nine more cheek pieced losers last year, and two more visored losers. Blinkered runners were 1/7 last year.

2019 Festival Update: Two headgear-clad winners last year, both in cheekpieces, though those otherwise accoutred were 0 from 17, wiping out the SP profit from the cheeky brace.

2008-2019 Picture:

There have been ten headgear-wearing winners of all aged handicap hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival since 2008, from 293 runners. That's a 3.41% strike rate for a loss of 119 points (ROI -40.61). Those without headgear won 37 from 865 (4.28% SR, -256 at SP, ROI -29.6%).

Headgear seems to be a negative, though ignoring such runners hardly helps the pursuit of winner isolation!

Age

Handicap hurdling at the Festival is a young man's game. Of the 964 runners in such races in the past ten years, 842 (87%) were aged five to eight (ignoring the Fred Winter). They won all bar two of the races (95%), and claimed 92% of the places. The two wins were both achieved by the same horse, Buena Vista, in the same race, the Pertemps Final.

But it is worth further squinting at the data, because it relates that those aged five or six notched 27 of the 39 wins (69%) from just 49% of the runners. Those victories were worth 94 points profit at BSP.

Chuck out horses aged nine and above, and be unforgiving with those aged seven and eight.

2018 Festival Update: All four handicap hurdle winners in this context last year were aged five to seven, with twelve 8yo's beaten, and eleven 9yo+ horses also seen off.

2019 Festival Update: The four winners in 2019 were aged six, seven, eight and nine. Those aged nine-plus were 1/19 for an SP profit of 10 points. William Henry it was who did the business (tipped at 40/1 in this preview), at 28/1.

2008-2019 Picture:

Age remains a factor, younger horses have much more improvement potential than their elders. William Henry was the first winner for the older battalion since that Buena Vista brace in 2010/11. Overall, the numbers read 3/148 (2.03% strike rate, -55% ROI, A/E 0.6).

Compare that with those aged eight or younger: 44/1006 (4.37% SR, -29% ROI, A/E 0.77).

And, further, with those aged five or six: 30/560 (5.36% SR, -8.7% ROI, A/E 0.83).

Starting Price

506 of the 964 starters in all-age Cheltenham Festival handicap hurdles since 2008 have been sent off at greater than 20/1. Five have won, at a collective loss of 343 points.

It follows then that the other 34 victors were priced at 20/1 or shorter, of which there were 458 runners. Remarkably, backing all such runners returned an SP profit of 35 points. That mushroomed to 127.5 points at BSP.

Only five of the 102 horses sent off shorter than 9/1 prevailed, for a 66 point loss at SP (60 points at BSP).

Make 20/1 your cutoff in all-age handicap hurdles, and beware the shortie.

2018 Festival Update: There was a 33/1 winner last year (Mohaayed in the County Hurdle), but the other three were 20/1 or shorter. Even allowing for the County winner, those priced at bigger than 20/1 were loss-making at SP (though an enormous BSP of 70 ensured a profit for intrepid exchange punters). Overall, the 22/1+ brigade are now 6/555 since 2008 in handicap hurdles at the Fez (Fred W aside).

2019 Festival Update: William Henry was again the blot on the copybook, he being the one bigger than 20/1 poke, from 47 to run, to win.

2008-2019 Picture:

Even with William limiting losses last year, outsiders continued to struggle. The long term picture now reads 7/602, 1.16% strike rate, -62.5% ROI, A/E 0.45. Compare that with 20/1 or shorter horses: 40/556, 7.19% SR, +0.18% ROI at SP (!), A/E 0.86.

Trainers

Willie Mullins has a fantastic record in open handicap hurdles at the Fez, scoring seven times from just 60 starters in the past decade. He's also added another ten placed horses for a brilliant 28% place strike rate. Gordon Elliott has performed even better in place terms, hitting the frame with twelve of his 34 such runners (35%). He also has a win and two places in the Fred Winter, from 11 starters.

Paul Nicholls has a very good record in handicap hurdles, too, in contrast to his Grade 1 performance in recent seasons. But the likes of Evan Williams and Charlie Longsdon (0 from 31, 0 places, between them), Noel Meade and Dr Richard Newland (0 from 27, 3 places, collectively) are probably best passed up.

Approach Messrs. Evan Williams, Longsdon, Meade and Newland with caution.

2018 Festival Update: Only the 40/1 shot Prime Venture represented this angle last year; he ran well enough in 8th of 23 in the Pertemps Final.

2019 Festival Update: Another barren year for the quartet with four mostly quietly fancied (16/1, 2 x 20/1, 33/1) runners finishing no nearer than 14th.

2008-2019 Picture:

That's now 0 from 63, just three places, with a remarkably even split between them: Longsdon and Meade are 0/15 each, Newland is 0/16 and Williams 0/17.

Cheltenham Festival Handicap Hurdle Micro System

Throwing all of the negatives into a mixer gives the following:

- No female horses
- No horses wearing cheekpieces or a visor
- No horses aged nine or above
- No horses sent off at greater than 20/1
- No horses trained by Evan Williams, Charlie Longsdon, Noel Meade or Dr Richard Newland

Applying those negative filters would have left 375 qualifiers. They collectively won 32 of the 39 qualifying races, for a profit of 80 points at SP, and a tasty 165 points at BSP.

2018 Festival Update: Even missing out on the County Hurdle last year, meaning there were only three winners to get, this angle made a profit at SP. In fact, it nailed three winners from 36 runners for +4 at SP and +18.07 at BSP.

2019 Festival Update: More losses on this angle with well backed winners spoiling the party. Still, figures of -13 at SP and -5.61 at BSP were not terminal.

2020 Festival Angle: A great angle down the years, I'll be rolling the dice for small stakes on this approach once more.

**

Cheltenham Festival Handicap Chases

That leaves us with the handicap chases: Festival Handicap Chase, Novices' Handicap Chase, the Festival Plate, the Kim Muir, and the Grand Annual. With all five races having been run throughout the review period, that gives us fifty races to go at. (I've excluded the Cross Country, which has been run as a handicap but is currently framed as a conditions race).

A whopping 1,086 runners have contested these handicap chases.

Gender

As with the handicap hurdles, it's been hard work for the girls. Only 19 have shown up but, while they have failed to win, they have recorded an impressive five placed efforts (26.32% place rate vs 18.18% for the boys).

Nothing especially of note.

2018 Festival Update: Just one unplaced female last year.

2019 Festival Update: Three more unplaced mares in 2019, all at big prices.

2008-2019 Picture: The handful of girls to run in Festival handicap chases are 0 from 23 but there's nothing really to write home about.

Headgear

Bizarrely given what we've seen hitherto, the fitting of any kind of headgear has outperformed the large 'no headgear' group in terms of win percentage. Cheekpieces, up until now shunned as a universal negative, have been worn by no fewer than seven of the fifty winners, at a rate of 5.26%. Blinkers have been worn by nine handicap chase winners, a 7.5% clip; and the visor and the hood were responsible for a win apiece from 22 and 23 runners respectively. Crikey!

Those unaccessorized won 32 handicap chases from 786 runners (4.07%, the lowest in the sample).

I'll stop short of saying that no headgear is a negative (!), but suffice it to say that the sporting of any kind of 'go faster' kit has not been a portent of failure.

2018 Festival Update: A blinkered runner, Missed Approach, again scored last year and, while cheek pieces went 0/14, four of them made the frame. Allied to Native River's Gold Cup win, I'm warming to the idea of cheekies on a chaser.

2019 Festival Update: Another cheekpieced chaser scored at huge odds, this time the veteran Croco Bay at a monster 66/1 (180 BSP). Two blinkered runners joined in as well, Any Second Now (6/1) and Beware The Bear (10/1) making it a great Festival for the headgear fencers.

2008-2019 Picture: Without getting too gung ho, it remains the case that chasers sporting headgear should not have their chance belittled on the basis of accoutrement.

Age

Although most winners were clustered in the six to nine years bracket, neither youth nor experience has been a killer blow in handicap chases. Winners have emerged from across the spectrum, with the winning-most ages from a number of victories perspective being the losing-most from a betting perspective.

2018 Festival Update: Last year was non-standard in that all five handicap chase winners were aged six to eight. You'd have still lost money even focusing on that age bracket.

2019 Festival Update: The full spectrum was again covered, with Croco Bay's win at 12 being counter-punched by A Plus Tard's score as a five-year-old. The other three winners were aged six, seven and nine.

2008-2019 Picture: Very little in this angle, from a handicap chase collective perspective at least.

Starting Price

Again we see winners up and down the odds boards, with the sweet (but highly unpredictable and potentially coincidental) spot being north of 25/1 and south of 80/1. Those unconsidered athletes have bagged nine of the 50 races for a profit of 23 points at SP and 331 points at BSP (thanks almost entirely to one enormous return).

Just too unpredictable to work with.

2018 Festival Update: Incredibly, all five handicap chase winners last year were priced at single figure SP's. That's probably never happened before and will probably never happen again!

2019 Festival Update: After 2018's chalky quintet, 2019 largely followed suit with winners at 9/2, 5/1, 6/1, 10/1... and 66/1!

2008-2019 Picture: Backing all handicap chasers at 10/1 or shorter in the last two years would have won you nine of the ten main track races, and a profit of 20.5 points at SP (30+ at BSP). But longer term, since 2008, this no-brainer angle would have lost 10% ROI at starting price, though it would have made a small profit at exchange odds.

Trainers

David Pipe has a terrific 8 from 75 record in the last decade in Festival handicap chases, for a small SP profit. On the flip side, Nicky Henderson's two winners have come from 83 runners (-45 at SP); Paul Nicholls, Nigel Twiston-Davies and Philip Hobbs are an aggregate of five from 153 (-68 at SP); and poor Charlie Longsdon is 0 from 23 (two places, -23 at SP) to make the cold list once more.

Steer clear of the volume boys: Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, Nigel Twiston-Davies, Philip Hobbs and Charlie Longsdon.

2018 Festival Update: A good strategy this, as between them they saddled 30 runners in handicap chases, with just 15/2 Le Prezien in the final race of last year's Festival doing the business. Six of the 30 hit the frame.

2019 Festival Update: Again swerving this high profile quintet would have saved you money: their 21 runners yielded one winner - Beware The Bear (10/1) for a loss of 11 points.

2008-2019 Picture: Overall these chaps have nine handicap chase winners between them since 2008, from a whopping 310 runners! That's a 2.9% strike rate, an ROI of -54% and an A/E of 0.46. Compare that with all other runners in the handicap chases in the same period: 5.2% strike rate, ROI of -15% and an A/E of 0.87. Dodge these chaps.

 

Cheltenham Festival Handicap Chase Micro System

Very little to go at here. We have some negative trainers, and we could try ignoring those:

- No horses trained by Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, Nigel Twiston-Davies, Philip Hobbs and Charlie Longsdon

That gives a fat 827 qualifying runners for a loss of 104 points at SP. A bumper profit at BSP was secured courtesy of Mister McGoldrick's 66/1 victory which returned 310 on the exchange!

Perhaps, just for kicks, we could add a long-odds SP range:

- No horses trained by Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, Nigel Twiston-Davies, Philip Hobbs and Charlie Longsdon
- No horses shorter than 28/1

We now only have eight winners, from 291 runners, but an SP profit of 40 points. At BSP, for the reason highlighted above, it becomes a juicy 341 points.

But we all know that there's nothing really of use in this section. The handicap chases are a crap shoot and, in negative elimination factor terms, should be avoided at all costs.

2018 Festival Update: The comment directly above was spot on. Just for the record the long-odds angle suggestion went 0/18 at last year's Cheltenham Festival.

2019 Festival Update: Surely nobody in their right mind would have followed this approach. But, if there was a contrarian nuts enough to have at it, he or she would have comfortably recouped last year's losses thanks to 66/1 winner, Croco Bay. He paid 180 at Betfair SP. That meant a profit of 32 points at starting price, and a monstrous one hit wonder return of 146 points at Betfair SP.

2020 Festival Angle: Nothing much really, though swerving the five named trainers will make life more manageable.

**

Summary

Ignoring the highly unpredictable handicap chase segment, there are some consistent negative factors worth keeping in mind throughout Cheltenham Festival week.

Firstly, don't get too gung ho by ploughing into the longshots. Unless you fancy one to shorten to 20/1 or less, there is a strong likelihood you've done your money.

Secondly, favour unexposed youth over established age/experience.

Thirdly, cheekpieces have been more about futility than utility outside of handicap chases.

Fourthly, beware Paul Nicholls outside of handicap hurdles, and Charlie Longsdon and Noel Meade universally.

The micro-systems above will provide plenty of action for those who like a mechanical approach. Better yet, they may assist in whittling fields to more manageable numbers with a view to poring over the form on the remaining runners.

However you choose to use this information - indeed, whether you choose to use it or not - enjoy the Fez. There's nothing quite like it!

2018 Festival Update: Nothing to add to the above, which pretty much nailed it at last year's show and may again provide valuable guidance this time around...

2019 Festival Update: These principles - they are guidelines rather than hard and fast rules - still largely hold true. I'd not be so negative about Paul Nicholls any more, with the exception of his (and those four other named trainers') handicap chasers; and I'm very interested in that emerging them in the Albert Bartlett: of all the Festival races at which to have a swing at a long price or three, that one is tops in my book.

However you play things, enjoy the ride, and be lucky!

Matt

29 replies
  1. Jonny11
    Jonny11 says:

    Very much enjoyed reading that Matt, looking forward to Oxford Blu powering up the hill to victory!!

  2. ronandoyle30
    ronandoyle30 says:

    Hi Matt,

    Great post as always, thanks for putting it together! I’ve a potentially useful system for the handicap chases, would be interested to hear your thoughts on it if you’ve time to take a look…

    Looking at all the handicap chases at the Cheltenham festival since 2008, if you exclude mares, the top 5 in the weights, and horses who placed in their previous race, you’d have got 27 winners of the 58 races to an SP loss of 1.5, but a BSP profit of 343.

    As you’ve pointed out alerady Mr.McGoldrick’s win in the plate in 2008 at BSP 310 skews this a fair bit. But if you just zone in on the past 5 years, we’ve an SP profit of 75, a BSP profit of 155.88 with 19 winners from 28 races, and only 1 of the last 5 years returned an SP loss.

    Cheers,
    Ronan

    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Ronan

      That’s interesting. I can’t really see the logic except that it’s counter-intuitive from a market perspective. But maybe that’s enough logic!

      I’d be wary of excluding mares who might otherwise qualify, because they do have a good place rate from a very small number of runners.

      Good luck with it – let me know how it goes at the Festival.
      Matt

      • ronandoyle30
        ronandoyle30 says:

        Thanks Matt, best of luck at the festival too. Hope Oxford Blu does the business for you!

  3. cobweb47
    cobweb47 says:

    Regarding the avoid those rated below 140 in Novice Grade 1s, how do we a ascertain the rating of Irish entries?

    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      You can see them in the form if they have a published rating, or on http://www.hri-ras.ie

      I’m pretty sure that at the 48 hour declaration stage they will show up in the OR column as well (when that data comes into our feed).

      Matt

  4. Nick
    Nick says:

    Brilliant article, I’m going for the entire festival for the first time this year so am armed already , good luck with oxford blu

  5. mc66
    mc66 says:

    RIVETING READING…..THE INSIGHTS ARE TRULY THOUGHT PROVOKING….WE ALL START THE FESTIVAL WITH GREAT EXPECTATIONS AND ARMED WITH INFO LIKE THIS WILL ONLY BENEFIT…..EXCELLENT…..THANKS.

  6. Mrg749
    Mrg749 says:

    Hi Matt,,where do you find the time in your busy schedule?????
    Yet again,another very informative article. ( must of taken you ages)
    Many thanks for your time and effort.
    Simon.

  7. CDB199
    CDB199 says:

    Some useful points but cannot agree with the angles that involve starting prices. If I like something today and it is 33/1, that doesn’t mean it won’t be 16/1 or shorter come the day/sp. Sure, current antepost prices are an indication of likely sp, but just ruling out horses as they are trading bigger than the suggested threshold feels somewhat shortsighted. After all, we are looking for value!

    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi CDB

      Fair enough, one obviously needs to be betting close to the off, or certainly on the day, to avail of price sensitive elements.

      Nobody needs to agree with, still less to follow, the suggestions!

      Best,
      Matt

      p.s. value is not a price, it’s a price in relation to probability; and I hope I’ve articulated why most of the long priced horses offer TERRIBLE value! 😉

  8. strangerthings
    strangerthings says:

    Great article.

    I recently saw some excellent figures for horses running in the handicaps that had their last run at either Fairyhouse or Leopardstown, so I decided to research it. The results were interesting:
    Over the last 6 festivals (I kept the sample size relevant), you would have made a profit of over 127 points to level stakes ew bets by blindly backing all such horses that last ran at Leop or Fairy. An average of 21.2 points per year. Thats a super return, and that’s just to SP. No doubt it would be much higher if taking early morning prices.
    You would have made a profit in 4 of the 6 years (+41, +37.75, +20.75 & +19.5), and only a small loss in the other 2 years (-3.75 & -4.5). To early morning prices, these years would no doubt be in profit.
    2 winners were found in 5 of the 6 years and 1 winner in the other.

    Looks like backing these horses is a low risk, high reward situation.

    • Bubbles180
      Bubbles180 says:

      Agree with this I found Leop has a bit better return but both courses do well, also this can apply to grade 1 races as well as in yesterdays opener with the winner at 6/1

  9. denis hatcher
    denis hatcher says:

    Hi Matt. In the summary section for the hcp chases, you say beware of certain trainers outside of these races Is the beware warning a positive or negative with regards those trainers that you’ve listed? cheers Denis.

    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Denis

      ‘Beware’ would have a negative connotation… suggestion is to treat with caution as a general rule.

      Matt

  10. Bubbles180
    Bubbles180 says:

    Hi Matt great again, used your samples for yesterdays racing and found the first 2 winners from 8 bets with a return of 13 points , then had 1 further bet that lost so
    9 bet
    2 wins
    +5.00 P&L

  11. Bubbles180
    Bubbles180 says:

    WOW day 2 race 1
    Found 4 bets, had Winner at 8/1, 2nd at 9/2 & 4th at 11/1
    So another winning race.
    14.10 have 3 bets
    14.50 have 5 bets
    15.30 2 bets but going for MIN E/W (Altior no bet)
    16.10 1 bet

    • banjocarter
      banjocarter says:

      Were you applying additional criteria as there were more than 4 qualifiers in the ballymore. Rest of the day was a bit of a let down for the micro systems above.

      • Bubbles180
        Bubbles180 says:

        In some races yes was usi g other criteria from other sources to narrow it down but the mai criteria were from Matts blogg

  12. banjocarter
    banjocarter says:

    Looks like Mr Nicholls has been reading the blog and is out to rectify his past record this year Matt! Cracking performance on your tips this year by the way, wish I’d been following them instead of this! There’s still tomorrow I guess…

  13. buckieboy
    buckieboy says:

    Will 2020 be a special case being run on soft, even heavy going, so a preponderance of longshots?
    Sunday is likely to be wet from the early hours and Monday afternoon,early evening, has rain forecast by the Met office.

    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      No, it should make absolutely no difference. Plenty of Festival days have been run on soft/heavy in the last ten years…

      Matt

Comments are closed.