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2020 Cheltenham Festival Trends: DAY TWO (Weds 11th March 2020)

Each day of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival our horse racing trends experts here at GeeGeez.co.uk will give you all the quick-fire positive and negative stats for EVERY race. Apply these to the final cards and you will build up a picture and a profile of which horses have historically done the best in recent renewals.

We hope they help narrow down the fields and also help pin-point plenty of winners at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival for you!

 

DAY TWO: Wednesday 11th March 2020

 

13:30 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle   2m 5f


2019 Winner: CITY ISLAND 8/1
Trainer –Martin Brassil
Jockey – Mark Walsh


Pluses….

  • 13 of the last 15 winners came from the top 4 in the betting
  • 4 of the last 6 winners were unbeaten over hurdles
  • 9 of the last 11 winners came from the top two-rated on BHA ratings
  • 15 of the last 19 winners returned 17/2 or shorter
  • 19 of the last 25 winners won last time out
  • 24 of the last 25 winners finished 1st or 2nd last time out
  • The Irish have won 10 of the last 17 (5 of last 6)
  • Horses rated 150+ do well
  • The last 10 winners all won at least one bumper race
  • All of the last 14 winners were aged 5 or 6 years-old
  • In the last 9 runnings Irish-trained horses have filled 15 of the 27 top 3 places
  • 19 of the last 21 were NH bred
  • 13 of the last 21 had won a graded race before
  • Look for past Irish point-to-point winners (6 of the last 10 had won an Irish Point)
  • Respect Willie Mullins – 4 winners and 7 placed in last 15 years

Negatives….

  • Only one winner aged older than 6 has won since 1974
  • Avoid 4 year-olds too – just one winner since 1991
  • Horses aged 7 or older are 0 from 55 (since 1988)
  • Only two of the last 34 winners came from outside the top 5 in the betting
  • The last 17 Challow Hurdle winners have all been beaten
  • Avoid ex-flat horses (since 2005 all have been beaten. 0 from 30 in the last 14 years)


14:10 RSA Chase   3m ½f

2019 Winner: TOPOFTHEGAME 4/1
Trainer – Paul Nicholls
Jockey – Harry Cobden

Pluses….

  • 4 of the last 11 winners ran in the Flogas Chase (Leopardstown, 4th Feb) that season
  • The last 18 winners had run in a Graded Novice Chase
  • 23 of the last 25 winners had only one previous season over hurdles
  • Respect 7 year-olds – won 11 of the last 13 (16 of last 20)
  • 9 of the last 14 winners won last time out
  • 7 of the last 10 winners were beaten on their chase debut
  • 7 of the last 12 winners had won a bumper before
  • 6 of the last 13 favourites won (50%)
  • Every winner since 1997 had their chase debut the previous year
  • Irish bred horses are 19 from the last 23
  • 8 of the last 13 winners had won a Grade 1 or 2 Chase
  • 6 of the last 11 winners were trained in Ireland
  • Trainers Nicky Henderson, Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls often do well in the race
  • 22 of the last 27 were novice hurdling last season
  • 4 of the last 10 winners ran in the Albert Bartlett the previous season
  • Look for horses that ran that same calendar year (51 of the last 53 winners had)
  • 10 of the last 13 winners had raced at the Festival the previous year

Negatives….

  • No winner aged 9 or older since 1992
  • Just 4 winners younger than 7 since 1978
  • Avoid horses that had fallen before over fences
  • Avoid horses that had had 2 full seasons over hurdles prior
  • Just 2 of the last 20 winners had run less than 3 times over fences
  • The last 21 winners of the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase (Feltham, Kempton 26th Dec) have lost
  • Avoid unbeaten horses (only 2 of the last 20 winners)
  • Mares are currently 0-from-11 in the race
  • Horses in headgear are currently 0 from 29

14:50 Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle   2m 5f

2019 Winner: WILLIAM HENRY (28/1)
Trainer – Nicky Henderson
Jockey – Nico de Boinville

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Pluses….

  • 11 of the last 15 were 2nd season hurdlers
  • 8 of the last 10 winners had run at the Festival before
  • 9 of the last 11 winners hailed from the top 8 horses in the weights
  • 8 of the last 11 winners were rated in the 140’s
  • 7 of the last 10 winners DIDN’T win last time out
  • 11 of the last 14 winners hailed form the top 7 in the betting
  • 18 of the last 25 winners won earlier that season
  • Respect JP McManus-owned runners
  • Respect trainers Nicky Henderson & Gordon Elliott (5 wins in last 10 years)
  • 9 of the last 18 winners were FRENCH-BRED
  • 13 of the last 26 won last time out
  • Respect Irish-trained runners (5 of the last 11)
  • Look for horses that had raced 4 or less times that season (last 11 winners)
  • 13 of the last 15 winners had run 32 days or longer ago (look for horses that have had a small break)
  • Trainer Gordon Elliott is 2 from 10
  • 5 year-olds do well from the small % that have run (win and place)

Negatives….

  • No winning favourite in the last 16 years
  • Only 3 winners since 2000 had run in 10+ hurdles races
  • Horses aged 10+ are just 3 from 305 to even place since 1999
  • Horses rated 150+ don’t have a great record, although the 2019 winner was rated 151
  • Only 4 of the last 19 winners had raced at the Festival previously
  • Only 3 winners since 2000 had run more than 9 times over hurdles
  • Willie Mullins won the race in 2018 and had the second in 2019, but overall has a bad record – 35 runners – just two placed inside the top 2

 

15:30 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase   2m

2019 Winner: ALTIOR 4/11 fav
Trainer – Nicky Henderson
Jockey – Nico de Boinville

Pluses….

  • 12 of the last 19 winners ran in the Tingle Creek Chase that season
  • 4 of the last 7 winners also won the Clarence House Chase (Ascot) that season
  • 23 of the last 35 had won at the Festival before
  • Paul Nicholls & Nicky Henderson have won 8 of the last 12 between them
  • Nicky Henderson has won 5 of the last 8
  • 14 of the last 18 winners won last time out
  • 16 of the last 17 winners had run that calendar year
  • 36 of the last 38 winners returned 10/1 or shorter
  • 15 of the last 20 winners returned 5/1 or shorter
  • 6 of the last 13 winners were French-bred
  • 11 of the last 17 winners were second season chasers
  • 13 of the last 15 winners had run 2 or 3 times that season
  • 17 of the last 21 winners came from the top 3 in the betting
  • 15 of the last 20 winners ran in the previous season’s Arkle or Champion Chase
  • 6 of the last 10 Arkle winners (previous season) to run have won
  • Past champions do well – 13 horses have won the CC more than once

Negatives….

  • Only two winners priced 11/1 or bigger in the last 37 years
  • Just 1 winner in last 15 had run 4+ times that season
  • Horses that didn’t run in that calendar year are 1-from-30
  • Top Irish trainer, Willie Mullins, is yet to win this race
  • Just 1 of the last 18 winners hadn’t won a Grade 1 Chase before
  • 12 of the last 14 winners had run in no more than 16 chases
  • Be wary of horses older than 10 – just 2 winners since 1977
  • Only 3 winners aged 6 or younger in the last 46 years
  • Just one 11 year-old winner in the last 41 years


16:10 Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase   3m 7f

2019 Winner: TIGER ROLL 5/4 fav
Trainer – Gordon Elliott
Jockey – Keith Donoghue

Pluses….

  • The Irish have won 13 of the last 15 runnings
  • Respect Enda Bolger-trained runners (won the race 5 times)
  • 18 of the last 22 winners came from the top three in the betting
  • 8 of the last 15 ran in the December Cross Country race here
  • Respect Nina Carberry, Richard Johnson and Davy Russell-ridden horses (8 from 16 between them)
  • 12 or the last 15 winners were aged 10 or younger
  • Trainer Philip Hobbs is 2 from 10 (5 placed in the top 5 too)
  • Gordon Elliott has won the last 3 runnings
  • 3 of the last 5 winners were owned by the Gigginstown Stud House

Negatives….

  • Debutants over these fences/course have a poor record
  • Avoid horses aged 7 or younger – they are only 2 from 97
  • Horses rated 126 or less have a very poor record
  • Trainer Willie Mullins is 0 from 12
  • Trainer Paul Nicholls is 0 from 13


16:50 Boodles Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle   2m ½f

2019 Winner: BAND OF OUTLAWS7/2 fav
Trainer – Joseph O’Brien
Jockey – J J Slevin  

Pluses….

  • 10 of the last 15 winners had run just 3 times over hurdles before
  • French bred horses have a good record
  • Respect Fillies
  • 7 of the last 9 winners all came from the bottom half of the weights/handicap
  • 10 of the last 15 had run in the last 25 days
  • David Pipe, Paul Nicholls, Gordon Elliot and Alan King-trained horses often do well
  • 6 of the last 8 winners returned between 25/1 and 40/1
  • 10 of the last 15 winners returned a double-figure price
  • Respect horses wearing headgear
  • 12 of the last 15 winners were ALL rated between 124-134
  • 8 of the last 12 winners were British-trained
  • Trainer Paul Nicholls has won 3 of the last 10 runnings
  • 11 of the last 15 winners had won no more than once over hurdles

 

Negatives….

  • Just 1 recent winner had last raced in January or further back
  • Trainers Willie Mullins, Philip Hobbs and Venetia Williams are 0 from 32 between them
  • Willie Mullins runners are 0 from 14 (just 1 placed in top 5 too)
  • Only 3 winners had run in a handicap hurdle before
  • No winner had raced at Cheltenham before
  • Horses with 2+ wins over hurdles are 0 from the last 10 years
  • British-bred runners are currently 0-51

 

17:30 Weatherbys Champion Bumper   2m ½f

2019 Winner: ENVOI ALLEN 2/1 fav
Trainer – Gordon Elliott
Jockey – Jamie Codd

Pluses….

  • 25 of the last 27 had won last time out (all of last 16)
  • 20of the last 27 winners trained in Ireland
  • Respect Irish-trained runners (20 from 36)
  • 4 of the last 10 winners were won by UK-based trainers
  • 18 of the last 27 came from the top 6 in the betting
  • 20 of the last 27 were Irish-bred
  • 10 of the last 19 winners were second season horses
  • 13 of the last 14 winners were aged 5 or 6 years-old
  • 17 of the last 27 winners aged 5 years-old
  • 17 of the last 19 had their debut runs in Ireland
  • 11 of the last 17 had been beaten in a race before
  • 6 of the last 10 winners returned between 14/1 and 40/1
  • Respect Willie Mullins (9 winners) – also had first three in 2018, but is just 3 from last 35 runners
  • The Irish lead the British 21-7 in the race history
  • Gordon Elliott has won 2 of the last 3 runnings
  • 9 of the last 17 winners came from the top 3 in the betting

Negatives….

  • Avoid horses with 4 or more NH Flat runs
  • Just 2 winners failed to win last time out
  • 4 year-olds are 1 from 60 since 2000 (Cue Card)
  • Gigginstown, Paul Nicholls & Nicky Henderson don’t often focus on the race

 

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2020 Cheltenham Festival Trends: DAY ONE (Tues 10th March 2020)

Each day of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival our horse racing trends experts here at GeeGeez.co.uk will give you all the quick-fire positive and negative stats for EVERY race. Apply these to the final cards and you will build up a picture and a profile of which horses have historically done the best in recent renewals.

We hope they help narrow down the fields and also help pin-point plenty of winners at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival for you!

 

DAY ONE: Tuesday 10th March 2020


13:30 – SkyBet Supreme Novices' Hurdle   2m ½f

2019 Winner: KLASSICAL DREAM 6/1
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Jockey – Ruby Walsh

Pluses…..

  • 20 of the last 23 winners won their last race
  • 14 of the last 16 winners had raced in at least 4 hurdles races before
  • 8 of the last 10 winners came from the first 4 in the market
  • The last 8 winners have all won a graded novice hurdle before
  • 19 of the last 25 winners ran in the last 45 days
  • Irish-trained horses have won 16 of the last 28 runnings
  • 5 & 6 year-olds have the best record – winning 14 of the last 15 runnings
  • Willie Mullins has won the race 5 times since 2007 and for 4 of the last 7 years
  • 23 of the last 25 winners had raced that same calendar year
  • Owner Rich Ricci & trainer Willie Mullins have won 3 of the last 7 runnings.

Negatives…..

  • Horses that FAILED to win last time out before coming here are just 3 from the last 23. In other words, look for horses that won last time out!
  • Since 1992 all horses (37) wearing head-gear have been beaten
  • We’ve seen just two ex-flat horses win since 2008
  • Just 2 of the last 17 winners came here unbeaten
  • Betfair Hurdle winners are 0-from-7 in the last decade
  • Nicky Henderson is 1 from 36 since 1993 (Altior his only winner for this period)

 

 

14:10 Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase   2m

2019 Winner: DUC DES GENIEVRES 5/1
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Jockey – Paul Townend

 

Pluses….

  • 12 of the last 15 winners had won (or been placed) at Cheltenham before
  • 12 of the last 15 winners had won a Grade 1 or 2 chase before
  • 14 of the last 20 had won a Grade 1 or 2 Chase that season
  • The last 10 winners won last time out (plus 15 of the last 19)
  • 19 of the last 20 winners returned 9/1 or shorter
  • 12 of the last 13 winners were aged 6 or 7 years-old
  • 12 of the last 16 winners at run at the Cheltenham Festival previously
  • 11 of the last 19 winners were the top or second top-rated hurdler in the field
  • Nicky Henderson has won the race 6 times
  • Willie Mullins has won 4 of the last 5 runnings (all French-bred)

Negatives…..

  • Only 2 of the last 33 winners failed to win of finish second last time out
  • Just two of the last 29 winners started 11/1 or bigger in the betting
  • Only 3 of the last 28 winners were older than 7 years-old
  • The last horse aged 9 (or older) to win was in 1988
  • The last 28 ex-flat horses to run have all lost
  • Only 1 winner since 2000 won with headgear
  • 5 year-olds are 0-11 in the last 12 years
  • Douvan (2016) and Altior (2017) were the first Supreme Hurdle winners (prev season) that have followed-up in this race since 1965
  • Trainer Paul Nicholls has had 12 unplaced from his last 13 runners

14:50 Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase  3m 1f 

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2019 Winner: BEWARE THE BEAR 10/1
Trainer – Nicky Henderson
Jockey – Jeremiah McGrath

 

Pluses….

  • 15 of the last 20 winners were officially rated 143 or less
  • 14 of the last 19 came from the top 4 in the betting
  • 16 of the last 20 winners returned 11/1 or shorter
  • 14 of the last 19 were novices or second season chasers
  • 7 of the last 12 winners were rated between 142-146 (6 between 142-145)
  • Horses rated 140+ have won 12 of the last 19 runnings
  • 9 of the last 17 won last time out
  • Horses that have run well in the race before have a good record
  • 3 of the last 10 winners ran in the Cleeve Hurdle that season
  • 7 of the last 8 winners wore headgear
  • 8 of the last 10 winners had run at Cheltenham that season
  • Jonjo O’Neill, Alan King, Nicky Henderson, Tony Martin & David Pipe are trainers to note
  • All winners since 2000 had won over 3m+ before
  • The last 5 winners ran at Cheltenham’s January meeting

Negatives….

  • Be a bit wary of horses carrying 11-04 or more in weight – 9 of the last 15 carried 10-12 or less, although the 2017 winner carried 11-12 & the 2019 winner won with 11-8
  • Horses aged 11 or older are just 2 from 48 to even get placed
  • Be wary of Paul Nicholls-trained horses – he’s currently 0 from 23
  • Only 1 winner in the last 11 hadn’t raced at a previous Festival
  • Only 4 winners since 2000 have returned bigger than 11/1
  • The Irish have won just 2 of the last 51 runnings (since 1967)

 

15:30 Unibet Champion Hurdle   2m ½f

2019 Winner: ESPOIR D’ALLEN 16/1
Trainer – Gavin Cromwell
Jockey – Mark Walsh

Pluses….

  • 30 of the last 36 won last time out
  • Horses unbeaten that season often do well (7 of last 9)
  • The Irish and Nicky Henderson have won 17 of the last 21 runnings between them
  • The Irish have won 13 of the last 21 runnings
  • Owner JP McManus has won 5 of the last 10 (8 in total)
  • Trainer Willie Mullins has won 4 of the last 9 runnings
  • 9 of the last 13 winners were aged 6 or 7 years-old
  • 12 of the last 21 winners had won at the Festival before
  • 23 of the last 35 winners were placed in the first 4 at the previous season’s festival
  • The Fighting Fifth Hurdle is a good guide (4 winners, 4 places in last 12 runnings)
  • 14 of the last 24 winners started as flat horses
  • Look for horses that have raced at least once that calendar year
  • Trainer Nicky Henderson has won the race 7 times, including two of the last 3 years
  • 5 of the last 11 winners contested the Christmas Hurdle (Kempton)

Negatives….

  • Avoid horses that failed to finish in the top three last time out
  • 5 year-olds are just 2 from 102 since 1985, but the 2019 winner was a 5 year-old
  • Since 1927 we’ve only seen 2 winners aged 10 or older (0-28 in the last 37 runnings)
  • Just 1 of the last 13 winners had raced more than 12 times over hurdles
  • Christmas Hurdle (Kempton, 26th Dec) winners are just 3 from 27
  • Just 2 horses have regained the race since 1975

 

16:10 Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle   2m 4f

2019 Winner: ROKSANA 10/1
Trainer – Dan Skelton
Jockey – Harry Skelton

 

Pluses….

  • Follow Irish-trained mares (10 of last 12)
  • The favourite (or 2nd fav) have won 10 of the last 12 runnings
  • 7 of the last 12 favourites have won
  • 11 of the last 12 winners had won over at least 2m4f
  • Willie Mullins have trained 9 of the last 11 winners
  • Look for Willie Mullins, Nicky Henderson, Paul Nolan & Alan King runners
  • Novices generally do well
  • 9 of the last 12 winners had won a Grade 1 or 2 before
  • 6 of the last 8 winners had won over 2m6f+ before
  • Horses that began their careers in bumpers have done well
  • Respect French-bred mares – won 9 renewals
  • 10 of the last 12 winners had won (or placed) in a graded race against the males

Negatives….

  • Avoid front-runners
  • British-bred mares are currently 0-78 (only 7 have been placed)
  • All 27 runners to wear headgear have been beaten (just 1 placed)
  • Be wary of Paul Nicholls, Philip Hobbs and Noel Meade runners
  • No ex-flat horses have won the race yet

16:50 Northern Trust Company Novices' Handicap Chase   2m 4½f

2019 Winner: A PLUS TARD
Trainer – Henry De Bromhead
Jockey – Rachael Blackmore

 

Pluses….

  • 11 of the last 15 winners finished 1st or 2nd last time out
  • 11 of the last 12 winners had run 3 or 4 times over fences
  • 14 of the last 15 winners had won no more than twice over fences (11 had won no more than once)
  • 14 of the last 15 winners raced in the last 45 days
  • Respect 6 and 7 year-olds
  • 3 of the last 7 winners ran in the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase
  • 6 of the last 15 winners had run at the Festival before
  • Look for any horses wearing first-time headgear
  • 6 of last 11 won last time out
  • 8 of the last 13 winners had run in a bumper race before
  • 13 of the last 15 winners returned 12/1 or shorter
  • Respect JP McManus-owned runners (1 win, 3 2nds, 1 3rd)
  • Respect Henderson, O’Neill & Hobbs runners

Negatives….

  • Avoid horses outside the top five in the betting
  • Avoid horses with less than 4 starts in the last 12 months
  • The Irish are just 2 from the last 15 runnings
  • Look for horses rated 141 or higher

 

17:30 National Hunt Challenge Chase   3m6f

2019 Winner: LE BREUIL 14/1
Trainer – Ben Pauling
Jockey – Jamie Codd

 

Pluses…..

  • 11 of the last 18 winners finished 1st or 2nd last time out
  • 10 of the last 14 winners were aged 7 or 8 years-old
  • Favourites have won 3 of the last 10 runnings
  • 4 of the last 9 winners were top-rated
  • 5 of the last 9 winners had run in a Grade One Novice Chase that season
  • 7 of the last 13 had run in a chase at Cheltenham before that season
  • 7 of the last 10 winners had run at a previous Cheltenham Festival
  • Note horses wearing headgear
  • 7 of the last 9 winners were rated 145 (or more)
  • Look out for JP McManus-owned (6 winners) runners
  • Jonjo O’Neill has trained 6 winners in the race
  • Jockey Derek O’Connor has 2 wins / 4 places (from 14 rides)
  • Derek O’Connor, Jamie Codd & Patrick Mullins have won 6 of the last 9 (2 each)
  • Gordon Elliott has won the race 3 times from just 7 runners

Negatives….

  • 5 and 6 year-olds are just 2 from 80 since 1989
  • Trainer Paul Nicholls has NEVER won this race - he’s currently 0 from 18
  • Trainer Nicky Henderson has NEVER won this race
  • Horses with less than 3 chase starts don’t fare well
  • Horses rated in the 130’s have a poor record (1 from 8)

 

 

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Festival Reflections 2019

The stands have once again fallen silent after four breathless days of racing on Cleeve Hill, and the Cheltenham Festival 2019 is now confined to the memory banks and the history books. It was a captivating, challenging, emotional roller coaster of a week; these are my Festival reflections.

Champion Hurdler?

In the build up to the opening day, pundits and punters alike were relishing a duel between Apple's Jade and Buveur d'Air - or in some cases a three-way-go including Laurina - but what came to pass was one of those everyday 'you couldn't script it' scenarios for which racing's glorious uncertainty is known.

First, Apple's Jade was taken on at a helter-skelter lick by Melon, her chance seemingly compromised by this manoeuvre as she faded tamely into sixth. Meanwhile, reigning two-time champ, Buveur d'Air - with his trademark slick low jumping - took a liberty, and a consequential tumble, at the third flight. In so doing, he brought down Sharjah.

With the top two out of the race, as well as one of the key form line horses, surely it was Laurina's Champion Hurdle to lose? Lose it she did, the talk of her ascendancy proving some way wide of the mark. She was the only one of the supposed main three that had the chance to run her race, and she failed big time on this step up in grade. No obvious excuses there.

For Apple's Jade, it was a fourth visit to Cheltenham and a third defeat at a track where she seems to be beset by misfortune whether it's being in season, getting compromised on the lead or something else. It is not unreasonable to assume, given the full body of her work, that she is unsuited by the track.

And what of the winner and the placed horses? Espoir d'Allen, a progressive five-year-old bringing an eight-from-nine career record to the party, enhanced that to nine out of ten on this second attempt at Grade 1 company. He was soundly enough beaten in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle, his sole previous G1 effort, in February last year but may have been unsuited to the steady pace there.

This was fiercely run. Mark Walsh sat in midfield, away from the crazy tempo up top and, avoiding the fallers, came through almost in his own time to saunter fifteen lengths clear of a gallant but spent Melon, with 80/1 poke Silver Streak back in third.

Handicapping the race is difficult, especially for those intent on literal interpretations. Fortunately, some clever bods - notably Simon Rowlands in this piece on the ATR website - have confirmed what the peepers were suggesting: that they went way too fast early and slowed up dramatically late.

To contextualise that, Rowlands notes that the Champion Hurdle was run four seconds - about twenty lengths - faster to the third flight, and yet the differential at the line was a mere two-and-a-half lengths. Pace collapse territory. That enabled Mark Walsh and Espoir d'Allen to record even fractions throughout in a sort of tortoise and hare setup - if it's not beyond rude to refer to a Champion Hurdler as a tortoise!

The fact that Melon, spoiler-in-chief for the favourite, was able to cling valiantly to second in spite of running remarkably inefficiently anchors the form in my book. Five-year-olds have a notoriously weak record in the Champion Hurdle and, while that alone is far from sufficient to crab the victor, the nature of the run of the race with - as Rowlands again notes - the first six home in the Supreme bettering the Champion Hurdle runner-up's time leads me to downgrade the race in form terms.

Projecting to this time next year, Espoir can certainly win another Champion Hurdle: he'll be a year older and stronger, and he has that crucial track experience to boot. But he's a lousy price at 7/2 in a place (6/1 tops still not enticing). Buveur d'Air will be nine next year, an age that didn't stop Hurricane Fly or Rooster Booster this century, and won't stop him if his appetite is undiminished after this spill. Apple's Jade will surely not contest this again; ditto Laurina. Melon at 25/1 could be interesting each way though he's shown himself to be beatable, albeit in very different setups and where he's run above himself both times.

But the one which might be most appealing for long-range forecasters is City Island. The Ballymore winner has a much better record than the Supreme winner in the Champion Hurdle, and Martin Brassil's six-year-old was comfortably the best with all the right horses close enough behind to suggest there was no fluke to the performance. Enthusiasm for the 33/1 is tempered markedly by connections referencing the Stayers' Hurdle (for which he is 20/1) as his target in post-race debriefs; with that in mind, splitting stakes may be more sensible (if taking a price 359 days before an event is ever sensible).

*

National Hunt Chase 'Disgrace'

The National Hunt Chase is the second oldest race at the Festival, after the Grand Annual, but it has been run the most times due to the latter named being dropped for a chunk of the late 1800's - so wikipedia tells me, anyway. I also learn there that the race was considered the second most important, after the Grand National, in the calendar until the 1930's.

It is a four mile race for novice chasers ridden by amateur riders. For as long as I've been blogging and previewing Cheltenham - which is eleven years now, gulp - I've made mildly condescending noises about it. That's because I'm not a traditionalist, you see; I view most races through the prism of the sport as I see it and, naturally, as a wagering conduit.

This year, with welfare and good intentions aforethought, a number of jockeys in the race - notably Declan Lavery, who rode third placed Jerrysback - got into hot water with the stewards for persisting when their horses were considered by the arbiters to be too tired. These decisions have been roundly lambasted by horsemen of all vintages.

I am neither a traditionalist, as mentioned, nor a horseman, and additionally I have sympathy with the less militant parts of the welfare lobby, which leads me to an often conflicted head space on jump racing, a pursuit I love more deeply than flat racing. In that confused context, here's where I've got to: there WAS a problem in the National Hunt Chase - there simply has to be when, despite changes to attract a better class of horse and despite amateur jockeys being closer to their professional counterparts in ability terms than at any other time in history, eighteen horses set out and only four finished.

Of the fourteen non-completions, eight fell, one of which sustained fatal injuries.

Quite frankly, that is bullshit.

I happened to watch the race with a fairly senior member of the BHA, and we both audibly winced when the wonderful mare Atlanta Ablaze came down two out. It was a bridge too far for a pair of hardened NH spectators.

Here's the thing: this race is hideously anachronistic. It is probably twenty years past its sell by date, hence the ongoing tinkering with its conditions.

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I know that the trads will lobby for its retention and I understand the reasons why. But it cannot be countenanced for another year in its current format. Blaming the jockeys for trying their best in a race which makes extraordinary demands of both humans and equines, each group inexperienced in the context of the meeting as a whole, is big-time deflection.

The issue here is the race, or rather its conditions. Here is a suggestion, not intended as a 'we should do this' blueprint, but as a strawman starting point to be discussed, pulled apart, iterated and refined.

The National Hunt Chase should be run over three and a half miles. It would still be the longest main track race at the Festival but it would be one-eighth less attritional. It should be contested only by horses with a defined level of experience and also, potentially, with an approved level of jumping ability. It should have a ratings ceiling to prevent the dilution of the RSA Chase, and a floor to prevent horses being outclassed and put at risk. Horses should be six or older (almost all are), and carry eleven stone rather than 11-06 (and jockeys will have to be able to do the weight without wasting/fasting). Jockeys should have a defined level of ability/experience to ride.

All of the above would make the race less testing; none of the above would make the race less compelling. Let's sort this crap out and stop blaming jockeys for the errors of history and the programme book.

*

Joyful Thursday

If racing has a propensity to shoot itself in the foot, it also continues to produce human (and equine) interest stories of almost universal appeal. Last Thursday's racing looks set to be as enduring as it was endearing - it truly was one of the great days of racing.

Victory for the resurgent former Triumph Hurdler, Defi Du Seuil, was a terrific start. JP McManus is one of the more likeable of racing's mega-rich, for all that he is domiciled in Switzerland for tax efficiency purposes (he does distribute funds across a number of sports in Britain and Ireland which, I guess, is a more expedient direct contribution to racing), and his colours were worn to victory three times on this day.

Defi is a bit of a forgotten horse in a way. Considering he's won eleven of his sixteen races, and five of seven races at Cheltenham, he has been spoken of in somewhat disrespectful tones in the lead up to the JLT Chase. But he showed his usual class and some of his more occasional mettle to repel a regular rival, Lostintranslation, and confirm the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase form. This was the first winner of the Scilly Isles to double up in the JLT, breaking a sequence of second places.

That was but an amuse bouche for a couple of scintillating main courses. Before those, there was the Geraghty master class on Sire du Berlais, a horse that was sent off 4/1 favourite but traded as high as 240 in running. He looked cooked but BJG conjured a magic ride to get by one challenger and repel another in a tight finish.

Then came those delicious appetisers, starting with the Ryanair. This is a race which has been - rightly, in my view - called out in the past as a hiding place for second tier Champion Chase or Gold Cup prospects; but the 2019 renewal was a proper horse race, one packed with legitimate two-and-a-half-milers and legitimate Grade 1 horses.

From the veteran Un De Sceaux to Gold Cup non-staying fourth, Road To Respect, to Arkle victor, Footpad, to Cheltenham specialist, Frodon, all were worthy players for whom, with the possible exception of Footpad, this was undoubtedly the right race. Chuck in last year's winner Balko des Flos and another winner from Festival 2018, The Storyteller, as well as high class second season chaser, Monalee, and it was truly a deep and classy field.

Sometimes such setups disappoint, runners failing to show their true ability left and right. Not this time. It was a super race from start to finish, with a fairy tale outcome.

Frodon, incredibly, has only recently celebrated his seventh birthday and yet seems to have been around forever. Since joining Paul Nicholls he's made Cheltenham home, winning five of nine chase starts at the track. That palmarès was rounded off prior to Joyful Thursday by a huge performance off 164 (and top weight) in handicap company, and a battling victory in the Grade 2 Cotswold Chase over a trip beyond his comfort zone. Here he added a first Grade 1 success in typical front-running heart-on-sleeve style.

In the aftermath it was left to Frodon's rider, Bryony Frost, to speak for her horse. Her affection for their partnership, her joy at what they'd just achieved together, and her youth and exuberance are the sorts of PR racing can't buy. Her post-race anthropomorphism of Frodon to any microphone that was turned on was beautifully sincere, faintly bonkers and, frankly, absolutely bloody marvellous. That Bryony adorned many of the newspaper front pages as well as their other covers on Friday morning was a much-needed shot in the arm for a sport sometimes struggling for relevancy in a world that increasingly fails to 'get it'.

And, if that wasn't enough, Cheltenham Thursday - so often the poor relation of the four day meeting - was able to sustain the Festival feel-good factor through the day's other championship event, the Stayers' Hurdle. This time it was Andrew Gemmell, a racing nut who has been blind since birth, who was the centre of attention.

His Festival had already been noteworthy when Discorama, a horse he part owns, ran a brave second in the National Hunt Chase. But this lad, owned outright and a strong favourite for the long distance hurdle crown, was the one that carried his hopes and dreams. Trained by Emma Lavelle and ridden by Aidan Coleman, both seeking their first Festival Grade 1's, those who could watch the race were left in no doubt from some way out about who would win; at least not until a horlicks at the last which would have floored a more fatigued horse.

Gemmell, reliant on the on-course commentary, would also have heard a cacophony of gasps to attest to the late drama which unfolded at the final flight. But Paisley Park, and Coleman and Lavelle, and Andrew Gemmell were not to be denied this joyful moment on Joyful Thursday.

What a day of racing that was. Alas, racing is never all 'up'.

*

Triumph and Disaster

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same

Kipling's these days almost trite verse about the journey to manhood will rarely have been more apposite than in the case of the boy-man Joseph O'Brien and the emerging brilliance of his four-year-old, Sir Erec. O'Brien is more than a chip off the old block, he is a carbon copy of the determination, diligence and intelligence of his father, Aidan.

Not 26 until May and rider of the winners of two Derby's, a 2000 Guineas and a St Leger, he already has a Classic victory and a Melbourne Cup win as a trainer. Although not named on the license at the time of Ivanovich Gorbatov's Triumph Hurdle win of 2016, he was widely rumoured to have been the trainer then; this was his chance to get a first Grade 1 win at the Festival.

But disaster tragically did strike. On the landing side of the fourth flight, Sir Erec broke a leg - I'm not sure how, I haven't been able to bring myself to watch the recording yet - leading to his inevitable euthanizing.

As I've already said, I'm an animal lover and a fan of the sport. In these days of heightened sensitivity in all walks of life - it sometimes feels like we're returning to a 17th century puritanical era - harmonising those two attributes, animal lover/NH fan, is increasingly difficult to explain to those who don't follow the game.

How can you love a sport where horses of the quality, beauty and, yes, purity of Sir Erec are allowed to be sacrificed? It's a deep and nuanced question, and it has different answers depending on who is asking. It's a huge issue, maybe for another day, but suffice it to say that I was reminded of Our Conor and that difficult day, and the nausea in the pit of the stomach remained through the rest of Friday afternoon.

But there is more to life. Indeed, JPOB probably couched it better than anyone when he was quoted as follows:

Horse racing in the moment is everything, but when we pull our heads from the trough and see the stuff going on outside...

*

Gold Cup win no silver lining

We need to talk about Willie. Again. Some won't hear of such as what is to follow, but the evidence is growing and only faintly masked by the excellent performance of Al Boum Photo in winning the Gold Cup. At a time when, as mentioned already, racing is fighting a battle against a rising tide of animal welfare sympathisers, faller - and especially fatality - rates are something which are going to be closely scrutinised.

Any horse can fall of course, and misfortune is as accepted as it is unwelcome in the winter game. But some incur greater levels of misfortune than others. To paraphrase the peerless Oscar Wilde (without intention to belittle the subject),

To lose one horse may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness

The Mullins stable saddled two of the three horses fatally injured at last week's Festival.

Obviously that's a tiny number and could easily be noise. Indeed it is very likely noise in and of itself. But, when looking at larger datasets, we see a similar pattern. Here, for instance, are the fall/unseat rates at this year's Festival:

Total Fall/Unseat - 32/498 (6.4%)
WPM Fall/Unseat - 5/59 (8.5%)

That's still a tiny sample, so let's expand to 2009+ at the Festival, eleven years and all of the data in geegeez.co.uk's Query Tool:

Total Fall/Unseat -  368/5315 (6.9%)
Total Fall/Unseat excl WPM - 327/4852 (6.8%)
WPM Fall/Unseat - 41/463 (8.9%)

Regardless of how many more competitive runners the trainer has, this is a significant outlier at the top of an unwelcome chart. Comparing with his most immediate Cheltenham Festival peers - Messrs. Elliott (14/181, 7.7%), Henderson (19/401, 4.7%) and Nicholls (23/321, 7.2%) - fails to improve the picture by relativity.

And yet still some may contend that the samples are too small. So, as one final set of data, here are the fall/unseat figures (chase races only) for all starters in UK and Irish races since 1st January 2015 for a select group of top trainers:

 

 

The obvious next question is, "Why?".

It is not for me to answer that: I don't have any 'in' on the yard nor do I think value is added by speculating on the basis of nothing. However, I will reference this quote from the trainer regarding Cilaos Emery, a horse who missed the Festival, that might just offer a window on this world:

He pulled a muscle schooling in Navan the other day. That's why you didn't see him this morning. We'll have to wait and see how he's going to come out of it. If he doesn't come out of it in the next seven days, then I think we might have to draw stumps for Cheltenham. That's a disappointment, but when you school them you take your chance.

When you school them you take your chance...

*

Give Back Friday

On a wagering note, the week went well for me personally, and also for keen followers of the previews I penned on here. 40/1 advised William Henry was an obvious highlight from an odds perspective, though I was far more invested in shorter-priced runners, including my biggest bets of the week on Road To Respect - who blew his chance by bungling all of the last three fences - and Native River, who ran a creditable race which was only good enough for fourth. I'd had an overstaked each way bet on Anibale Fly at 33/1 which took some of the heat out of the Gold Cup situation but that, and small nibbles at big prices on Hazel Hill, could not quite cover the Friday losers elsewhere.

The County Hurdle (We Have A Dream 2nd at 25/1), Grand Annual (failed to have a small bet on the 66/1 winner, first time I've not backed him in four spins in this race) and Martin Pipe (over-staked bet on Dallas Des Pictons 2nd at 7/2) are races where you're not supposed to pick up. In fact the first and last of that trio were perfectly gettable - just not by me.

Adding into that a personal and perennial inability to identify the winners of either the Gold Cup or Triumph Hurdle, and the crap shoot that is the Albert Bartlett and oftentimes the Foxhunters as well, you'll see why I consider it 'Give Back Friday'; though of course that assumes that you've borrowed some off those lovely bookie types from Tuesday to Thursday.

*

How was it for you? Feel free to leave a comment below - I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Matt

 

The REAL Reason The Irish Dominated Cheltenham

Last week, British-trained horses received a 'doing' the like of which had never before been witnessed. The Irish minority rode, almost literally, roughshod over the vast numerical superiority of the domestic defences in a manner that suggested this was more than a mere perfect storm.

One leading Irish trainer has mooted that the root cause lies in British racing's infatuation with high value handicaps, but that feels wide of the mark. Others argue that the Irish are better at 'plotting one up': even if that's true, the extent to which they outmanoeuvred both the BHA handicapping team and the British training ranks also feels somewhat of a convenient pigeonhole.

No, as always, the answer is likely to be far more nuanced than 'this' or 'that'; more likely a combination of elements which have been brewing for some time. To understand what went wrong this time, a spot of historical context is required. Let's start with the most basic of barometers, the UK vs Ireland tally for the last five Cheltenham Festivals.

 

Trainer location of winning horses, Cheltenham Festival 2012-17

Year Races UK Ire
2012 27 22 5
2013 27 13 14
2014 27 15 12
2015 27 14 13
2016 28 13 15
2017 28 9 19

 

This chart tells the story rather more succinctly:

 

Ireland's dominance is no overnight shock

Ireland's dominance is no overnight shock

 

In terms of pure winners, Ireland has been improving its tally significantly since 2013, and actually only enhanced their win score by four this term. That, of course, equates to an eight race swing and the smallest number of prizes for the home team ever.

But win samples are typically small, however, and this one is restricted to just 28 (27 prior to the introduction of the mares' novices' hurdle last year) races. So what of the place data?

 

Trainer location of placed horses, Cheltenham Festival 2012-17

Year Places UK Ire
2012 91 58 33
2013 90 53 35
2014 92 56 36
2015 92 48 44
2016 93 48 45
2017 94 53 41

 

Here's the chart for the place data:

 

The place data is a little more equivocal

The place data is a little more equivocal

 

Notice how there is convergence in the place data but not the overlap of the win graph? This is significant because it suggests that the emerald dominance of 2017, while hardly a surprise, has been magnified somewhat by the microcosm of the winners dataset.

[Incidentally, I prefer places to percentage of runners beaten because, aside from the challenges of quantifying non-completions, many horses are eased off significantly when their chance has gone, thus further muddying what is already at best translucent water]

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Before moving on, let us also consider the number of placed horses as a percentage of the number of runners from UK and Ireland. This obviously requires us to know the number of runners from each 'country' taking part, which gets interesting. Check this out:

 

Placed horses as a percentage of runners (right hand columns)

Year Runners UK Ire Places UK Ire UK% Ire%
2012 483 356 126 91 58 33 16.29% 26.19%
2013 464 355 106 90 53 35 14.93% 33.02%
2014 487 363 121 92 56 36 15.43% 29.75%
2015 468 321 146 92 48 44 14.95% 30.14%
2016 492 346 143 93 48 45 13.87% 31.47%
2017 488 325 160 94 53 41 16.31% 25.63%

*there have been a few non-UK/Irish runners as well, hence the small disparity between total runners and the UK/Ire aggregate

 

In case you missed it, let me help you out:

  1. The home team had a higher percentage of their horses placed last week than in any other Festival in the sample.
  2. Ireland registered its lowest percentage of placed horses to runners in the six year sample period last week.

 

Why? Simple. Ireland had their biggest raiding party since 2012 (at least), and Britain had very close to its smallest defensive battalion, 2017's 325 only surpassed by 2015's 321 (spread across one fewer race).

The graph of places as a percentage of runners looks like this:

 

Cheltenham Festival places as a percentage of runners: UK vs Ireland

Cheltenham Festival places as a percentage of runners: UK vs Ireland

 

In terms of the numerical strength of the Irish team, between 2012 and 2014 their runners amounted to circa 25%, against a British squad of 75%. From 2015 to 2017, that quarter to three-quarters was more like a third to two-thirds. Last week, Irish runners accounted for 32.8% of the entries, their highest figure as a percentage of runners in the sample, and fully ten per cent more in absolute terms than any other year (160 versus their next largest team of 146, in 2015).

So it may actually be the quantity as much as the quality of the Irish runners that is responsible for their huge margin of victory in everyone's favourite pointless contest, the Betbright Cup.

Why?

We now join the ranks of the hand-wringers to ask why the Irish are winning more Cheltenham Festival races. As noted above, the question doesn't relate solely to the most recent renewal, but to each one since 2013. What has changed during that time to bring about such an upturn in Irish fortunes? Let's consider three possible contributory factors:

- Prize money

- Handicap ratings

- Purchase price / source of acquisition

Prize Money

Willie Mullins posited over the weekend that perhaps owners want to have horses trained in Ireland due to the greater prize money, and because of the lesser programme book reliance on higher value handicaps. A quick review of last week's winners lends some credence to Willie's mullings: of the 19 Irish-trained winners, eight of them by my reckoning - Special Tiara, Supasundae, Sizing John, Yorkhill, Nichols Canyon, Let's Dance, Penhill and Rock The World - are owned by 'Brits'.

But with the exceptions of exiled Americans, Susannah Ricci and Mrs Rowley-Williams (now moved back to US), owner of Special Tiara, the others all have horses trained in Britain as well. True, the Wylies seem to be phasing out their Paul Nicholls team, but this looks more in the Gigginstown vein of performance-based decision-making rather than as a result of prize money, though a case can certainly be made for the latter...

The below table shows the five year prize money accrued by four of the top owners to have split their teams across UK and Ireland (figures derived from ownership data at RacingPost.com).

 

Owner Ire Prize Ire Runs Ire £/Run UK Prize UK Runs UK £/Run Differential
Ricci £4,262,102 545 £7,820 £2,462,702 116 £21,230 2.71
Potts £1,644,110 456 £3,606 £769,725 50 £15,395 4.27
Wylie £1,910,689 174 £10,981 £1,701,885 209 £8,143 0.74
McManus £8,960,364 4238 £2,114 £7,994,949 2669 £2,995 1.42

 

Although there is unquestionably some 'cause and effect' as a result of these owners having won at Cheltenham, that's precisely why they're included in the table. The 'Differential' column shows that, while the Wylies won only 74% as much from their UK endeavours compared with their Irish portfolios, Teams Ricci and Potts did much, much better with their British teams.

But probably the best barometer of this line of argument is JP McManus. Ol' Green n'Gold supports racing to a huge degree on both sides of the pond, and it can clearly be seen on which side his bread is best buttered. McManus' UK contingent net him 42% more per run than his Irish legion.

The fact is that Willie Mullins has performed incredibly well - peerlessly, in fact - at the Cheltenham Festival for a number of years. That success brings 'overseas investment', regardless of whether there are valuable Graded pots or handicaps in the run of things. Indeed, owners like Ricci are on record as saying that they are not interested in winning outside of Cheltenham in March, a week which is the alpha and omega of their involvement in the ownership game.

So whilst there is some smoke to Mullins' contention, it seems unlikely there is much in the way of fire generating those plumes.

Handicap Ratings

More interesting, perhaps, and going beyond the handicap races, is the allocation of handicap ratings. Much has been made - before, during and since the Festival - of the re-assessment of Irish horses for British races. The consensus beforehand from the Irish camp was that this was unjust. With the raiders claiming seven of the ten handicap prizes, there is less crabbing now than before, but the question remains: why were the Irish horses largely elevated from their domestic perches?

The answer may lie not in the errancy of the Irish handicapper's work, but perhaps in a general overstatement in the British figures. Put another way, it may be that the British horses are rated too highly by the BHA 'cappers rather than the Irish too low by theirs.

To be brutally honest, I struggled to think of an effective (and time-efficient) method to test this hypothesis, and so will leave it as a question that others of appropriate informational means may crunch and confirm/refute the suggestion.

I definitely have a 'feeling' that some horses, especially in the two mile divisions, both hurdle and chase, have been significantly over-rated. Such conjecture should have no place in a pseudo-empirical article, so I'll leave it at that.

UPDATE: I've been made aware of two articles from last year covering the inflation in UK ratings. This one is from Simon Rowlands, and this one from Kevin Blake, are both excellent corroboration of the perception which, it seems, is more than that.

Purchase Price / Source

One thing that fascinates me, as a jealous owner peering through the windows into the Tattersalls Cheltenham sale and the like, is how purchase price and source impact on Festival prospects. As more largely untested stock changes hands for north of £300,000 a head, is there any evidence of a correlation between purchase price and performance in the Cotswolds in March? Or are the winners arriving in the hands of their owners by other means than public auction?

To evaluate this, I looked at the winners of the last six renewals of each of the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase, Stayers' Hurdle and Gold Cup. That's the same time frame used above for the UK / Ireland comparisons and gives us 24 horses - minus multiple winners - to look at. Remarkably, the only multiple winner in the period was Sprinter Sacre, whose story is an interesting one to which we'll briefly return shortly.

Of the 23 individual winners of the four main Championship races since 2012, 15 were acquired privately. The remaining eight including two home-bred's - Synchronised and Coneygree, both Gold Cup winners - and six purchased for or by their current owners at public auction.

The highest price paid at public auction for a winner of the Champion Hurdle (one), Stayers' Hurdle (two), or Gold Cup (three) was the £75,000 Jim Culloty (on behalf of Dr Ronan Lambe) gave for Lord Windermere.

This year's Gold Cup winner, Sizing John, was bought as a yearling for just €16,000, Thistlecrack cost €43,000, and Bob's Worth (RSA and Gold Cup winner) was a mere £20,000. Using 90p to €1 as a conversion metric, the six Championship winners sold at public auction averaged at £32,717. The median was £24,100.

We also know something of some of those acquired privately. For example, we know that Champion Chaser, Sire De Grugy, was bought for €50,000. And it is reputed that Sprinter Sacre, who won two Champion Chases, was part of a 'job lot' of 22 horses purchased from France for €300,000. While it may be unwise to apportion that price tag equally across the whole draft, we do arrive at a figure of €13,636, or £12,272 using the 90p/€1 conversion principle. For us small-time syndicateers there is something comforting in such mathematical folly.

Perhaps Cole Harden is worth a mention, too. He was led out not sold at £30,000 after winning his debut bumper. Acquired privately soon after, it is highly possible that the purchaser paid in the region of £35,000 given that the auctioneer will usually 'phantom bid' up to just below the reserve price.

It seems that only fools rush in via the sales ring and, although the auction houses probably don't want to admit it, they appear to be doing considerably better than purchasers from these multi-hundred thousand pound/euro deals over jumps: most of the best horses are either bought privately or snapped up for relative pennies.

In Summary...

There are a number of key takeaways from the data posted in this article. Probably the hardest to swallow is that Ireland actually under-performed against their numerical representation this year, in spite of 'winning' 19-9 in terms of race victors.

The natural selectivity of Irish runners - it's a long, expensive journey for a horse with no chance - is also a factor, though this year was one where expense was waived in favour of 'having a runner' more than ever before. This was supported by those higher Irish handicap ratings, meaning more of their horses actually got a run than would have been the case of their domestic pegs.

Tully East (Ire 133, UK 138), winner of the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase, was the most notable beneficiary as his Irish mark was insufficient to make the cut for the race.

There is unlikely to be anything material in the Mullins line about British fascination with a handicap-driven programme, certainly if the major owners are anything to go by. But I'm fascinated by the evidence published by Messrs Rowlands and Blake around potential inflation in UK handicap ratings: it looks like there may well be something in that.

And if you love the idea of owning a Cheltenham Festival champion, it would appear that your best chance is to either a) acquire privately, either from France or from a small stable out of an Irish bumper; or b) buy a relatively cheap ticket at the sales and hope that your luck is in!

So here's to next year, when I expect Ireland to have less winners, perhaps significantly less on the evidence of their overall performance rather than merely the microcosm of the winners' enclosure.

Matt

Ayr Sprint Cups and the Draw…

Ayr's Western meeting is headlined by the Gold Cup, a very high class six furlong handicap. Such is its popularity that the meeting also hosts not one but two consolation races, the Silver and Bronze Cups.

What that means is a reasonable body of big field evidence from which to conjecture about the draw. Geegeez Gold also has some pretty neat tools to support those ruminations.

First, we need to establish the likely going. With a largely dry forecast, the ground should be somewhere between good and good to soft by Saturday, when the Silver and Gold Cups are hosted. Today, the official going is soft, good to soft in places. We'll use the history of all big field six furlong sprints since 2009 at the track.

 

Ayr 6 Furlong Draw (Overall)

Here's how the high/middle/low split looks in six furlong races of 16 runners or more since 2009 at Ayr:

All 16+ runner 6f races at Ayr since 2009

All 16+ runner 6f races at Ayr since 2009

 

As you can see, low is marginally favoured over middle, which in turn is favoured over high. That's based on place percentages across a sample of almost 600 runners.

 

Ayr 6 Furlong Draw (Good, Good to Soft, Soft only)

Because we have a reasonable (relative to other course/distance combinations) sample size, we can restrict our going range to something closer to this weekend's reality. In this image, I'm looking only at soft to good ground:

Ayr big field 6 furlong races on good, good to soft, or soft ground

Ayr big field 6 furlong races on good, good to soft, or soft ground

 

Here we can see that low is still favoured, though not by as much, with high some way behind. All of these views show the place percentage, which allows for a slightly largely sample of placers than winners. Focusing only on winners would show a similar 'low and middle dominating high' perspective.

 

A More Granular Look...

So that's cut and dried then, no? Low to middle favoured. High can win but historically not so much. Sadly, it's not quite as simple as that. Look at this race-by-race breakdown of the draw positions of the placed horses in 16+ runners six furlong races run at Ayr on ground ranging from good through to soft, since 2009.

 

Ayr 6f place draw breakdown, 16+ runners

Ayr 6f place draw breakdown, 16+ runners

 

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What is striking - to me - is how 'random' the spread of stall positions is. But look more closely and you might be able to discern a 'cluster' effect: groups of proximitous stalls appearing in the same result.

 

Holy Clusters, Batman!

Last year, the Gold Cup first four were in stalls between four and nine; and the Silver Cup saw three of the first four home in adjacent boxes two to four. Indeed, in the image below we can see how prevalent this place clustering actually is.

 

Ayr 6f big field place clustering

Ayr 6f big field place clustering

 

Note the red comments, where three or all four placed horses came from a small portion of the draw. This starts to look anything but random. And yet, we still have the challenge of establishing, ahead of time, where these 'pockets of success' might be. The crucial thing is that, over the course of seven years, they have - on different occasions - been spread across the track.

 

What About Pace?

So perhaps there is no discernible draw bias. Is that possible? In the below table, I've added some early pace information. Below the table, I'll explain what it means.

 

Effect and location of early pace in 6f big field Ayr sprints

Effect and location of early pace in 6f big field Ayr sprints

 

This was somewhat labour intensive, and is a little bit subjective, in terms of using pace comments to determine those with early dash in the races. However, as a totality, I think there are some interesting findings.

The green numbers in the placing boxes are placed horses that had early pace in the race. The stall positions, quantity, and placed quantity, of early pacers are in the three right hand columns.

Of the 460 runners to contest these 19 races, 76 filled out the first four placings (16.5%). The 131 early pacers (28.5% of the runners) managed to claim 29 of the 76 top four placings (38%), which is a third higher than random.

So we can be reasonably confident that early pace is generally favoured in these races, something borne out by Gold's pace tab:

 

Performance, by run style, of all 6f races at Ayr since 2009

Performance, by run style, of all 6f races at Ayr since 2009

 

The table below the blobs shows a clear linear relationship, especially on place percentage, by run style. Early leaders are almost twice as likely to win than random, while those held up perform significantly below expectations. Of course, the 'tail end Charlie' group includes a lot of no-hopers in open race company, which over-emphasizes the point but, nevertheless, a prominent/front rank early position is generally advantageous.

Although the data are far from unequivocal - sadly, pigeonholes rarely work effectively when trying to solve the biggest racing puzzles - it would seem that pace is a more important commodity than draw, although being drawn close to some 'community pace' looks a solid advantage.

 

Who's going to win? Bronze Cup

This is the bit where I put my money where my mouth is. Using the info above, as well as the Instant Expert and various other bits and bobs, I'll offer a suggestion or two. Keep in mind that the scope for egg on face here is high, so caveat emptor!

Pretty much all of the early zip looks to be low, as you can see here:

Ayr Bronze Cup: pace looks to be low

Ayr Bronze Cup: pace looks to be low

 

Here's what the Instant Expert makes of the form in the book:

Instant Expert's view of the Bronze Cup

Instant Expert's view of the Bronze Cup

 

Ocean Sheridan, drawn nine, and a fan of softish ground, has shown he can handle big fields and is a distance specialist. He represents a northern trainer who targets the meeting, and should run a big race at around 10/1.

Giant Spark has an obvious chance, one which is very well accounted for in a quote of 5/1.

At bigger prices, Marjorie Fife's Best Trip could blaze a trail for a long way, and come out best of her three entries. 25/1 should give a run for your money at least.

A good egg on face avoidance strategy is to take one from 'the other side' just in case (!), and Adrian Keatley's Anonymous Lady has plenty of juice in her quote of 25/1. Keatley showed yesterday he's in fine fettle, and has a belting overall record at the track.

Adrian Keatley's Anonymous Lady may be drawn on the wrong side, but she has a decennt profile otherwise

Adrian Keatley's Anonymous Lady may be drawn on the wrong side, but she has a decent profile otherwise

 

Who's going to win? Gold and Silver Cups

Here at geegeez, we try to teach people to fish, as the old adage goes, and we have top of the range rods and bait inside Geegeez Gold. So it is that, with a nod of encouragement, I invite you to do your own angling for a tasty fish supper in Saturday's races. If you come up dry, don't carp about it though (groan)!

Good luck,
Matt

 

p.s. Geegeez Gold is £30 monthly but, for the next few days only, you can secure a huge discount by signing up as an annual subscriber. £197 gets you twelve months' access here: http://www.geegeez.co.uk/invest-in-gold/

Please note: Annual subs will rise for new annual subscribers only to £249 from next Monday, 19th September. If you're on a trial, or have already upgraded to Annual, you will be unaffected by the price rise and will be 'grandfathered' in on the soon-to-be old rate for the term of your subscription. (NB it is your responsibility not to let it lapse!)

 

Here's that link again: http://www.geegeez.co.uk/invest-in-gold/

Glorious Goodwood: Draw and Pace Angles

One of my favourite meetings of the year is Glorious Goodwood. Its setting is arguably the finest in Britain, the Sussex Downs providing a quintessentially British canvass upon which to paint the high class action, at what is one of the most casual and 'everyman' of the Summer Festivals.

When the sun shines at Glorious Goodwood, all is right with the world. But still, a couple of extra quid in the pocket upon departure aids the journey home, especially when one's carriage is the seemingly interminable rattler back to Smokey.

The purpose of this post, then, is pennies in pocket. Specifically, its ambit is to review the draw and run style data within the Geegeez Gold database in search of profit pointers.

Much is written about draw biases across the webosphere, though caution is advised due to the partial or parochial approach many authors take to what is a multi-faceted and deeply nuanced subject. Despite its many vagaries, Gold's remit is to present the information in a readily consumable format. We do that through the use of draw, pace, and draw/pace tables and visualations, using familiar colour codes to underpin the raw data.

Before I illustrate the above using Goodwood as an example, a word on how our data is collated.

Draw Information in Geegeez Gold

For draw, we offer two views: 'Card' and 'Actual'. 'Card' relates to the advertised stall number on your racecard, and 'Actual' is real draw position after non-runners have been accounted for. On wet days, when multiple withdrawals have been made, the difference can be significant.

Select going and runner ranges, and choose 'Card' or 'Actual'

Select going and runner ranges, and choose 'Card' or 'Actual'

The impact of the weather on where jockeys choose to race can also be significant, sometimes completely reversing the established draw perceptions, for example at Brighton. As such, Gold's draw information can be viewed across a 'going' range of your choosing.

Personally, I often expand the going range to be one description north and south of the official going, in order to get a slightly bigger sample size of races.

Finally, the field size can also be tweaked to your preference. Again, if the sample size is small, I'll expand this range in search of more data, albeit with a possible minor diminution in accuracy.

Once the controls have been set - or you can just leave them as the defaults, which pertain to the race as it is defined on the card - you are presented with summary and constituent views of the data, each with its own graph. Here's an example of the summary view, with the graph displaying 'place %'.

Summary draw data, charted by your preference of six data elements

Summary draw data, charted by your preference of six data elements

 

Both graphs can be viewed by Win %, Place %, Win Profit/Loss, Each Way P/L, Actual vs Expected and Impact Value. More info on A/E and IV, and how we use it, can be found here.

 

Pace Information in Geegeez Gold

To ascertain how pace affects a race, we assign a numeric value to each horse for each run. Let's be clear: by 'pace' we are talking about 'run style', and specifically where in the field a horse was in the early exchanges.

In the absence of more 'unambiguous' data, we use the in-running comment from our supplier. The geegeez database goes back to the start of 2009, seven and a half years' worth of data, and covers just over 911,000 individual runs. Of those, we have scored more than 863,000 - 94.7% - of them. The remaining 5.3% did not have clear positional data in the comment.

A dataset of this magnitude offers no concerns about the unscored 5%, with the 95% assumed to be representative of the remainder.

Horses are scored between one and four, as follows:

4 - Led, with leader
3 - Prominent
2 - Midfield, in touch
1 - Held up, in rear, etc

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Clearly defined run styles stand out readily in Gold's pace charts

Clearly defined run styles stand out readily in Gold's pace charts

 

Despite the fairly crude breakdown, Gold's pace charts are actually incredibly effective at highlighting the shape of the race. For those who like to trade in-running, or 'dob', it is invaluable assistance. For the rest of us, who like to try to find a value winner, we need to consider pace data in conjunction with how run styles have historically fared on a given course and distance.

So we recently introduced 'pace blobs' to our output, to frame the race in a broader track and trip past performance context. Here's how they look...

 

Traffic light style pace blobs highlight favoured run styles

Traffic light style pace blobs highlight favoured run styles

 

In this example, it is pretty clear that those racing closer to, or on, the speed have fared best. Although there is a 'natural selection' element at most courses - that is, a lot of bad horses are at the back because they're not fast enough, or not 'expected' enough, to be anywhere else - it is also the case that less can go wrong in terms of traffic problems for a front-rank racer.

This is especially true at Goodwood, where a combination of big fields and a quirky cambered track lead to countless hard luck stories. It's a course where you want to be in front, or circling your field: anything else requires more luck than judgement, and jockeys who win by coming through the pack have given rides that were lucky, not well-judged.

Draw / Pace Information in Geegeez Gold

Draw information can offer a real insight into favoured positions within the starting gate, and pace data can shine a light on which run styles are best suited by a particular course/distance combination.

The natural evolution of this is to combine draw and pace/run style data into a single view of the world. The problem with this is that often the sample sizes are small, with the number of race runners, winners and placers being divided by twelve (three draw positions - high, middle, low - and our four pace positions) in Geegeezworld.

So, while this information can be interesting, care has to be taken when the samples are limited. That is why, as well as our 'heat map' view, we also publish a sortable table of draw/pace combinations. Here's an example:

 

Overlaying run style to draw position can be highly instructive

Overlaying run style to draw position can be highly instructive

 

This example, sorted by place percentages and taken from the five furlong track at Goodwood in races of 14+ runners on good to soft or quicker, shows a general gravitation from low to middle/led (good) to high/mid-div to held up (not so good).

Phew. Still with me? Good. Although this has been a fairly extensive introduction to the actual meat of the post, I think it important to understand from where the numbers come. This helps to decide whether one is happy with their validity as well as with what they are trying to convey. I have personally found these tools to be of enormous utility, having only included draw data by popular demand (i.e. I didn't think it had merit!). That is to say, I am a convert. 🙂

Draw and Pace at Glorious Goodwood

Finally, we arrive at the heart of the subject matter: draw and pace angles at Glorious Goodwood. There was something of a spoiler in the last section when I touched on the quirks of the course, so let's see how the data bears that out.

Goodwood 5f

Front rank is the place to be, with early leaders and those racing prominently in the first furlong or two performing profitably and above expectation.

goodwood5fpace

 

Goodwood 6f

It's a similar story over six furlongs, though the extra eighth of a mile eats into the 'backability' of those racing prominently but not on the lead.

goodwood6fpace

 

Goodwood 7f

More of the same at seven furlongs from a pace perspective but, as we move onto the round course - and a fairly pronounced home turn - it is worth overlaying the impact of the draw this time. See the second image below.

goodwood7fpace

Both of the below views - constituent draw and draw/pace heat map - are sorted by place percentage, with the data based on races run on good or quicker, with 11+ runners since 2009. The advantage to low is as emphatic as is the disadvantage to high. Those racing on the lead from a low draw have hit the frame 50% of the time.

goodwood7fpacedraw

 

Goodwood 1m

If you want an archetypical example of why a midfield sit is a suicidal manoeuvre at Goodwood, the one mile pace blob view is that. With just four of 139 mid-division racers in the sample able to extricate themselves sufficiently to win, at a lamentable Impact Value of 0.28, these really are a group to avoid like the proverbial bubonic!

(Remember, a point which applies universally to this post, that we only know the 'actual' run style of a horse during and after the race. Sometimes a horse will race in an unexpected position and there's now't much we can do about that. But when a horse has displayed a propensity for a particular run style unfavoured at today's track/trip, avoidance tactics should be deployed, or a healthy chunk on the avaiilable odds demanded).

goodwood1mpace

 

Goodwood 1m1f

With just one race run over the nine furlong trip at Glorious Goodwood these days, we'll move on to the more oft-raced ten furlong range...

 

Goodwood 1m2f

A familiar story in terms of front-runners performing above random - 53% better in this case - but a profit of just £2.81 means this blob could very soon have a more honey-coloured glow to it.

(Green blobs are achieved by an IV greater than 1.00 AND a positive level stakes profit; Amber is awarded when one of those two criteria are met; and Red is for a double fail on those bases).

It is worth pointing out that midfield racers over this longer trip - with more time get themselves sorted out - have a much higher Impact Value score than at the mile distance. Despite a range of all three traffic light colours in the 1m2f blobs, there is little of punting nourishment in run style here.

goodwood1m2fpace

 

Longer Distances

The general principle that those racing closer to the pace is maintained at longer distances, though not to any noteworthy degree from a wagering standpoint.

 

Conclusions, and How To Use This Info

The data show that Goodwood, in common with most tracks, favours front-runners and prominent racers. There are nuances worth considering, and the bias is stronger at some distances - such as seven furlongs - than others.

Clearly, draw and pace are two pieces of a much broader form vista which demands careful study. Gold users have time-saving shortcut tools like the Instant Expert to assist, but regardless of the racecard you use, a holistic approach to consideration of draw/pace framework, as well as horse and trainer form is optimal. But, of course, you knew that already.

With regards to pace, none of the above will be relevant if your fancy is compromised by the run style of others in the race. Specifically, take care backing front-runners when three or more horses like to lead, and generally be apprehensive of later runners unless you can factor their probable track position disadvantage into the odds available. In other words, demand a price!

Good luck with your Glorious Goodwood punting, and I hope the above nudges you to towards a decent winner or three.

Matt

p.s. If you're not already a Gold subscriber, you can take a seven day trial - covering all of both Glorious Goodwood and the Galway Festival - for just £1. Click here to start your trial.

How to Prepare for the Cheltenham Festival

Let BSM teach you how to drive Cheltenham profits up.

Let BSM teach you to drive Cheltenham profit up

The Cheltenham Festival 2014 is almost upon us and, with the unending bombardment of data, stats, bookie offers, stable whispers, preview nights, and tips (many of them emanating from these virtual pages, it should be added!), it can be hard to see the winning wood from the information overload trees.

So, in this post, I'll outline my 'Driving to Cheltenham Profits with BSM' methodology. It's nothing to do with a certain car training school, but everything to do with a three step process to keep yourself honest in the midst of what is always a week of frenzied activity.

Now, before I go any further, I should say that if Cheltenham's four day Festival is just another race meeting for you - if you do nothing differently from any other racing day - then fair play, this post will probably have limited utility.

If, however, you take the 27 races which comprise National Hunt's Olympics as a sort of personal, maybe even professional, challenge, then this will hopefully act as a timely aide memoire to retaining sanity, at the very least.

OK, with that said, let me introduce you to the first of my BSM components:

Bank

As I've scribbled above, and you probably know, there are 27 races spread across the four days of Cheltenham. From the big fields of unexposed novices to the even bigger fields of wily handicappers - many of whose talent lights have been hidden under various inappropriate engagement bushels for the larger part of the season - the Cheltenham Festival is a minefield for punters.

Consequently, it makes sense to allocate a separate ring-fenced betting pot, specifically for the week. By doing so, you'll be forced to think in terms of four days and 27 races, rather than lurching from race to race, wager to wager.

The nature of the Festival is that a significantly disproportionate amount of the publicity is focused on the first day. It's usually correct to say that Cheltenham Tuesday offers the highest calibre of racing; but that doesn't necessarily translate into it having the best wagering opportunities. Bookies are looking to get online accounts loaded on Day One, so you bet with them subsequently, and the vast majority of the best offers relate to the first day as a result.

But those who burn brightly on Tuesday only to fizzle out by early Thursday face a long walk home, in purely metaphorical terms of course (at least, I hope that's the case!)

So how much are you setting aside to wager across the Festival? And how might you divide that fund over the four days?

If you know you like a couple on Friday, make sure you've either already backed them, or you've left an adequate slice for that purpose. There's little in betting more soul-destroying than doing it in before your main fancy comes along; then limping onto it because you're 'short-stacked'; and seeing it romp home. That's an ugly, and wholly avoidable, scenario.

Finally on Bank, it doesn't make sense, unless you're following a tipping service, to bet level stakes, especially if you're intending - like me - to bet in every race, to some degree or other. Which brings me on to my second element of BSM...

Strengths

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Know your strengths. As trite as that may sound, keep it in mind as the week progresses. What's your wagering / handicapping forte? Are you a judge at picking out 'plot' horses in handicaps? Do you have an all-seeing eye when it comes to Championship races? Can you skilfully infer improvement in novice horses?

Unless you're a full-time pro, the truth is likely to be that you're none of the above. But you will still be more akin to one of those types than the others. As such, it makes sense to focus more of your energies on that which you are most adept, and less on that which you are most inept.

For me, this means a primary focus on the Championship races and some of the novice events, and a cursory review of the handicap form using a few tools and techniques I've developed to shortlist the fields.

Obviously, then, betting one point level stakes across that varied punting panorama is plain daft. I will be wagering in line with the strength of my opinions, and I will live or die (again, metaphorically only!) by those opinions.

That means I will be getting stuck into a couple of Championship events; I will be having a reasonable tickle on some in the novice races; and I'll generally be mucking about in the handicaps, hoping to get lucky at a price (which, of course, is perfectly possible at Cheltenham, where lots of good horses are sent off at a price).

[Note, if you've been following my Cheltenham race previews, you'll know I've hammered one handicapper, though it's not one of the traditional handicap events... Hint: I've only previewed one handicap 😉 ]

So, what are your strengths? Give it a bit of thought if you haven't already, and try to "gear your portfolio" accordingly.

That leads us nicely into the final third of my punting triptych (good horse, she was)...

Mindset

Incorporating pieces of both Bank and Strengths, Mindset is crucial when betting, especially when we're exposed to the searing heat of a furnace of fetlocks and fancies for four full days.

It's always interesting to note the reactions of big punters - those whose responses can be publicly viewed, anyway - like JP McManus. They seem to maintain a Kipling-esque stoicism, greeting "those two impostors" of Triumph and Disaster even-handedly.

Of course, inside, they're probably cartwheeling or crying. But managing those emotions is the key to not losing - or gaining - too much confidence.

The thing with a meeting like Cheltenham is that plenty of winners are sent off at 12/1, 14/1, 16/1 and bigger. If your modus operandi is, like mine, to be frequently involved at that sort of price, then - even if you're very good - you'll incur longish losing sequences.

It is of paramount importance to remember that this is par for the course, and to continue to trust yourself. The worst thing bettors can do if they have an overall knack of finding enough nice-priced winners to pay for the losers and manage some bunce left over, is to chase the top of the market in the hope of clawing things back.

Firstly, it's not a part of the market for which you'll have the same 'value barometer'. And secondly, even when you do catch a winner - or even two - it's unlikely to return the fund to parity.

What we're actually doing when we adopt this approach is seeking comfort in correctness: a little ego stroke and reassurance when the winners have absented themselves. Always keep in mind one of the maxims of geegeez in times like this:

"What do you really want? Winners? Or profit?"

Finding winners at Cheltenham is bloody hard. But if you're safe in the knowledge that when they're unearthed, they generally pay for a lot of losers, then you're ahead of the pack mentally. Don't give in to self-doubt. After all, if you've set aside a bank and you've still got some of it to tickle the Grand Annual, the final race of 27, you've done well, win, lose or draw.

And keep in mind another geegeez maxim too:

"If it's not fun, we might as well go and get a job"

The most important aspect of mindset - even if you're a professional - is to enjoy Cheltenham's slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

It's going to be great!!! 🙂

Matt

p.s. here's Rudyard with a poem so utterly magnificent it's been confined to cliché in pieces such as this. But if ever a man captured the very essence of what it is to engage in the betting battle at Cheltenham, it was - unwittingly - the fellow whose namesake baked exceedingly good cakes.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

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