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Racing Insights, 23rd January 2021

Little went to plan at Lingfield for me today, as course specialist Fizzy Feet abandoned his expected tactics and did what needed to be done ie make all to win. The fact that leading is the best plan at Lingfield was about the only thing I called right, other than it was a tight contest that would be tough to call.

Battered, but not quite defeated, I'll pick myself up for one last tilt at it for this week with a look towards Saturday's racing. Feature of the day is the Trainer/Jockey combo report, whilst our free races are...

  • 1.22 Navan
  • 1.30 Haydock
  • 3.00 Ascot
  • 4.05 Newcastle

Our four free races are a 20-runner maiden hurdle, a 5-runner novice hurdle, a race that Sam Darby has already previewed elsewhere on the site and an 8-runner A/W handicap that looks a 2 horse race with both at short odds, so its off to the Trainer/Jockey combo report (1 year) and a bit of a Geegeez feel to it all, as we sponsor both yard and jockey...

Matt mentioned in his mail-out that no jockey riding at Haydock on Saturday has a better IV in heavy ground in the past 5 years than Geegeez-sponsored Ben Godfrey (2.59) and that's got to be a positive before we even start.

Sam Brown is a 9 yr old gelding, who runs in a Grade 2 handicap chase over 3m2f, whilst Le Coeur Net is another 9 yr old gelding, but he goes in a Class 3 handicap chase over 2m0.5f.

We know from above that the Honeyball/Godfrey alliance has 8 wins and 2 places from 19 over the past year, but those 19 runs include...

  • 7 from 18 in handicaps & 8/13 at odds shorter than 9/1
  • 6/11 on heavy ground & 3/9 on male runners
  • 2/8 over fences and 3/5 in January
  • 3/4 at Class 3, but no run at Class 1
  • 2/4 with Le Coeur Net, but Ben rides Sam Brown for the first time here.

So, to the races, starting with the 2.40 Haydock...

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Sam Brown makes his handicap debut here, our racecard snippets show that Anthony Honeyball has a good record with handicap debutants and they also show that Ben Godfrey is in good nick right now. We already know about the trainer/jockey combo and that Ben rides well on heavy ground.

Instant Expert shows the horse in a very good light and he comes here on the back of finishing third in a Listed event twelve weeks ago. In his defence, he ran for a good while before fading as you'd expect after a 260-day absence. Aside from that run, he was two from three over fences including a Grade 2 win here at Haydock on heavy ground a year ago. He was rated at 148 at the time of that race and won comfortably by 15 lengths, earning him his current mark of 152, which doesn't look too much of an imposition here, especially if you consider that Ben Godfrey can take 5lbs off.

On top of the stats shown in Instant Expert, he is 4 from 4 going left handed, 3 from 4 when not favourite, 2 from 4 over fences, 2 from 2 in January and 1 from 2 at Grade 2, with that Gr 2 heavy ground chase win here a year ago very relevant today.

He likes to get on with things, as shown by the pace tab and that's a tactic that has paid dividends in the past here at Haydock and I'd expect a similar bold show this time, especially if the first-time tongue tie does the job.

Did you know? Anthony Honeyball's runners tongue tied for the first time are 6 from 17 (35.3% SR) since the start of 2020.

*

And now to the 3.50 Haydock...

Once again, the racecard reminds us of Ben Godfrey's form and the TJ Combo stats and Instant Expert also shows that Le Coeur net has some form under the conditions he's likely to face here. In 20 handicap starts over fences, he has made the frame 10 times, winning 5 of them, which is a decent return, although he was a tad disappointing seven weeks ago at Chepstow and will need to improve/bounce back from that, but he had won all three of his previous completed (5 starts in total) runs before that race.

In relation to this race, his 20 handicap chase efforts include...

  • 5 wins, 5 places from 19 in a tongue tie & 4 wins, 4 places from 13 going left handed
  • 3 wins, 4 places from 13 as a non-fav & 3 wins, 2 places from 10 on heavy ground
  • 3 wins, 2 places from 9 under Ben Godfrey & 4 wins, 1 place from 7 over 2m to 2m1f
  • 3 wins, 1 place from 6 in cheekpieces & 2 wins from 5 in fields of 8-11 runners
  • 1 from 2 at Class 3, 1/2 in January, 1/1 after 1-2 months rest, but 0/1 here at Haydock.

All of which points to him having a decent chance of at lest making the frame, if previous form is anything to go by. He is, however, effectively 6lbs worse off than when he last won (2 starts ago) and only a pound better off than that poor run last time out.

Regarding the pace of the race, we've not got enough past data from similar contests to assess what would be the best way of approaching this contest tactically, but it does look like four or five of them will want to get on with it early doors and this could lead them to taking each other on, doing too much and leaving the door open for what is essentially the bottom half of the pace graphic.

Summary

We'll start with Sam Brown, who I have as second best here in my mind behind likely favourite Royale Pagaille with Sam's Adventure my third pick. I suspect that the market might well agree, I'll find out soon. My issue with Royale Pagaille is the weight, he won a soft ground, Class 2 contest over 3 miles by just over three lengths last time out and as he steps up in class and trip here, the ground will be bottomless and he has been raised some 16lbs, which seems punitive.

As for Le Coeur Net, he's definitely good enough to win this, although I rate him fourth here, marginally ahead of long-term absentee Reivers Lad but behind Destined To Shine, Protek des Flos and Black Pirate. As I suggested earlier, Protek might get involved in a burn-out up front, enabling Le Coeur Net to make the frame late on. The question is which horse turns up for Mr Honeyball : the impressive chaser from Plumpton & Ffos Las last November or the Chepstow version from seven weeks ago.

I've now seen the markets, Sam Brown is a best-priced 7/2 second favourite, I had hoped for 4's or better, whilst Le Coeur Net is 11/2, whereas I expected something in the region of 15/2.

I can't back the latter each way at 11/2 and I have reservations over his chances of winning here, so I'll leave him out, but I will chance a couple of quid on Sam Brown at 7/2.

 

Course Form Could Prove Crucial In Tough Ascot Handicap

With Haydock’s card still in doubt we head to Ascot for Saturday’s preview, specifically the bet365 Handicap Chase which will be run at 3pm. The race will be shown on ITV4 and looks a fiendishly difficult puzzle to solve but as usual the aim of this preview will be to shed some light on possible angles using the brilliant form tools on offer with Geegeez Gold.

Pace

As usual we begin with pace to find what run style might be best suited to this contest here.

The Pace Analyser shows us that this sort of distance at Ascot on the chase course often most suits those who race prominently. We don’t have a huge amount of data here admittedly but the win percentage and place percentage figures speak massively in favour of prominent racers and from just 10 races prominent runners have produced a huge Win PL of 62.5 and an IV of 2.44.

Front runners are next best according to the data we have ahead of mid division and then hold up performers.

If we narrow things down further to races run only on soft or heavy ground we lose some of our data so I’ve included slightly smaller fields too to add some more data in. In total we are looking at seven races and five of those have been won by prominent racers. Prominent racers have also provided twice as many placed finishers as any other running style. Front runners and prominent racers combined have produced 60% of the placed horses from less than 50% of the runners.

Let’s have a look at the pace map for this race:

There could be a contested pace here with Colorado Doc, Bennys King and Dashel Drasher all likely to be keen to get on with things. Of that trio Bennys King is the only one who has proven he can dominate and win in big fields at this kind of level.

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Prominent racers were most favoured by the course pace analysis and Young Wolf, Espoir De Guye and Good Boy Bobby seem most likely to fill those prominent positions just off the pace.

Instant Expert

Instant Expert is always extremely useful in races of this nature. Let’s first take a look at the place data across all codes:

Now the win data, only for chases:

Both are sorted by course record as I always like proven right handed form at right handed courses over jumps, especially course form.

Good Boy Bobby and Jerrysback seem most reliable in this sort of going, the former has extensive experience in soft or heavy ground and seems guaranteed to go through it with few problems. The runners with the biggest going questions marks are relatively unconsidered in the betting it seems.

Plenty of runners have a decent record of at least placing in class 2 races. Espoir De Guye has won both his chases in class 2 company whilst Dashel Drasher and Acting Lass are both 2 from 3 in class 2 races. Good Boy Bobby may have failed to win in both his class 2 chases but he was runner up in both contests so shouldn’t be judged harshly.

Bennys King and Dashel Drasher both have a 100% record of placing at Ascot whilst Espoir De Guye and Acting Lass are 2 from 3 and 2 from 4 respectively in terms of placing. There are six course chase winners in the field. Espoir De Guye has 2 wins from 3 runs here with Dashel Drasher the only horse showing off a 100% win record over these fences.

Good Boy Bobby has not yet raced here which can’t be held against him but what does stand out as a worry is his failure to win in four runs at this kind of trip.

It was previously mentioned that Benny’s King has proven he can dominate big fields, he has won two of his three races in this sort of field size whilst Espoir De Guye is one from two.

So according to Instant Expert Espoir De Guye, Dashel Drasher are potentially amongst the most solid contenders, for all Dashel Drasher is unproven in big fields, with Gold Old Bobby having a fair few question marks hanging over him for one that is so well fancied in the betting.

Trainers

With Ascot such a prestigious track it could be interesting to see how each of the trainers involved here perform at the course. For this we can use the Query Tool.

Sean Curran comes out on top in terms of course IV from the past five years but with just two runners in that time we can’t draw too many conclusions. That’s certainly not a negative for the chances of Domaine De L’Isle though.

Jeremy Scott has also had limited qualifying runners from two from seven is a very good strike rate and that would be a another plus for Dashel Drasher.

Of the trainers with much more experience here over the past five years Harry Fry, Paul Nicholls, Venetia Williams, Nigel Twiston-Davies and Philip Hobbs all have more than their fair share of winners whilst the records of Jonjo O’Neill, Brian Ellison and Philip Kirby are less than impressive, although the latter two trainers have only had limited runners here.

Jockeys

Going can have an effect on jockey performance so let’s take a look at how these jockeys have performed here at Ascot on soft or heavy ground over the past five years:

Matt Griffiths, jockey for Dashel Drasher, has only had one ride here on soft or heavy but it was a victorious one and it would be quite remarkable if he could make it two from two here. Brian Hughes and Harry Skelton, who ride Windsor Avenue and Bennys King respectively, both have more experience and strong records here on testing ground.

The data suggests Harry Cobden, Sean Bowen and Daryl Jacob underperform at Ascot in soft or heavy ground so that is possibly a negative against the chances of Capeland, Acting Lass and Good Boy Bobby.

Verdict

Good Boy Bobby does have some questions to answer but he certainly brings strong form into this. His Cheltenham run a month ago, when 4th, has been working out nicely with three subsequent winners in behind and the winner going on to finish a decent 3rd next time. He’s short enough in the betting though so happy enough to leave him alone.

Bennys King is well proven around here and for him it’s mainly a question over whether he’s still well enough handicapped to win a race like this. He should run well but could be slightly vulnerable for win purposes.

Dashel Drasher has lots going for him and is two from two at Ascot over fences and hurdles. Ability to run well in bigger fields can be overlooked in races like this and he wasn’t at his best in bigger fields earlier in his career and much of his best form has come in smaller fields so he could be worth opposing here.

Espoir De Guye’s name kept popping up in Instant Expert as a solid contender and he represents a trainer that does pretty well here for a jockey that does pretty well here in testing conditions. He’s still lightly raced, proven at Ascot and should be well enough placed. He clearly didn’t stay 3m on his last run and a return to this trip will suit (he wouldn’t mind dropping even further in trip in all likelihood). He’s a fair enough price for an each way punt in what looks a really tricky race.

Clock Watcher: Six to Follow

It's been a while - three months, in fact - since the last Clock Watcher and, during that time, there have been some compelling performances on the proverbial stopwatch. In what follows, I've identified six horses that could be worth looking out for. Before that, though, some big sectional news.

Sectional Data Now Published for RTV Tracks

It's been a long time coming. Like, a really long time. And the journey has been a difficult one for the folks at Racecourse Media Group, the overlords of Racing TV, and their chosen sectional data supplier, CourseTrack.

But that's all history now as, since 2nd December last year, Racing TV (RTV) began displaying furlong split times for the race leader on its broadcast output. Moreover, they have been publishing similar splits - and finishing speed percentages - for all runners in all races at Kempton Park. The plan is to roll out a full service provision across RMG's 34 shareholder racecourses (which is to say all UK racecourses broadcast on Racing TV with the exception of privately owned Chelmsford City (more's the pity)).

As a website that publishes sectional data for Attheraces' partner racecourses, we very much welcome the progress that has been made by RMG so far, and we hope that in the not too distant future we'll be able to share a much fuller sectional perspective on the UK form book (cost considerations notwithstanding).

For now, if you're interested in Kempton's sectionals, you can find them on the results pages on Racing TV's website. You can also find at the bottom of this article a list of those that I felt finished notably well in their races according to the published finishing speed percentages.

Coming Soon: More Accessible Sectional Content on Geegeez

In the most recent 'what do you want' survey of Geegeez Gold subscribers, you told me that 'fast finishers' insight was your number one priority of the options listed. When you speak, we listen, and delivering that is our second priority as of now. [Our first priority is to deliver a better mobile device user experience].

The new output will include a daily 'fast finishers' report as well as icons to highlight performances of sectional merit within the racecards. There is not too much to add at this stage, but there will, naturally, be lots more on this in due course.

Six to Look Out For

Now, as promised, here are six horses that I feel (to varying degrees) might be worthy of note.

Rohaan

Three seven furlong runs in autumn maiden/novice company, the first two for George Scott and on deep turf, where Rohaan was beaten a collective 51.5 lengths, did not presage what was to follow. Bought at the autumn horses in training sale for 20,000 guineas and relocated to David Evans' yard, as well as dropped into considerably more feasible company, the now three-year-old Mayson gelding has been a revelation in all-weather handicaps.

Off an opening perch of just 55, Rohaan turned up at Newcastle for a six-furlong 0-60 nursery on the first day of December and, having been held up last, proceeded to run past his field to score by an easy length and a half at odds of 4/1 (40/1, 100/1 and 150/1 in his three preceding non-handicaps).

He had the favourite, who tried to make all, in second, with most of another four lengths back to the third. The wolf in sheep's clothing had been revealed!

In three subsequent races, he won over seven at Kempton with the six pound winner's penalty, then back over six at Lingfield off a revised mark of 73. His performance there was the one that advertised itself on my sectional scorecard. Waited with in a micro-field of four, he conceded first run to his trio of rivals before travelling all over them in the straight and sauntering clear to win by better than a length.

Thereafter, Rohaan's mark elevated to 85 off which he was the 11/8 favourite for another Class 4 handicap at Lingfield. Jockey Darragh Keenan allowed his inexperience to get him in trouble, however, as he waited... and waited... and waited before unleashing his mount too late. Second, finishing full of run. Rohaan was reported to have finished slightly lame after that, and his rider incurred the wrath of the stewards, receiving a 14-day ban (reduced to 10 days on appeal).

Having now won on a straight track, and going both right- and left-handed, Rohaan - who was put up five pounds to 90 for that silver medal - is not done winning yet. The 3yo conditions race on All Weather Finals Day looks well within his grasp if he overcomes that lameness in time.

Castlebar

A Godolphin-owned €460,000 yearling by Invincible Spirit out of a decent Pivotal mare, this chap was expected to be decent; but that's not how things panned out, initially at least. 13/2 for a warm September Sandown novice on debut, Castlebar fluffed his lines badly, a mis-step that cost him his colt status. A month later and at least a couple of pounds lighter he was again well enough beaten, this time in a more modest Wolverhampton novice.

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But the penny was beginning to drop and another month on he ran a three-quarter length second having been much closer to the speed this time. Since that change of tactics, he has gone on to win his two most recent starts, first in a Newcastle novice and then in a Class 4 handicap at Wolverhampton.

The chart below shows Castlebar (red) and the second horse, Wholelotafun (green), as well as the 'by furlong' par line (black) for races over this course and distance. As can be seen, the race was steadily run through the middle part - note the coloured runner lines some way below the black par line, and also the turquoise blob above the chart for furlongs 6-3 - but they came home rapidly with Castlebar rallying gamely to overcome the runner up who, including his jockey's claim, was receiving almost two stone.

He's been raised just two pounds, to 86, for that victory but the sectionals suggest the performance may have had a tad more merit.

 

Systemic

A third who started out as somewhat disappointing is Systemic. Indeed, after a mildly promising debut covering ten furlongs at Doncaster in late June, the Hugo Palmer-trained son of Toronado found himself degrees of outpaced over similar trips at Lingfield (twice), Chelmsford and Wolverhampton.

That quintet of unplaced efforts was enough to reduce an opening mark of 72 down to 65, off which he was stepped up in range to a mile and a half and invited to work with the stiffer, more galloping expanses of Gosforth Park, Newcastle.

In a race which was run fairly evenly through the opening and middle sections - note the green blobs above the chart - the winner quickened impressively having travelled all over his rivals earlier in the straight.

The running lines (66661) reveal that Systemic was still sixth, nearly three lengths behind the leader, at the two furlong pole before accelerating away to win by five. His final quarter mile was completed in 23.86 seconds, more than a second faster than any other horse in the race.

The problem is that such a romp will have been missed by nobody, least of all the official handicapper, who will publicly share his judgement tomorrow morning. Assuming the new mark is 75 or less, Hugo may be heading up the A1 once more for another tilt at a Newcastle pot.

[STOP PRESS: Systemic is up a whopping 13lb to 78!]

Folk Magic

Another Charlie Appleby-trained Godolphin horse is Folk Magic, by the legendary Dubawi out of a Marju mare (the blues don't do sub-par pedigrees!). Third as an 8/1 shot on his racecourse bow, he was sent off the 11/8 favourite second and most recent time around. Jockey William Buick didn't get the clearest of runs, messed about by an also ran and then a little short of room turning into the straight; but he wasn't much helped by Folk Magic either, whose head carriage was to one side.

The clock suggests a charitable interpretation should be taken, especially perhaps given that he's been tongue tied on both starts thus far. That might imply a breathing difficulty so a 'W1' notation any time soon would be a fillip to his subsequent chance.

Regardless of all that physiological conjecture, he did well on the sectionals here, completing the final three furlongs in 33.38 seconds, fastest of all.

He might prove to be a quirky rogue, but he has lots of ability and is entitled to step forward again off just two races to date.

Idilico

We now move deeper into speculative territory for the final two horses of note. First up is a six-year-old rated 60 on the flat. Ahem. Hardly an improving type, on the face of it at least.

The case for Philip Kirby's runner is that he's actually only had five spins on the flat in Britain, having been bought off the level in France to go hurdling in 2018 for Ian Williams. Prior to the hurdling project, Idilico had won one of four and was then second on his final French start, earning an RPR of 84.

A debut timber-topping winner for Williams he reached marks in the high 120's as a four-year-old hurdler before some time out - possibly injury-related - led to a reversion to sans obstacles from a handicap peg of 78. Three poor efforts later and that mark had sunk to 64. The combination of the plummeting mark, a break and a stable switch to Kirby was insufficient to elicit much of an improved showing over a mile and a half at Newcastle in late December but, three weeks later - last Friday - Idilico sparked back to life. Not that you'd have necessarily noticed.

Ridden cold as ice by jockey Phil Dennis, Idilico was still nine lengths off the leader at the half mile pole; by the jam stick he'd erased eight of those nine lengths deficit and passed nine of his twelve rivals - which is to say he finished a length behind the winner in fourth.

It seems probable that the 310 day layoff prior to a reversion to flat racing in September last year refer to a setback and it is further probable that Idilico is not the horse he was. But off a similar mark in a similar race with a slightly better judged ride, he could look very well handicapped.

[STOP PRESS: Idilico is up 1lb to 61]

Fort McHenry

I've included this chap as the wild card. There is a very good chance I am over-stating his ability but I think he might continue to be available at odds where little will need to be ventured for something to be gained.

Fort McHenry is a twice-raced now three-year-old trained by Julie Camacho. In his brace of efforts he has finished eighth (125/1) and then fifth (66/1), both up the straight seven furlongs at Newcastle.

Towards the back of the dozen runners on debut, his final quarter mile split was only three-hundredths of a second slower than the subsequent John Gosden winner, Emperor Spirit, and the same fraction quicker than the subsequent Hugo Palmer winner, Ahlawi. That was in large part due to the very slow early gallop, but Fort M still showed a fine turn of foot there.

On his sole start since, he ran an opposite race: close to the pace in a contest that was quite fast early and even middle to late. Either he didn't go on from that first effort (or it still left its mark four weeks later) or he was unsuited by this pace/run style combination. My guess is the latter. Fort McHenry is now two-thirds of the way to a handicap mark and, on stride data (more of that another day, I'm still very far from proficient - a further caveat!), he might want more like ten furlongs.

In a longer race they're more likely to go steady which should allow Fort McHenry to reprise his fast finishing effort from debut; assuming that wasn't a one-off. It will be very interesting to see a) over what trip he runs next and b) what the handicapper makes of his qualifying trio of races.

..

With a following wind and favourable race setups, there ought to be a winner or three in the above. Before closing, a reminder of those longlists to which I referred at the top of this piece. They are appended below.

Good luck,

Matt

Appendix 1: TPD Sectional 'Of Interest' list

Below is a list of horses that satisfied my query criteria, including those flagged above. It is very far from a 'follow blindly' list, and most of the National Hunt entries carry a heavy 'small par sample size' warning: we simply don't have enough historical data from which to be confident about the jumps pars yet.

Published with caveat emptor, then, here is a download link to the spreadsheet.

Appendix 2: Kempton Sectional 'Fast Finishers' list

Equally caveated, below are the horses that I felt were of some interest in terms of finishing well in their races on Kempton's all-weather strip. I've mostly excluded exposed runners in favour of novice races.

Monday Musings: It’s Jumping, but largely Flat…

Eight weeks tomorrow and the Cheltenham Festival 2021 will start as late as it can be, and almost a week later than last year. So it will be more than a year since I last went racing and, by the look of things, a good while longer than that yet, writes Tony Stafford.

My guess is that, once the vaccines start working and the latest stay-home admonitions get through people’s mindsets, the numbers affected – and more pointedly dying – will begin to come down.

A few of my friends have already had the call and I shouldn’t be far off, but the risk is that you get a rogue message from one of the ever-mushrooming scammers to invite you to an appointment. The clue is that they add: “but could you please send us your details”.

A few of those who have already been seen will have known scallywags and con-artists from London’s West End in the 1960’s and 70’s but they will tell you that the old-style villains never targeted the sort of people that seem to be most in today’s roll-call of victims. As this year-long agony continues I’m becoming totally sickened by the nastiness of modern-day life and how much the internet has helped it along.

Even a year ago, there was nothing like the feeling of today. But then we were actively trying to anticipate what might happen at the Festival. Now the trials come along and there’s no atmosphere. Nick Luck or Luke Harvey might be on track to say what they think and the odd trainer or jockey offers an opinion, but it’s all getting so homogeneous – so drab.

It was sad that David Thompson died recently, leaving his widow Patricia to try to enjoy the successes of the Cheveley Park Stud jumps horses in Ireland. Envoi Allen of course is the biggest star, and yesterday at Punchestown he maintained his 100% career record with another bloodless win in a beginners’ chase where Asterion Forlonge was supposed to pose a question.

One of the major Willie Mullins hopes for the future, this fourth to Shishkin (and in the same ownership as that one) in the Supreme Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham last March had fallen on his second chase start when odds-on at Limerick on St Stephen’s Day and repeated the error as early as yesterday’s opening fence.

That left Gordon Elliott’s seven-year-old to jog round at his leisure and complete an unblemished ten-race record under Rules to go with another in a point-to-point after which winning debut the Thompsons paid an eye-watering £400,000 for him.

If you needed to know just how unrealistic prices for the most promising jumping-bred horses can be, Envoi Allen’s ten wins still leave him just about £60k short of the owners getting their purchase money back, never mind training fees. That figure includes his two Cheltenham Festival successes, the first in the 2019 Champion Bumper, where he beat Blue Sari, Thyme Hill, Abacadabras and The Glancing Queen, smart horses all with the last trio having won nice races this season.

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I was about to say “already”, but even after an unusually slow start at the beginning of July owing to Covid we’re nearly two-thirds of the way through the campaign.

Saturday’s racing was entertaining enough – especially if you like horses stopping dead in the mud – but one horse that certainly did not was the Pam Sly-owned, trained- and bred-filly Eileendover who ran away with the Alan Swinbank Mares’ Open Listed Bumper at Market Rasen.

It was a day for the senior and distinguished ladies of the Turf. Pam, a sprightly 77, has run a mixed yard near Peterborough for many years and will always be known as the owner, trainer and breeder of Speciosa, winner of the 2006 1,000 Guineas.

She told Nick Luck after Saturday’s win she was never tempted to sell Speciosa despite the riches that would have bought, and Eileendover is a grand-daughter of the giant killer of her time. While it’s a long chalk from a Listed mares’ bumper to a Group 1 Flat race, her three wins have been way out of the ordinary.

I don’t know whether she shocked her trainer first time out – if she didn’t, I trust they had a nice touch! - but after making the short trip to Huntingdon for her debut she was allowed to start at 28/1 in a junior bumper over the “short” mile and three-quarters. She actually outran those odds, not just in terms of winning, but in numbers too, scoring by 29 lengths, almost unheard of in a 14-runner race.

That said, seven years earlier, an unraced three-year-old came down for the same race for his debut, bred by Ray Tooth but running in trainer Mark Brisbourne’s colours as the true owner didn’t want to be embarrassed. He won by 12 lengths and at 25/1. I seem to remember nobody had a killing that day either – I might have had a tenner on it and drinks with the directors were nice!

Next stop for Eileendover was Wetherby where, down by another furlong for a second junior bumper, she now had only 16 lengths to spare but at least the punters were more clued up as she started at 1-3!

On Saturday, as the only four-year-old in the field, she might have confounded a few punters as the much-publicised first UK runner for Willie Mullins since Brexit was signed and sealed; his mare, Grangee, was preferred to the Sly filly in the morning market before strong support for the domestic runner ensured Eileendover went off clear favourite by race time.

So it proved as Paul O’Brien allowed her to track Grangee while outsiders cut out the pace, and when the main rival moved, O’Brien went with her, but very wide trying to avoid any interruption to the run. Momentarily, he had to switch a shade inside but then the daughter of Canford Cliffs gathered momentum and Grangee was soon in trouble.

At the finish it wasn’t the Irish raider but the Jedd O’Keeffe-trained Newcastle and Wetherby unbeaten mare Miss Lamb, a 22-1 shot, who followed her home most closely, still more than six lengths behind the winner but eight in front of Grangee.

Another interesting element is that Miss Lamb is also a home-bred and, indeed, by one of the doyens of the Northern turf. Miss Sally (born Sarah Elizabeth) Hall, niece of the legendary Sam Hall and a distinguished trainer in her own right at Middleham, celebrated her 82nd birthday yesterday. She first took out a licence in 1969 and held it until 2016 with her last winners the previous summer. Just the 47 years!

Miss Lamb is under the care of Jedd O’Keeffe, a former assistant to Micky Hammond before starting out on his own in 2000. Hammond incidentally runs his star hurdler Cornerstone Lad over fences at Ayr today after his second at Haydock on debut last month.  He has one horse to beat this afternoon!

Eileendover is primarily Flat-bred and it will probably be most unlikely that she ever runs over jumps, but the series of junior bumpers gives an ideal opportunity for later-developing horses with stamina to run at a realistic level rather than try to get their three runs for handicapping with all the pitfalls that can entail.

Smaller trainers can fall foul of the “schooling in public” regulation, an inexact science which rarely seems to be much of a concern to the major yards. At least this way round they can get valuable experience into their charges and Alan Swinbank was one of the most successful in that respect.

Basically a businessman, he turned to training in North Yorkshire when he had the benefit of learning from former trainer Bill Haigh, his long-time assistant. Swinbank’s greatest triumph came with the purchase for 3,000gns of the Dr Devious gelding Collier Hill, bred by George Strawbridge but unraced with John Gosden in his days of training for the Sangster interests at Manton.

He won first time in his only bumper then, after qualifying for handicaps and starting off with a mark of 58, Collier Hill won 15 of 45 career starts (including one from four over jumps in a single spell). He earned a total of £2.3 million, largely through his wins overseas which culminated with Group 1’s in Canada and Sha Tin, his last two career starts late in 2006. He also won the Irish St Leger as a seven-year-old the previous year.

Two of the better UK-trained bumper performers of the past couple of years have been Roger Teal’s Ocean Wind and Hughie Morrison’s mare, Urban Artist. Ocean Wind, a Godolphin chuck-out, also won that same Huntingdon race 12 months before Eileendover but by only a narrow margin and the third horse that day, Audacity, turned the form around with him when they met again at the Cheltenham December meeting. [The second horse, Makthecat, is now in the ownership of a geegeez syndicate – Ed.]

But Ocean Wind then won a hot Newbury Listed bumper and although only sixth in the Festival bumper, has won three of his four “proper” Flat races and has quickly moved to a mark of 104. Valuable long-distance handicaps on the Flat rather than jumping beckon for this likeable money-spinner.

There are parallels, too, with Morrison’s mare Urban Artist, whose path to the Flat from bumpers was scouted a decade earlier by her dam, Cill Rialaig. She had won her bumper first time at Exeter, a race the trainer tries to target every year with his home-breds, before graduating to a Royal Ascot handicap win as a six-year-old.

That is Urban Artist’s age now and with three Flat wins from five on her record, she is likely to be in direct competition with her contemporary Ocean Wind in 2021. Expect to see them both in the Ebor next August at York.

Another that may join them once her initially unsuccessful switch to jumping – Urban Artist had one indifferent try, too – is the geegeez syndicate-owned mare Coquelicot, at present recovering from a minor wind-op. Matt Bisogno always believed that this five-year-old half-sister to Ebor winner and Melbourne Cup runner-up Heartbreak City was more a potential staying Flat-racer than a jumper for the future and her first three tries at the winter game seem to suggest that will prove to be the case.

On the level, though, she deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the last pair and Eileendover as she also won three in a row to end her 2019-20 season, culminating in an easy victory in a competitive Listed race at Kempton. With the jumpers’ bumpers liable to be around for a while in the present dreadful weather, hopefully she will soon be ready to pick one off and I’m sure the owners and clued-up trainer Anthony Honeyball will be on high alert!

Lingfield May Bring Out The Best In Intuitive In Mile Handicap

With so many national hunt meetings being lost to the weather at the moment it seems best to play it safe this weekend with an all weather preview. Fortunately there is a good card at Lingfield including a class 2 handicap over a mile and that is going to be the subject of this preview.

Pace

It’s typically an advantage to be nearer the pace at most courses and that’s certainly the case over this course and distance in this kind of field size.

Leaders at Lingfield over a mile have been profitable to follow blind, producing a WIN PL of 38.22. Win percentage, place percentage and IV all steadily drop off the further back in the field you go which is a clear sign that the nearer you are to the pace here the better.

Although hold up horses have a poor record here with a win percentage of 10.1% and a place percentage of 30.01%, in terms of bare figures they provide almost as many winners as any other run style and more places than any other run style (from more runners admittedly). So although seemingly disadvantaged by the course, the frame will often contain at least one or two hold up performers. There are certain hold up horses that are particularly suited to Lingfield, those speedy ones with a great turn of foot, as opposed to the grinders that prefer big fields and long straights. If you can distinguish between the two you can find the better bets amongst those likely to be ridden patiently.

Just as important as the course pace characteristics is the pace of the individual race.

This certainly shouldn’t be run at a crawl with the likes of Papa Stour and Corazon Espinado in the field. The pair were both ridden with a little more restraint last time out but had led on their previous three racecourse appearances.

Fox Power has led in the past but not for over a year. He is consistently ridden handily these days and a repeat of those tactics looks likely.

Crownthorpe and Intuitive look likely to be at the rear of the field early with both tending to held up in the majority of their races.

Draw

I studied some Lingfield one mile handicaps earlier in the all weather season and came to the conclusion there was no strict draw bias over this distance. In 8 runner fields, according to PRB (Percentage of Rivals Beaten), there is a very slight disadvantage to the middle draws and seemingly an even smaller advantage with those that break from the higher stalls, despite those runners having to track across to the rail before the bend.

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The win percentages suggest low is slightly better than high (middle still at a slight disadvantage) whilst the place percentages, which give us more data than the win percentages, increase slightly the higher you are drawn.

Overall there is very little in it and if there is a draw bias, it is negligible.

Pace and Draw Combination

Just because there is no strict draw bias it doesn’t mean that certain run styles aren’t advantaged or disadvantaged by the draw. What is a good draw for some run styles can often be a disadvantage for others.

The above tells us that the draw doesn’t make much difference for front runners, prominent racers or even hold up performers but it does make a lot of difference for those that race in mid division. It could just be a fluke of data (although we have a decent sample size here using PRB) and low drawn mid division horses seem to have a good record with a PRB of 0.57 whereas high drawn mid division has a PRB of just 0.38. It is probably the case that high drawn runners are able to get closer to the rail with other run styles but are forced to take a wider course and cover more ground if they are both wide drawn and settle in mid division.

The Runners

With just 8 runners set to go to post we can have a good look at the chances of each runner. Here they are in order of their early odds, from most fancied to least fancied.

Intuitive

This is probably the horse the race revolves around. He’s looked a bit of an all weather specialist to date with defeats on all four of his turf starts but a record of 11321133 on UK all weather surfaces (was also unplaced on dirt in Dubai).

Those form figures look even more impressive when you look at the defeats. The first two came just behind Alkaraama who has since rated 17lbs and 14lbs higher than those two runs. The most recent defeats came behind the progressive Ghlayoon when Intuitive was poorly placed and also behind the hat trick completing Misty Grey. What makes that last performance look all the better is that Intuitive was once again poorly placed but ran on well into 3rd after having to be switched and the 2nd, 4th and 8th from that race have all come out and won since.

There is no doubt that Intuitive remains a well handicapped horse but this will be his first run at a mile and simply staying on late over 7f isn’t enough to prove that this trip will suit. The horse’s sire, Haatef, has a win strike rate of 9.69% with all his flat runners and that drops only slightly to 8.51% over this mile trip. The dam was a 7.5f winner and the only other offspring from her has run well as a 2yo over 7f so there are plenty of pointers that suggests this mile trip should be within his reach, especially with Lingfield being a speed favouring track.

Fox Power

A very brief look at Fox Power’s form figures over the past year or two might not suggest he has a favourite’s chance in this but digging deeper shows he’s probably a well handicapped horse.

He hasn’t won since taking a listed contest at Newcastle in April 2019 but he’s clearly had a couple of issues since and seems to be working his way back to form again. After that listed win he was off the track for 237 days before finishing a 1.5 lengths 4th at Chelmsford off a mark of 100. He had the run of the race that day but it was a respectable effort.

Between that run and March he would race three more times, running okay in defeat each time but not looking like a winner waiting to happen off a mark of 99 or 100.

He would then spend another 102 days off the track before reappearing in the Royal Hunt Cup at Royal Ascot, a race in which he was well beaten. He was then well beaten again twice over 10f on turf before finishing 4th off a mark of 94 over the extended 9f at Wolverhampton. The 2nd and 3rd have both won off higher marks since then and Fox Power was closer to the pace than ideal that day so he’s not badly handicapped now off 93.

The main problem for Fox Power may be the surface. On turf he has failed to win in seven attempts, on polytrack he has failed to place in two runs whilst on tapeta his form figures are 131244. His only run at Lingfield was at 7f and although he was only beaten just 2.25 lengths he was last of six runners having gone through the race well but finding disappointingly little. He’s unlikely to run terribly but he looks a better horse on tapeta and could be much more interesting in the Lincoln Trial at Wolverhampton in a couple of months’ time (a race in which he was 4th off 6lbs higher last year) rather than this.

Corazon Espinado

A change to slightly more patient tactics and a drop in class seemed to pay dividends last time out when winning a class 5 handicap by 5 lengths. He won a class 3 handicap a year ago off 85 so isn’t necessarily out of it here off 87 but this is likely to be much tougher off a career high mark (he’s been beaten on all six runs off 86 or 87). He is previously proven over this distance but with this being a furlong further than last time, three classes higher and his mark being 9lbs higher he’s no guarantee to run to the same level again.

A major positive for the horse is his record when running within 10 days of his previous run. He’s won three from four in those circumstances and on that basis should be considered at least very competitive here, for all he might not be handicapped to win.

Crownthorpe

A last time out winner at Southwell and at his best on soft ground or on the all weather. His latest win was off 90 and he’s won off 91 in the past but he’s been beaten in all seven runs off 92 or higher.

The surface is clearly very important to this horse and it was no great surprise that he took to Southwell’s fibresand last time out given his liking for deep ground. Ignoring a run at Newcastle where his jockey fell off exiting the stalls, his all weather form figures now read 332131. However his two biggest losses, distance wise, have come in his two starts at Lingfield where he has finished 3rd twice in fields of seven and five (beaten 3.25 lengths or further in both races).

As previously mentioned Lingfield can suit those turn of foot horses rather than grinders and Crownthorpe may be a bit more of a grinder, less suited to Lingfield than other venues. He’s not terribly handicapped but this course and handicap mark may well catch him out with third or fourth place seeming most likely here.

Lord Rapscallion

One of two here for Stuart Williams and perhaps surprising that he is slightly more favoured early than his stablemate Papa Stour.

Lord Rapscallion will be having just his second start for Williams having moved from Johnny Murtagh in November. On his stable debut he ran a respectable 4th in a Kempton listed contest at 50/1, although given the distances he was beaten by horses rated 105, 109 and 104 he didn’t look to run beyond his mark of 102. He was 2nd in Ireland in a competitive 7f handicap in September off 101 but it's worth noting that the majority of his best runs during the flat season (where he rose 14lbs in the ratings) were under a strong partnership with rider Nikita Kane who had a huge claim. He’s probably never run to a three figure rating for any other jockey and without a claim here he could be vulnerable, for all he has the talents of Cieren Fallon on board.

Papa Stour

Papa Stour is the main pace angle here and he’s seemingly a bit better on polytrack than he is on tapeta (last four runs on polytrack have produced form figures of 1112, last four runs on tapeta have produced form figures of 6628) so Lingfield may well suit him on his debut here. He is probably at his very best around Chelmsford though which suits his front running style extremely well.

His recent form has been strong. He won three starts ago at Kempton off a 3lb lower mark, beating a next time out winner in Diocles Of Rome, so he’s not handicapped out of this off 91. He’s probably vulnerable to something a bit more progressive but there is absolutely no reason why he shouldn’t run very well, especially if Corazon Espinado allows him an uncontested lead.

Mohareb

Possibly equally good at 6f and 7f which does raise some question marks over the suitability of 1m on just his 2nd attempt at the distance (previous go was his 2nd start on a racecourse when finishing 4th in a novice race). He was a couple of lengths ahead of Intuitive behind Ghalyoon at Chelmsford in November and is now 1lb better off but Mohareb was seen to much better effect that day than Intuitive and isn’t as likely to back that up over the extra distance, for all there are stamina doubts over Intuitive too.

He was below par last time out here at Lingfield and although he is probably in with a small chance here, and may well out run his odds, it would be a surprise if he’s well enough handicapped or strong enough in the finish over this trip to get his head in front.

Mission Bay

Difficult to weigh up on his debut for Marco Botti having previously raced in Italy. A mark of 100 does seem fairly stiff for what he has recently achieved and he’s probably going to need to drop a bit in the handicap before being competitive.

Verdict

Given the doubts about Fox Power and Crownthorpe on this surface I’m inclined to think the win shortlist should be Intuitive, Corazon Espinado and Papa Stour. I don’t think the latter is well enough handicapped to win this but his record with a very recent run is worrying if looking to oppose him.

Intuitive and Papa Stour definitely look better handicapped and if going off the pace data you’d be much more inclined to back Papa Stour, who is likely to lead, rather than Intuitive who is likely to be settled in last. However Intuitive looks to have the turn of foot that will make him ideally suited to this course and he’s likely to be a fast finisher in the straight. He’s unproven both at Lingfield and at a mile so is risky at the price but there is more upside to this one than anything else and two and those question marks may well still turn out to be positives rather than negatives. Intuitive therefore gets the nod for a small bet ahead of Papa Stour who still has another handicap in him and Corazon Espinado who is probably best of those who have raced at Lingfield before.

Past Pace as a Predictor of Future Performance, Part 2

This is a follow up piece to the article I shared with readers earlier this month, writes Dave Renham. In that article I highlighted any horse aged four or older, that in the 2019 flat season ran at least ten times in sprint handicaps (5-6f). This gave me 303 individual horses to review from which I started to examine their individual run style data for each race they ran in 2019. This included all their races, both handicap and non-handicap, and over any distance; and it accounted for over 4,000 races.

Run style (pace) data on Geegeez is available for every single race, both flat and National Hunt, and is split into four sections:

Led – the horse or horses that take the early lead;

Prominent – horses that lay up close to the pace just behind the leader(s);

Mid Division – horses that race between the middle of the pack but in front of the rear ‘quarter’;

Held up – horses that are held up at or near the back of the field.

Points are assigned to each running style with leaders getting 4, prominent 3, mid division 2, and hold up horses 1.

My aim for the first article was to try and determine whether recent pace data was a good predictor of future run style. I think the numbers in part one proved that beyond reasonable doubt. In this article I am going to dig still deeper and share more pace stats with you.

 

Last four starts

Geegeez pace maps provide pace / running style data for each horse for up to their last four UK/Irish runs. Full career run style records can be found in the Full Form section of the cards. As I have chosen to examine horses aged four or older that have raced numerous times already in their career, the data collected always contains their pace scores from all of their previous four runs, thus the pace score totals for each horse can vary from 16 (four races where they have led early) to 4 (four races where they were held up).

Let us first look at how likely a horse was to lead if they had led early in at least one of their last four starts; comparing this with horses that didn’t lead in any of their last four starts.

 

As the graph shows there is a huge difference between the figures. Horses that have led early at least once in their last four starts, went onto lead 26.7% of the time next time out; those horses that had not led in any of their last four starts took the lead just 6.3% of the time on their next start.

It is clear therefore that a horse that has not led in any of its recent races is unlikely to lead early in its next race: approximately one horse in 16; whereas horses that have led at least once in their four previous races have a slightly better than 1-in-4 chance of leading early next time.

Let us now analyse how likely horses are to lead on their next start when we compare how frequently they led in their most recent four races.

 

I have tilted the graph horizontally just to mix things up a bit! There is essentially good correlation here – the ‘led in all 4’ percentage is slightly lower than the ‘led in 3 of last 4’, but that is probably down to the fact that the ‘all 4’ sample was relatively small and possibly slightly skewed.

All in all, horses that have led consistently in their most recent runs will lead more often than horses who have led less regularly, who in turn will lead more than horses that have not led recently.

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Those that had led exactly once LTO

Before moving on I want to take a quick look at horses that led in just one of their last four starts, the reason being that I wanted to see if the position of that run made a difference. Here are my findings this time in tabular form:

This was a slightly disappointing set of results in truth as I was hoping to see a greater difference between the top percentage in the table and the bottom. However, there is still reasonable correlation, with those who led most recently more likely – relatively, at least – to lead again this time.

 

Horses with pace scores totalling 13 or 14 in their last four runs

When discussing running styles / pace and, in particular, when looking at the last four runs for a particular horse, it is perhaps easier to think of it in numerical terms following the 4, 3, 2, 1 points system allocated by Geegeez. I looked at horses gaining 15 or 16 points in their most recent four starts in the first article, and below are data for horses that have scored either 13 or 14 points in total. These are the possible combinations that produce 13 or 14 points.

Each set of four pace scores do not necessarily occur in the order shown above: a 4,4,4,2 pace combination, for instance, could occur in four different ways in terms of the order of pace styles in the last four races:

There is nothing mind-blowingly significant about this, I just felt it important to clarify that there are different orders of the same combination.

I wanted to understand how likely a horse with 13 or 14 points was to lead on its next start when we compare the number of 4s (number of times it led early) in its last four runs.

Horses that have led just once in their last four starts (one 4) would have any combination  of 4,3,3,3; those who have led twice (two 4s) could have either the 4,4,3,3 combination or the 4,4,3,2 combination. Different combinations of 4,4,4,2 and 4,4,4,1 would have seen a horse lead three times in their last four races (three 4s).

 

This graph illustrates what one would hope – the more 4s (early leads) in their last four runs, the more likely they are to lead in their next race. Roughly 45% of horses that had different combinations of 4,4,4,2 or 4,4,4,1 led in their next race.

 

Horses with pace scores totalling 11 or 12 in their last four runs

Next, using the same idea, we will look at total pace scores of 11 or 12 achieved in the last four races.

To save time I am not going to go through all the possible combinations of 11 and 12, although it is possible to create these totals with no 4s (e.g. 3,3,3,3), one 4 (e.g. 4,3,3,2) or two 4s (e.g. 4,4,2,2).

Again, I am looking to see how likely a horse with these points totals was to lead on their next start when comparing the number of 4s in their last four runs. First let us look at the data simply comparing zero 4s in the last four runs to at least one 4:

There is a significant difference here for horses with an 11 or 12 points pace total. Horses that had led at least once are far more likely to lead next time when compared with horses that have failed to lead in any of their last four starts. Now let’s compare zero 4s with one 4 and with two 4s:

 

Horses with 11 or 12 points go on to lead next time 27.7% of the time if they have led in 2 of those last four starts (two 4s). In turn those who led once (one 4) go onto lead 17.7% of the time. As we know from the previous table those who have not led in any of their last four starts (zero 4s) have gone onto lead 11.4%.

This is yet another clear example that more 4s in recent runs really does positively impact the chances of a horse leading next time.

 

Horses with pace scores totalling 9 or 10 in their last four runs

Here is a table comparing zero 4s versus one or more 4s for horses with pace totals or 9 or 10. For the record there is only one combination where two 4s would occur with a score of 10 (4,4,1,1), and it is not possible with a score of 9.

Once again the number of 4s in the last four starts does make a difference in terms of the chance of the horse leading next time out. The more 4s, the more likely they will lead again.

 

Last six runs

To finish I wanted to dig a little bit deeper still and look at the last six runs rather than the last four. What I have done is to create pace averages over those six runs. Again the maximum average would be 4 (six 4s) and the minimum average 1 (six 1s). I have split the averages into groups to see if the horses with higher averages are more likely to lead next time than lower ones. Here are my findings:

This table shows perfectly what I had hoped it would: horses with the highest pace averages over the last six runs lead more often than the rest, with excellent correlation between the decreasing averages and the decreasing percentages.

I further calculated the average pace figure for each group on their next start. In other words I added up all their pace scores on the next start and divided by the number of races/runs. Again we have excellent correlation as this graph shows:

Horses that have a pace average of 3.50 to 4.00 for their last six starts have produced a pace average of 3.26 on their next start. Those averaging 1.00 to 1.49 yield a much lower next time out average of just 1.53. Again, there is excellent correlation between the latest six-run pace average and running/pace style next time out.

 

Summary

In this article I have focused on the pre-race prospects of finding the percentage chance of horses that will lead early. The rationale is, I hope, obvious: we already know that such horses have the potential to secure us a profit if we can consistently predict which one is going to take the early lead in a sprint handicap. However, the final table, below, looks at the chance of being held up next time using our last six race pace averages, just to prove this approach helps us to predict hold up horses, too!

The table again correlates beautifully, this time in reverse, with the lowest six race pace averages having by far the highest percentage of hold up horses next time.

As we know, Geegeez provides the last four pace figures with a last four race average; for those keen to dig further, using the last six races (found in a horse’s Full Form) seems to work equally well.

As a final note, below is a 'cut out and keep' reference to the four-race data in these two articles which should prove very useful for those who bet in older horse sprint handicaps.

And finally finally, the percentage chance of each run style based on a horse's last four pace scores and the number of times it led:

I hope you'll find that useful.

- DR

Male and Female Jockeys: A Comparison

Three years ago, in January 2018, Vanessa Cashmore, then a Liverpool University MBA student, published a study into the performance of female jockeys in comparison with their male counterparts.

Cashmore noted in her paper, which covered the period 2003-2016, that female riders were as capable as males when accounting for the quality of mount, but were notably under-represented in the jockey population.

What follows is not a reprisal of that previous work but, rather, a review of progress since. Has the sport begun to level the chasmic disparity between male and female rider opportunities? And to what degree is it appropriate to do that based on performance data?

I've used British flat racing (turf and all-weather) from 1st January 2016 to 31st December 2020, a period of five years. It should be noted that 2020 had three potentially impactful differences from the preceding years:

- Covid caused a cessation of racing for around ten weeks from mid-March to the beginning of June
- Thereafter, jockeys were only permitted to ride at one meeting per day
- Many meetings from June onwards comprised of a greater number of races, replacing a large number of cancelled fixtures

The analysis has been broken down by:

- Overall dataset
- Handicap races only
- 10/1 or shorter only
- Favourites (including joint- and co-favourites) only

And I've further compared all riders with those able to claim 3lb, 5lb or 7lb (i.e. in most cases, apprentices riding against professionals, but also including a handful able to claim in apprentice races, as well as a small number of amateur riders claiming that allowance).

Why? To try to answer the following questions:

Have opportunities for female flat jockeys improved?
Are female flat jockeys taking those opportunities?
Are there any market biases in relation to female jockeys?

By way of comparison, I have opted to use ratios as they are agnostic in terms of sample size and make for easy inspection between years, cohorts and factors.

The Big Picture

Male vs Female Jockeys: Overall numbers

The first table, below, is the superset of data: all riders in UK flat races between 2016 and 2020 inclusive, broken down by gender. This offers an overview perspective - a baseline - for what follows.

The first row, total rides, discloses that male jockeys had 260,005 mounts compared with female jockeys' 25,887 in the five-year study period and, therefore, that male riders had a numerical advantage of 10x.

In terms of wins and places, and therefore win/place strike rates, male jockeys out-performed female jockeys by a greater ratio still.

BUT... none of the above makes any allowance for the quality of those opportunities. In simple terms, if all the better-fancied horses were ridden by men, they absolutely should out-perform women.

The imperfect but credible 'leveller' I've chosen to use in the tables is Actual vs Expected, a betting metric. This metric brings its own baggage in the form of market biases, but that is no bad thing from a wagering perspective, even if less useful when attempting to compare the respective ability levels of male and female riders.

The table relates that male and female riders had identical market performance at starting price when gauged against A/E. Moreover, at Betfair SP, female riders slightly outperformed males.

But that yawning opportunity gap - ten to one in number of rides - is ostensibly deeply concerning. By reviewing the year on year data we can get a feel for whether progress is being made.

The answer, mercifully, is yes. In 2016, male jockeys had 13.31 times as many rides as females; by 2018 the ratio was 9.53 and in 2019 it was 8.33. Last year saw a momentum check, quite possibly due to that triumvirate of Covid, single meeting/less fixture constraints and longer meetings, with the ratio out to 9.11x.

Drilling down

As alluded to, not all opportunities are equal, so what follows attempts to iron out some of those inequalities within the full dataset. First up, handicap races.

Male vs Female Jockeys: Handicaps

Ignoring conditions races and, instead, focusing on races where all horses are rated - and weighted - to have a theoretically equal chance (and ignoring the fact that we all know that this is not true in practice), how do the figures stack up?

We see a narrowing of the gap across all measures: rides, wins and places all show improvement notwithstanding that the improvement comes from an extremely low representative base. This dataset, like the overall superset, makes no account for quality of opportunity, except via A/E. We again see exact parity at starting price and a slight edge to female riders at exchange SP.

But we really ought to more meaningfully account for quality of chance.

Male vs Female Jockeys: Favourites

Lurching from one extreme to the other, this next cut looks at performance on favourites, including joint- and co-favourites, by rider gender in UK flat races between 2016 and 2020.

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There is a lot in this. A lot.

Let's begin with the even fewer opportunities that female jockeys had to ride horses sent off favourite in their races; that supports the notion of an inequality beyond mere numerical opportunity but also in terms of the competitiveness of the runners.

Spelling it out, female jockeys were almost 15 times less likely to ride a favourite on the flat in Britain between 2016 and 2020 than their male counterparts. Wow.

The A/E figures are equal where the win strike rate is lower for women, suggesting that even when riding favourites, the odds available on female jockeys' rides are greater.

Male vs Female Jockeys: 10/1 or shorter

This slice is arbitrary to some degree but has loose logic, too. Specifically, it uses the market as an approximation of quality of opportunity, and it provides for a larger sample size than solely focusing on favourites. It is also possible, though hard to validate, that the group includes some horses which ought to be favourite but are discriminated against due to the gender of their rider. [That last statement may merely be unhelpful conjecture on my part.]

The ratio of male to female rides is 11.82, greater than the 10.04 for all rides, and further attesting to the limited opportunities for females on the better horses; or, at least, the horses with perceived better chances.

As a punter, and/or using market metrics as a bellwether of opportunity conversion, we can again see females outperforming males in the betting context for all that that in isolation will lead nowhere but the much-hackneyed poorhouse.

Progress?

Male vs Female, Year by Year, by Rides

The last five years have felt progressive - not always in a good way (erm, is that regressive, then?) - across society as a whole with keen focus being placed on some of the starker inequalities in our midst. Whilst much more needs to be done in most areas, we need also to be cognisant that progress is gradual not instantaneous, and we must further be able to measure that progress. After all, what cannot be measured cannot be managed, as Peter Drucker apparently once wrote.

So how do those numbers look from year to year?

We can see in the above a pleasing progression from the intolerable 2016 inequality to a more understandable - if still likely unacceptable - disparity in the past few years. Again, I'm minded to cautiously overlook the 2020 backward step on the basis of the exceptional circumstances highlighted in the introduction; but if 2021 was to follow a similar pattern it might be that the greater volume of races across a smaller number of fixtures is a barrier to opportunity for some.

Representation across each of the subsets follows a similar trajectory though 2020 is a consistent bump in the road.

Male vs Female, Year by Year, by Wins

It might be argued that the best way to get more rides is to win more races; but how do you win more races if you're not getting more, or better, rides? That's a chicken-and-egg conundrum that macro society is helping to solve, the gender (and many other) prejudices of former generations softening somewhat in our enlightened (at least relatively) times.

The next table shows the ratio of male to female wins under our four conditions. It is again clear that progress - last year aside - has been made, and also that further progress is necessary.

The most pleasing aspect of this might be that the gender ratio of wins aboard favourites is narrowing apace: whether this nods to greater market awareness or greater opportunity or, most likely, a combination of the two, I'm not sure.

 

In spite of the narrowing of the gap it remains difficult to view these data from any other perspective than that there is still an enormous opportunity divide. If that is on one hand slightly disappointing, perhaps even depressing, there is some light.

The Next Generation

Male vs Female Apprentice Jockeys: Overall numbers

One of the constraints of a study like this is that it is trying to hit a moving target. What I mean is that, in 2016, there existed a very large imbalance of men to women in the weighing room. Such an imbalance can only be evened out over time, as the retiring professionals of today - who will, by legacy, be mainly male - are supplanted by the aspiring apprentices of tomorrow who, it is hoped, will represent a more even gender spread.

A feature of apprentice jockeys is that their careers as apprentices are much shorter, generally speaking, than the professional jockeys many will become. As such, the cohort refresh rate is much quicker. In plain English, it is easier to affect a fresh start within the apprentice ranks; and so, if British racing is serious about its claims to want to bridge the gender gap, this is the place where any green shoots should first emerge.

[There is a further question about making the jump from apprentice to professional but, anecdotally at least, the likes of Josephine Gordon, Hayley Turner, Nicola Currie, and the brilliant Hollie Doyle, are making it much easier for those who follow in their footsteps.]

Male vs Female Apprentices: Overall

The headline apprentice opportunity number - rides - has seen roughly one female ride for every three male rides. Whilst in isolation that still seems unacceptably far apart, it must be considered in two contexts. First, the ratio in the overall ranks is 10:1 so 3:1 is a clear uplift on that. Secondly, and the imponderable in terms of a basis for this review, it is unclear how many girls versus boys go to yards and riding schools with the ambition of becoming a jockey.

With blinkers on, it might be hoped that approximately three boys for every one girl head to racing schools/yards because, while the equality issue would remain, the responsibility for addressing it would be upstream of the race track.

As with their senior counterparts, this overall table makes little acknowledgement of the quality of opportunity; though, also as with the previously referenced superset, we can see that female apprentices perform better on A/E metrics. The boys' overall win strike rate is around 8% higher.

Male vs Female Apprentices: Handicaps

It's a similar story when looking exclusively at handicaps. The number of rides ratio has tightened slightly, and female apprentices again outperform male apprentices on A/E metrics. Male apprentices still win at a higher rate than females.

 

Male vs Female Apprentices: Favourites

As we start to use the top of the market as a barometer of opportunity, it sadly reveals that male apprentices are almost four times more likely to ride a favourite than female apprentices. There is absolutely no good reason for that, with girls recording a slightly higher win and place strike rate aboard market leaders and having been profitable to follow even at SP!

 

Male vs Female Apprentices: 10/1 or shorter

Expanding that top of the market cohort out to include all claiming apprentice-ridden horses that started at 10/1 or shorter, we see the numerical opportunity gap truncate from the purely favourites group, though the ratio of 3.34 is still notably higher than the 2.82 of all apprentice rides. In other words, female apprentices are getting less opportunities than male apprentices on the better-fancied runners.

There is barely a hair's breadth between the respective gender win and place rates and, again, female apprentices are more punter-friendly.

 

The Year to Year Apprentice Story

When looking at the jockey gender superset it was noticeable how the opportunity divide had narrowed from year to year. Is the same true of apprentices?

Male vs Female Apprentices, by Rides

This first table has goodish news. 2016 was a vintage year for female apprentices with Josephine Gordon and Hollie Doyle collectively taking more than 900 rides. That helps to explain the skewed starting point, after which there is a gradual improvement year to year in not just the overall ratios but also handicaps and the 10/1 or shorter cohort. Excepting an outlier in 2019 within the favourites group, that too has shown a gradual levelling of the playing field.

Male vs Female Apprentices, by Wins

We now know the key reason that 2016 was an outlier and can focus on the years 2017 to 2020. Within that four-year timeframe, progress - defined as a reduction in the ratio of male to female apprentice wins - has been the general theme. There is a caveat in relation to last year, however, which may or may not be attributable to the unique Covid-dictated situation.

 

Male vs Female Apprentices, by Win Strike Rate

There is another interesting gender-based takeaway from the apprentice group, particularly for most visitors to this website who may primarily view the game through the punting prism.

A figure of 1.00 here means female apprentices win at the same rate as male apprentices. What is most interesting is that, when we look at the sharp end of the betting - favourites or all runners sent off at 10/1 or shorter - the numbers go below 1.00, meaning female apprentices are winning more often when given better (judged by market sentiment) opportunities.

 

Putting that all together, the story is that female apprentices are getting more opportunities than in the earlier part of the study period compared with male apprentices; and, when riding fancied runners, they're successfully converting more of those opportunities.

 

Conclusions

So what does it all mean? In this article I've tried to look at two things in parallel: the respective opportunities afforded to females versus males and, with the betting blinkers on, any wagering utility therein.

What I have absolutely not tried to do is say that one gender is better than the other, or to prove that both are equal. Honestly, I don't feel we have a sufficient balance of data to arrive at meaningful conclusions to that end, nor even what 'better' means. More importantly than that, such generalisations are pointless and stupid: some men are better than most women, and some women are better than most men. At most things, including riding horses. So what? How does that, at a global level, inform anything?

However, what is abundantly clear is that winning opportunities for women riders were pretty poor in 2016 and are still disappointing as we enter 2021. The more heartening flip side is that solid progress has been made during those five years in terms of absolute opportunities and winning opportunities. And, more promising still, there is a group of young female apprentice jockeys, a number of whom look to have the raw ingredients to become the next Hollie Doyle, that are converting their opportunities with regularity.

Hollie is a very tough act to follow but she is also an outstanding blueprint and role model. When she was a seven pound apprentice, she'd regularly make the long trip from the south of England to Newcastle to ride one or two for lesser lights on the trainers' roster like Wilf Storey. Indeed, she twice rode a lovely little geegeez syndicate filly, Table Manners, to victory.

As far back as 2013, she was riding for Wilf. It seems a hundred years ago now, but Hollie rode just six winners between 2013 and 2015, from 99 rides. After scoring aboard McConnell at Southwell on 26th November 2013, her next victory wasn't until 14th July 2014, and the one after that was 10th August 2015. Then, at the start of 2016, came the tie up with Richard Hannon and the associated abundant opportunity.

You have to be very good to make it to the top in this game, man or woman, and you have to work bloody hard!

*

Gender is merely the easiest of racing's representational challenges. It must confront similar demographic disparities around race and sexuality and, in fairness, the industry is paying more than just lip service to that end. It takes time to change attitudes, especially in such a Luddite and legacy sector as horse racing, but the progress by female riders on the flat is testament to the efforts being made. There is a long way still to go.

Monday Musings: Trainer Titles

The frost relented at three of Paul Nicholls’ most productive racecourses on Saturday morning and the 11-times champion National Hunt trainer took heavy toll with a remarkable seven winners, writes Tony Stafford. Kempton, Chepstow and above all Wincanton are the three.

At the same time he was emphatically (albeit inwardly) announcing that his re-building of stable strength back to that of its heyday when Kauto Star and Denman were in their pomp, has been fully achieved.

I was half aware of somebody being quoted on the television last night – definitely not in my favourite French-language and subtitled detective show Spiral on BBC4. It was: “Men can lie, women can lie, but numbers can’t!” The numbers are there for all to see in the 2020-21 jump trainers’ championship.

The Nicholls decline, if you could call it that, was characterised last season by a first failure in 19 to reach 100 wins, when 96 victories from 445 runs brought total UK prizemoney of £2.34million. Nicky Henderson, his sole realistic challenger over the past decade, won his fifth title and third of the last four with 118 winners and £2.54million in prizemoney.

That said, the normal post-Cheltenham section of the campaign with its handsome prizemoney levels especially at Aintree, Sandown’s finals day, and the Ayr Scottish Grand National meeting distorted the figures. Nicholls’ routine century would have been assured and the relatively close money margin for Henderson could easily have been bridged.

Henderson’s first interruption of a near-Martin Pipe-like monopoly for Nicholls since his first title in 2005-6 came in 2012-13, 27 years after his own first Trainers’ Championship in 1985-6. Henderson, now 70, lacks nothing in energy and horse-power but the die is already cast for 2020-21.

While Nicholls has been serenely proceeding towards title number 12 with already 107 victories and £1.46m in money won, Henderson is languishing on less than half the monetary rewards with £673K and just over half the winners, 57 from 268 runs, both well down on his normal schedule.

Considering the jumps season didn’t begin until July 1, Nicholls’s pace has been remarkable but so too has Dan Skelton’s 74 wins and £823k from 408 runs even allowing for the fact that his customary summer starting splurge has been abandoned – for the better – with some potential stars in the pot.

Lower down, some interesting names follow and Evan Williams, after his emotional capturing of the re-scheduled Coral Welsh Grand National with the heavily-backed and well-named in the circumstances favourite, Secret Reprieve, just edged over the half-million mark from only 30 wins.

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Williams was talking up the prospects of Secret Reprieve’s tackling a Grand National at Aintree and he will be hoping on Tuesday morning to see the Ruckers’ seven-year-old getting a few pounds more than his present mark of 142 – he was able to run on Saturday off 8lb lower after his previous win.  Secret Reprieve would probably make it into the top 40 with 142 but 145 makes it a certainty - if Covid doesn’t intervene again.

The next three trainers in the list, all within a winner or two of getting over the half-million are Messrs O’Neill, Fergal O’Brien and Twiston-Davies. Fergal’s consistent form has brought him to 70 compared to a previous best of 63 and with expansion firmly in place, a first century is the aim and seemingly a realistic one with three months to go, subject to acts of God, God forbid!

Nicholls’ Saturday seven-timer was also a contributor to another multi-winning performance on the day. Daryl Jacob must have gone to Wincanton confident of winning the opener on Ben Pauling’s highly-regarded Malinello but found Nicholls’ Flash Collonges, one of two Harry Skelton winners for his former boss, much too good.

I’ve no doubt that when that one lost he didn’t expect to win on five of his remaining six mounts.

The Nicholls winner for Jacob was Capeland, a 6-1 shot in the second most valuable race of the day there, the two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase and the jockey also won races for Robert Walford, Alan King, Pauling and Milton Harris.

Within that quintet, he collected the big race, the re-staged Dipper Novices Chase, just a three-runner affair, on Messire Des Obeaux, where Alan King’s gelding shocked odds-on Protektorat in a rare reverse for the Skeltons in recent times. Both Flash Collonges and Messire Des Obeaux are sons of the late-lamented Saddler Maker.

Jacob’s five-timer worked out at a massive 3275-1. Nicholls’ septet, while not quite his best - he’s had an eight-in-a-day before now – amounts to more than treble that at 10,418-1. Of course to get the latter up, you’d need to navigate the 11 losers that besmirched his record. Jacob has surged onto 39 wins for the season but the title-holder Brian Hughes, with 90, looks to have a strong grip on his trophy, currently having 15 and 19 in hand of the two Harrys, Cobden and Skelton.

It’s very unusual in the depths of winter that Ireland suffers more than the UK, but there has been a flurry of abandonments across the Irish Sea with frost as the principal factor. Whatever happened to the milder west winds picking up moisture as they sweep across the Atlantic?

The perennial struggle at the top of the table there between Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott is as compelling as ever. Usually at this point in the season Elliott has been ahead but this time it’s the other way round.

Mullins has already gone past the century with 104 wins from only 326 runs to earn €2.18m at a spectacular 32% strike rate.  An impressive 76 of the 162 individual horses he’s run since racing resumed have won.

Elliott is only around €70k behind Mullins in winnings but it has taken 125 wins from a bumper exactly 800 runs – almost double both Nicholls’ and Skelton’s number and treble Henderson’s – to get that close. Equally he has needed 292 horses, 90 of which have won, to make it that far.

Mullins is having his normal effect on the jockeys’ title race. Since Ruby Walsh’s retirement Paul Townend has been in pole position, but third-placed Henry de Bromhead’s 69 victories have given a big boost to Rachael Blackmore, his stable jockey.

Townend leads on 69, all but five for the Closutton trainer, but is far from secure for another title as Blackmore’s 46 wins for her boss have been supplemented by another 19 from outside rides making the deficit only four.

Talking of jockeys, the 2021 Flat championship will be very interesting given Oisin Murphy starts the year under a three-month ban imposed by the French authorities. He managed to get it reduced from the original six months on appeal and while it doesn’t interfere with the championship which starts in May, or the first phase of turf racing or indeed anything after March 11, it could still have an effect on his confidence.

No need to go into how he got the trace of drugs in his system. In these perilous times I wonder how many people contracting Covid, like my mate Steve Gilbey who said it was the most frightening experience of his life, know where they caught it. He says maybe it was Christmas shopping in Sainsburys.

Steve, a one-time repo man and night club bouncer before his more acceptable roles as a bodyguard and then Ray Tooth’s much-valued right-hand man, has seen and heard of many friends and some family members who haven’t managed to stave off the effects of the virus. I pray – as does Ray – that he’ll get through, just as I do that my son, his wife and their son, whose symptoms are less severe, will all recover soon.

Back to Flat jockeys, though, and as I said it could be a pivotal year. One Whatsapp I received just the other day made very interesting reading. It claimed that Ben Curtis would be joining Mark Johnston as stable jockey. Now confirmed as true, his odds of 10/1 for the title have plummeted to 3/1.

Mark’s most active jockeys, Joe Fanning and Franny Norton, both celebrated their 50th birthdays last year. Norton is the older by eight weeks, his birthday coming on July 27 to Fanning’s on September 24th (the same as my son incidentally!).

Between them they rode 56% of Johnston’s winners and 55% of the stable’s runners. Fanning was the busier – well, he’s younger, it makes sense! – with 50 wins from exactly 400 rides in 2020. Old-man Franny was only 75% as busy but just as tidy with his 45 from 300 rides. No other jockey achieved more than the 15 wins of P J McDonald. Then came William Buick and Silvestre De Sousa with ten each.  Curtis had six wins from 35 rides for the stable.

Their longevity says much for their iron constitutions but even more for the amazing loyalty of the trainer. Had he not kept them on, riding many of the yard’s best horses as well as the majority of the lesser performers, they would probably have retired a while ago.

A second compelling item on the same Whatsapp message concerned Paul Mulrennan who it seems might be getting closer to a connection with Karl Burke. Interesting? Not many!

It’s Christmas Time In Open Looking Welsh Grand National

The rescheduled Welsh Grand National is without a doubt the feature race for Saturday and whilst many will be filing it under ‘impossible’ I’ll hopefully be able to shed some light on some angles using the brilliant Geegeez Gold as usual.

Pace

There has been no shortage of heavy ground Welsh Grand Nationals in the past so let’s see where the advantage tends to be with regards to pace.

It’s often the case that prominent racers can be favoured over hold up performers over shorter trips but even over this marathon trip it is still an advantage to be nearer the pace.

Win data is fairly limited here but there has been a strong advantage towards those that race prominently with an 11.36% win ratio, clear of front runners who have a 6.67%. Mid division and hold up have win ratios of just 4.29% and 2.67% respectively.

There is much more data in the place strike rates and this time around front runners lead the way in more way than one, they have a place strike rate of 33.33% which is marginally more impressive than prominent racers who have a place strike rate of 31.82%. These ratios drop off dramatically the further back in the field you go with mid division providing just 21.43% and hold ups are just 8%.

As far as market consideration goes, backing prominent racers blind for win purposes has been profitable whilst backing both prominent racers and those that race in mid division has been very profitable from an each way perspective whilst front runners are also slightly in profit. Hold up performers are in a big loss for both win and each way purposes.

With this data in mind the heat map for this race should make interesting reading with those that race just off the pace likely to be seen to best effect.

A possible contested pace here but the jockeys will surely be sensible in this ground and avoid setting a suicidal gallop. Early favourite Secret Reprieve seems likely to be a bit further back than ideal but racing in mid division isn’t a huge disadvantage. Dominatuer is relatively well fancied from the hold up performers and granted the usual riding tactics are employed he could struggle to even place, however he does enjoy Chepstow having won his last two races here.

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The well fancied Springfield Fox is likely to take the field along and the top eight or so runners on the above pace map seem likely to be best placed as far as the course bias goes.

Instant Expert

With such a big field to weigh up and some extreme going and distances on offer here, Instant Expert is a great way to quickly scan through the field and to judge each runner’s suitability to conditions.

The place data is often the best indicator as to what should run well and what shouldn’t. Hurdle form that proves ability to handle this distance or going would also be relevant here so that’s included in the filter.

The going doesn’t look an obvious negative for most of this field although The Hollow Ginge and Vieux Lion Rouge do have questions to answer.

It makes sense to open up the distance range a little as races at similar trips are also relevant here. There is plenty of placed form at this sort of trip but The Two Amigos and Vieux Lion Rouge remain slight questions marks despite some placed form according to Instant Expert whilst Big River, Bobo Mac and Captain Drake certainly have questions to answer having tried this sort of trip before and failed.

We’re going to narrow things significantly here to look at the win data.

Now we are looking at just handicap chases to get the most relevant data. There is still plenty of strong heavy ground form on offer here and the course records of Dominateur and Ramses De Teillee are also noteworthy.

The Two Amigos and Christmas In April are the only runners to have won more than once in this distance range whilst big field handicap form is fairly thin on the ground with only three runners here recording wins. Even if you look at wins across all races and codes only four runners have a 16+ runner race win (Secret Reprieve is the additional runner to have won in a 16+ runner field having beaten 15 runners in a novice hurdle here at Chepstow previously).

Odds

You’d think such big field races that have a habit of being run in atrocious conditions would have plenty of shocks but picking the winner of this in recent years hasn’t been the challenge it could have been.

Eight of the last ten winners of this have started the race at 10/1 or shorter. Obviously we don’t know exactly which horses are going to go off at what prices at this stage but this is clearly a race where the form book stands up and the chances are one of those in the first six or seven in the betting are going to be triumphant once again.

The Formbook

So with this race being less of a lottery than it could be let’s delve more into the form.

It’s quite easy to see why Secret Reprieve is the warm favourite in this race. He carries a 4lb penalty for winning a course handicap by 12 lengths last time out (The Two Amigos was 2nd). He’s lightly raced, open to more improvement and has won both his starts on heavy ground. He does have to prove himself over this trip though and his sire is just 2 from 42 at this distance so he’s short enough with those doubts in mind.

Springfield Fox was noted as being the likely front runner in this contest but he too has to prove himself over this sort of test. Rider Sean Bowen has a 21.88% strike rate here at Chepstow over the past five years and he’s produced a WIN PL of 45.25 so he should be relied upon to get the fractions right from the front but his stamina will be going into unchartered waters here.

Truckers Lodge hasn’t run since unseating his rider back in October and that is potentially a longer break than you’d want heading into this but surely Paul Nicholls knows what is right for the horse. He was 2nd to Potters Corner in this a year ago off a similar break so there shouldn’t be any concern over the absence and there are certainly no question marks about the conditions. That race worked out well too but in helping frank that form with an 18 length victory in the Midlands Grand National in March he goes into this year’s race 17lbs higher so he’s going to need to be a much better horse this time around to defy that mark.

Christmas In April brings plenty of staying form into this and looks an interesting contender. He’s failed to win in two runs here but was a solid 2nd just over a year ago when staying on well over half a mile shorter behind a subsequent winner (3rd and 4th also franked the form since). He won easily over this trip at Exeter in February on similar ground and is now only 7lbs higher so he looks to have a leading chance having finished a creditable 2nd last time out (the 3rd won next time out). There are probably better handicapped horses in this field but it’s all about finding the best handicapped horse IN THESE CONDITIONS and he is right up there.

Dominateur loves it here and shouldn’t be judged harshly on his defeat last time out when he had plenty to find with his two rivals at the weights. He’s been well beaten on his last three runs though so his current well being is a worry, as is his ability to make up plenty of ground over his rivals in this contest with prominent racers often favoured. He remains with potential but has many questions to answer, including stamina concerns.

Lord Du Mesnil ran okay at best over the Grand National fences at Aintree last time out but that run came over a mile shorter so isn’t the biggest concern. He has run at this trip before, in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham, and he was a creditable 2nd there. His previous run had come when 2nd again in the Haydock Grand National trial on heavy ground so he has ticks for both the going and the distance here. It looks as though he’s been targeted at this all season so far with a run over hurdles blowing the cobwebs away followed by a run over a distance too short. His trainer has an IV of 2.01 in this distance range and he looks likely to outrun his odds.

The Two Amigos has plenty of ground to make up on Secret Reprieve based on their last meeting but he does have a 4lb swing and crucially an extra 7f to race over. We know he stays well enough as he was 5th in this last year and that race worked out well so there was no disgrace in being beaten 10 lengths. However this year’s race could be just as strong and he runs off the same mark (8lbs higher than his last winning mark) so doesn’t look well enough handicapped to land this for all he could easily run into the places.

One place, and 6 lengths ahead of The Two Amigos in the last running of this race was Prime Venture and he’s only 4lbs higher so should be able to confirm that form everything else being equal. He was ridden a bit more patiently than the other placed runners and has seemingly been ridden a bit more prominently in a few races since so could be seen to even better effect this time around. A last time out win was his first over fences so could act as a confidence booster and he’s capable of going well.

Yala Enki was also placed last year which means the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th from the previous renewal are all reopposing. He was ideally placed last time around but he too is only 4lbs higher again this year so must be in with some sort of chance. He’s the top weight here which won’t be ideal in stamina sapping conditions and is unlikely to get his own way out in front so a place might be the best thing to aim for again.

Ramses De Teillee bumped into Yala Enki at Cheltenham in November over 3f shorter and there was just a short head between the pair on that occasion and they are handicapped to finish together once again. The pair also met in this race in 2018 when they were 2nd and 3rd. Ramses De Teillee was 4 lengths ahead that day and is now only 4lbs worse off. It’s easy to see why he and Yala Enki are the same sort of price this time around but slight preference from the pair would be for Ramses De Teillee.

Verdict

It's not only a ten horse race but previous renewals have told us the winner is very likely to come from that group judging by the current market. There are many here that seem likely to run well and would probably appeal as place only bets but many of the solid contenders look far less convincing for win only purposes.

Lord Du Mesnil is very interesting and is presumably being campaigned around this and the Aintree Grand National this year. He’s worth covering as a saver each way but the main selection here is going to be Christmas In April who seems to tick pretty much all the necessary boxes and comes here in very good form with more to come.

Live Now: New Card / Full Form Components

Our first upgrades of 2021 are now live!

We've added:

- Dam data

- PRB by Race Code on Full Form

- Prize Money (win and total)

- Season Date search on Full Form (due imminently)

All of these can be seen in the five minute video below; and they are, of course, explained in more detail in our comprehensive User Guide (click here for that).

I very much hope you'll find them useful!

Matt

 

My 2020 Betting P&L

I'm always a little apprehensive about publishing stuff like this because those handsome well-rounded individuals, the keyboard warriors, cannot wait to pounce on such things. However, I also think it's important to 'walk the talk', which is why I regularly share my betting P&L.

What follows in the video below is an account of the withdrawals from and deposits to my bank account in 2020. Before you look at that, though, a few important points:

  1. Plenty bet more than me, many bet less than me. So what?! This is not about absolute figures, it's about the art of the possible, and how fun and profit (whatever that figure looks like for you - after all, getting paid pennies for having fun is a great outcome) are not mutually exclusive.
  2. I'm not sharing this to show off personally but, rather, to show off Geegeez Gold, which of course I use almost exclusively (along with odds comparison data).
  3. This is not turnover, which was much higher. Funds in accounts frequently get played multiple times before withdrawals are made.
  4. There were two months in 2020 when I didn't have a bet (one desperate Hong Kong placepot lunge aside!) - those two months may have been good or bad for the bottom line, who knows?
  5. In absolute terms, this was my best betting year ever; but part of that was a function of (slightly) higher staking in favourable markets. Those favourable markets were generally pari-mutuel pools.
  6. I have LOTS of accounts, plenty of them now useless, and I use all of the ones where I can still bet more than £5! Taking 3/1 when 7/2 is available to you is just stupid if your bottom line is a key consideration: don't do it.
  7. I had plenty of small losing accounts in 2020, as well as a couple of big winning ones; that's a function of how I bet.
  8. Honestly, I have no idea what my turnover was - I'd guess in the region of £100,000. So that's a very solid 10% ROI, which is double what I'd generally aspire to.
  9. These figures are not life-changing, but to ultimately get paid a bit for having a hell of a lot of fun is outlook-changing. I bought shares in racehorses in lieu of being able to go away! 🙂
  10. In the interests of transparency, I should add that, as a syndicate captain on Colossus, I am entitled to a 10% rebate on syndicate bets. I can fund those bets to no more than 50% myself and almost always take the maximum 50% allowance: I am betting for me first, and others may hitch a ride if/when it suits. Those rebates accounted for just shy of £2,000 in 2020, so feel free to deduct that from the on-screen totals.
  11. I expect 2021 will be tougher - last year was a positive outlier - but I'll be happy for £2,000-£4,000 if I can get it, on similar turnover.
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Here follows a video of me downloading 2020's bank transactions and editing them live for betting entries. The more curious among you will note how much of my disposable goes on food, booze, coffee and travel (even in a 'no travel' year) !

Good luck!

Matt

Past Pace as a Predictor of Future Performance

As regular readers will be fully aware, I have a huge interest in pace and the potential biases they can create, writes Dave Renham. Hence 2021 kicks off with another article examining this pivotal aspect. The research for this piece has been a bit of a labour of love which began with me collating a huge amount of data while looking for predictive patterns around run style.

Firstly, I highlighted any horse aged four or older, that in the 2019 flat season ran at least ten times in sprint handicaps (5-6f). I wanted to avoid younger horses as they were less likely to have developed a running / pace style. That gave me 303 horses from which to analyse individually. I then took these horses and gathered their individual pace data for each race in which they competed in 2019. This included all of their races, both handicap and non-handicap, and at any distance. Having said that, over 91% of all races were still 5f or 6f sprints with the vast majority handicaps. This totalled roughly 4300 individual pace scores (!) which is a decent sample to study.

To recap, you can get run style data on Geegeez, and this is split into four sections - Led, Prominent, Mid Division and Held Up. Here is a quick explanation of which type of horse fits which type of pace profile:

Led – horses that lead early, usually within the first furlong or so; or horses that dispute or vie for the early lead;

Prominent – horses that lay up close to the pace just behind the leader(s);

Mid Division – horses that race in the middle of the pack but in front of the rear ‘quarter’;

Held up – horses that are held up at, or near, the back of the field.

Geegeez also assigns points in regard to which position they took up early in the race. Leaders get 4, prominent runners 3, horses that ran mid-division 2, and those held up score 1.

My aim with this data crunching was to see how relevant recent pace data is in terms of predicting future pace. I have touched upon this in a couple of previous articles, but I wanted to go into far more detail here. The reason pace prediction interests me so much is that I know that front runners have such a huge edge in sprint handicaps. Indeed, in 2019, if you had been able to predict pre-race the early leader or leaders in 5-6f handicaps in the UK you would made a profit to SP of £5700 to £10 level stakes. That equates to around 35p profit in the £.

At this point it is important to say that we have to be careful how we compare, for instance, last time out (LTO) hold up performances with LTO front running performances; the problem is that in each race there are always more hold up horses than early leaders, so we need to account for that in any comparisons made. Having said that, hopefully how I present the data will make sense and, more importantly, be ‘fair’.

 

Horses that led early last time out

My first port of call was to look at horses that had led early LTO and to see what running style they showed in their next race. There are two columns in the bar chart which I will explain underneath.

 

 

The orange columns show the percentage of horses to show that particular running/pace style in all of the races in this study. Hence leaders accounted for 14% of all runners, prominent racers for around 39% and so on. This is our ‘control group’ data if you like.

The blue columns in the bar chart show the percentage of horses that displayed that particular running/pace style after having led early LTO.

As the blue columns show, LTO leaders are much more likely to lead next time compared with the ‘norm’ (control group data). Just under 35% of LTO leaders led again in their next race. This figure is around two and a half times larger than the overall base figure of 14%, and implies that a LTO running style can be highly significant. In addition, it was noted that more than three quarters, 77%, of last day leaders either led or raced prominently next time compared with only 23% that raced in midfield or in rear.

 

Horses that were held up early last time out

It is always best to look at the extremes, so I’m moving from LTO front runners to LTO hold up horses.

This next graph is set up in the same way with the orange columns showing the percentage of horses which displayed that particular running/pace style in all races (our control group). The blue columns this time show the percentage of horses that showed that particular running/pace style after been held up LTO.

 

 

This picture is almost a complete reverse of our first graph, as one might hope. Over 45% of horses that were held up LTO showed that same running style in their next race. As you can also see it is very rare for LTO hold up horses to lead early next time. Just 4.8%, less than one in twenty, of hold up horses in this exposed handicapper sample have gone on to lead next time out.

I think it is useful to compare the two sets of figures now without the control group data (orange column). So the graph below compares early leaders LTO (in green) with hold up horses LTO (in red), and their subsequent run in terms of pace / running style. It shows the massive difference between the two:

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Clearly LTO running style, whether it be a front-running preference or a hold up one, clearly does influence the next run. Indeed, this graph shows us that it is seven times more likely that a horse will lead if it led LTO compared with one that was held up LTO. Likewise, it is around 4.5 times more likely that a horse will be held up if was held up LTO as opposed to one which led last time.

 

Horses that raced prominently last time out

Moving on to those that raced close to the pace LTO and their subsequent next run. Again I have reinstated the overall ‘control group’ data (orange) as our comparison.

 

 

There is a more even looking graph this time, although LTO prominent racers are more likely to race front half of the pack rather than back half in their next race. (Led/Prominent running styles occurred 62.3% in their next race versus Mid Div/Held Up on 37.7%).

 

Horses that raced mid division last time out

With last day midfield run styles, we also see a more even looking percentage comparison. However, only 9% of horses that raced mid division LTO went onto to lead next time compared with our base figure of 14.1% for all races. This is worth noting on what can be considered a meaningful sample size.

 

 

Comparison of LTO data for horses that took the early lead

I’d now like to combine the data for all horses that led early and compare the chance of it occurring in relation to their most recent run style. We have seen this individually on the four orange/blue graphs, but it is useful to see the comparison on just one graph. The figures on the left axis are, as previously, percentage chances of leading.

 

 

This neatly shows the importance of the LTO running style in relation to the next race, especially as there is a lovely correlating sliding scale. LTO leaders (LL) led next time more than twice as often as those who raced prominently (PL) last time; and they in turn led nearly twice as often as those that race mid division (ML) last time; and last day midfielders led almost twice as often as those held up (HL) last time.

 

Comparison of LTO data for horses that were held up

Comparing the hold up horses’ data in the same way, we see the same type of correlation, but in reverse, if you like.

 

 

The LTO running style is a key marker yet again. Horses are far more likely to be held up if they were held up LTO (HH). Likewise, horses that raced mid division LTO are more likely to be held up than those that raced prominently LTO. Finally, only about one in ten of LTO leaders are held up in their next race (LH), quite often when they inadvertently miss the break.

 

Horses that led early in both of their last two starts

I wanted to go a step further and review those horses that had led in both of their previous two races to see which running style they assumed on their next run. Again I will show the comparison with the overall pace data for all races (our control group in orange):

 

 

As the graphs indicate (blue bar on the far right), nearly 45% of horses that led in both of their previous two starts led again next time. In fact, fully 86% of them led or raced prominently in that follow up race.

We have already seen that one LTO run in terms of running style/pace is a good indicator of what will happen next time out. This data seems to show that the last two runs combined are an even better indicator (which is what would be hoped, of course). This is hugely significant and shows why you should start to take note of race pace data here on geegeez.co.uk if you haven’t already.

 

Horses that were held up in both of their last two starts

To the other extreme, and horses that were held up on both of their last two starts. The hypothesis is the reverse of the previous graph with the highest blue bar on left (highest percentage for hold up horses) and the lowest on the right (for leaders). Here are the data:

 

 

We see precisely the type of result that we had forecast. Over 57% of horses that were held up off the pace in both of their last two runs were held up again. Just 2.7% of them went onto lead next time out. Again it is useful to compare each individual blue bar with its orange neighbour (the control group). It helps to show that even though more horses raced prominently next time than raced mid division (21% v 19%), in reality prominent racers were well down on their overall figure of 38.7%.

 

Performance based on pace score of last four runs

For each race on the geegeez.co.uk pace maps, we are presented with the pace figures/running styles for up to the last four UK/Irish races (users may look at the longer-term run styles via the ‘RS’ column in Full Form. The racecard also provides a total of those last four runs. The maximum score is 16 (last four races saw the horse lead each time) while the minimum is 4 (last four races saw the horse held up each time).

In my study I have over 3000 sets of 4 consecutive races for individual horses. Hence this is a huge sample under analysis. In the table below I have collated the percentage chance of a specific running style occurring in conjunction with all of the last 4 race pace totals between 4 and 16 inclusive. Hence we are expecting to see horses that have a pace total of 4 being far more likely to be held up in their next race as compared with hold up horses, for example.

Similarly, horses scoring 16 points in their last 4 runs, we are hoping to see many more leaders next time as compared with hold up horses.

Here is the output:

 

 

The figures in the table correlate strongly.

For example, a total pace score of 4 (held up in the last four races) has seen almost two-thirds of these horses being held up again next time. Compare that with a paltry 1.4% of horses that have gone on to lead next time.

At the other end of the scale, horses with a total pace score of 15 or 16 went on to lead in their next race almost 45% of the time, with only one in twenty of them being held up.

This table is a powerful recommendation for using past run style data for the basis of your pace prediction. It is impossible to accurately predict what running style every horse will show in every race but using the Geegeez data gives you a huge advantage over the wagering crowd. If you carefully choose specific races, such as older horse sprint handicaps, this will also increase your chances of successful prediction.

 

An Example: Pace Edge in Action

To finish, here is the type of race we really want to be looking for:

 

 

This was a 6f handicap race at Catterick in October. Only one horse had a pace total in double figures, Dirchill, with a decent score of 14 as well as leading in both of his last two starts.

He was five points clear of the next runner, which is a huge margin, and when examining the last four races of his eight rivals, 27 of those 32 races had seen them display either a hold up style or a midfield one. Also the historical Catterick 6f stats strongly favour pace setters over mid div/hold up types (see the green and red blobs at the top of the image).

 

The result is shown below:

 

Dirchill made all the running to score at the tasty odds of 15/2.

Monday Musings: Newcastle helping the rich get richer?

For decades they said it. The north needs an all-weather track. Just over six years ago the announcement that Newcastle racecourse would indeed be tearing up its turf and replacing it with an all-weather circuit which would include a straight mile was greeted incredulously, writes Tony Stafford.

At the forefront of the criticism were some of the biggest trainers in the sport. Articles in late August 2014 by Greg Wood in the Independent and Chris Cook in the Guardian quoted, respectively, John Gosden and William Haggas, although others such as Mark Johnston, Sir Michael Stoute and Ralph Beckett were equally critical.

Gosden told Wood: “This is sacrilege. There is a requirement for an all-weather track in the north of England but Newcastle is emphatically not the solution. Racing on a one-mile straight as betting-shop fodder under lights will produce one-dimensional boat races.

“British racing requires upgrading and the destruction of one of the best turf courses in the UK is sacrilege,” Gosden re-emphasised.

Haggas spoke to Cook as the big-players’ campaign to prevent the change gathered momentum. Presumably the fact they were resisted by ARC (Arena Racing Company) was quite a surprise. Several of the same group were equally vocal in their criticisms of recently-departed Nick Rust at the start of the Covid pandemic back in the spring.

Regarding the Gosforth Park transition, Haggas told Cook: “The only way to stop it is not to support it <in other words a boycott>. The north does need a track nearer than Southwell but surely this <Newcastle> isn’t it.” He went on: “Field sizes will suffer as the horse population shrinks and opportunities there increase. Johnston and Fahey won’t want to come down <to the existing all-weather courses in the south>.”

Indeed, Haggas went so far as to say that, if ARC did get their way to have the new all-weather track replacing the turf Flat course, they would almost certainly respond by closing one of their other tracks.

Anyway, history tells us that with a Michael Dickinson-inspired Tapeta surface, the switch did indeed happen, and no other all-weather track has closed.

Then on November 28th 2016, “Mr Sacrilege” chose Newcastle ahead of Kempton, Lingfield, Southwell , Wolverhampton or the recently re-opened Chelmsford for the debut of Enable, the best horse to race in the UK, never mind ratings, since Frankel.

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There were seven all-weather fixtures at Newcastle in the final month of 2020. Understandably Mark Johnston was, as ever, represented but in eight novice or condition races in the period Haggas, Gosden, Beckett and Stoute’s staff all loaded up the horseboxes for the 486-mile round trip. It would have been more like 600 miles for the Beckett runner, a December 12th novice winner from a Haggas odds-on shot with Gosden and Johnston runners following him home.

On the first day of December, a ten-furlong two-year-old novice was won by one of two Charlie Appleby Godolphin runners with Gosden, Johnston and Gosden again the next three home. Fifth and sixth were Charlie’s, Fellowes and Appleby. Three days later, David O’Meara struck a rare winning note for the locals in a six-furlong juvenile novice, with a Haggas favourite only fourth.  A three-year-old novice later on that card fell predictably to a Saeed Bin Suroor-trained 5-1 on shot for Godolphin.

There was no Newmarket-trained runner in the novice on December 15th but six days later Sir Michael Stoute stepped in with an odds-on winner, beating a Roger Varian runner with Haggas again well beaten in fifth.

On December 28th the sole Newmarket runner in the novice for three-year-olds and up so emphatically outclassed the ten northern hopefuls that it started at 3-1 on and won comfortably for Charlie Fellowes.

The north might have got its all-weather track but I’m sure the last thing the trainers handling the fortunes of 179 stables of the 595 listed in the 2020 Horses in Training annual as being based north of the Trent, are finding it all that satisfactory.

William Haggas warned that Mark Johnston and Richard Fahey would no longer send their horses south, but from the moment he and John Gosden realised that however good Gosforth Park had been as a Flat turf track, it was at least as good for all-weather, the die was cast.

So much so that when the 2019 Vertem Futurity at waterlogged Doncaster needed a home in November last year, Newcastle stepped in to stage its first Group 1 race. That its winner, Kameko, went on to win the 2,000 Guineas next time out could only encourage the big shots to keep coming.

I could easily have miscounted the number of trainers operating north of the Trent on my one-time slow-motion read through yesterday and the location of some of those towards the west of the country might be questionable. What is fact is that almost 30% of UK trainers are relying on Newcastle for their chance to get some winter prizemoney.

The two major training centres in the north are Middleham, home among many others to Johnston, and Malton, where Fahey trains.  From Middleham to Newcastle involves a one-way trip of 60 miles. It’s around 84 from Malton.

As Gosden said those few years ago, they needed somewhere nearer than Southwell, 106 miles from Middleham. When the Johnston lorries wheel out of Kingsley House or Kingsley Park in the mornings their travelling lads face trips of 231 miles (one-way) to Chelmsford, 254 to Kempton and 274 to Lingfield. It’s a relatively short hop of 160 miles to Wolverhampton.

The West Midlands track has already been busy this year with a fixture in a snow storm on Saturday evening. Today will be the first of four consecutive days and five more before the end of the month will bring its tally up to ten January fixtures.

That will be exceeded by Lingfield with 11, followed by Southwell, eight, and Kempton with six. There are only three planned for Chelmsford, two fewer than Newcastle’s five. The only snag is the programmes at Newcastle are not very northern-trainer-friendly.

Of 35 planned races (usually one or two per meeting can be divided) there is a bias towards high-rated handicaps which does not help many of the smaller trainers based in the region, where most small stables rely on second-hand moderate animals.  Of the 35, only seven cater for horses with an upper limit of 60 – two are 0-50 (including one classified), three of 46-55 and two 46-60. Most of these are at the end of the month.

Contrastingly, there are ten opportunities for horses rated from 61 to 95 and nine more for those from 51-75. Eight conditions or novice races will keep the wagons rolling north from Newmarket and beyond.

Wolverhampton’s next four days feature 31 races, and 14 of them are in the 0-60 brackets with five catering for 0-50 horses. As the BHA no doubt will say, northern stables can easily come down but while the richer owners with their horses in the top Newmarket stables can shrug off expensive travel costs and all-day absence of staff attending those horses, smaller operations are far less able to persuade owners to stump up high expenses for the chance of gaining modest prizemoney.

To put it in perspective, a horse trained near Newcastle, where there is no suitable target, will need to travel to the other tracks and undergo 150 miles to Southwell, 204 to Wolverhampton, 274 to Chelmsford, 298 to Kempton and a bumper 318 miles to Lingfield.

The respective distances from Newmarket are 50 to Chelmsford, 93 to Lingfield, 103 to Southwell, 105 to Kempton and a still-manageable 121 miles to Wolverhampton.

In 2020 John Gosden ran 168 different horses on all-weather tracks winning 62 races from a total 266 runners.  Nine of the wins came at Newcastle, including Palace Pier, winner of a conditions race on his reappearance in June, a race that provided the springboard for two Group 1 victories. He lost his unbeaten record when third in the Ascot quagmire behind The Revenant on Champions Day at Ascot, until which time he was regarded as the best miler in Europe.

So that is the sort of opposition the locals will have to contend with going forward unless something is done. I think it’s time that some of the vulnerable targets that can be so easily picked off are made a little more difficult.

Many years ago, there were a few races restricted to horses trained north of the Trent. Maybe it’s time to re-instate them so that maidens at least can become more competitive. True, that might mean that with fewer 5-1 on shots, the betting-shop cannon-fodder might be improved – imagine what long odds-on shots must do for turnover! – and northern trainers will be less frightened of getting too near horses that are almost sure to go on and be pattern-race performers.

There must be a case anyway that anything that helps restrict the further spread of Covid in these testing times is welcome. Scotland is in total lockdown but horse boxes can roll in with impunity from south of the border.

There is one person, apart from the former most vocal opponents of Newcastle’s remodelled track, who would be mortified if the traffic north stops coming up from Newmarket. Simon Mapletoft, often the course link at Newcastle, is beside himself with excitement when a Gosden, Haggas or indeed any of the other big HQ stables has a runner.

Still, as he commented the other day, Southwell will be switching to Tapeta soon, so he can look forward to getting just as reverent in Nottinghamshire before long as he has been in Northumberland these past few years.

Favourites Risky In Sandown Handicap So Dare To Go Each Way

There are some nice, competitive betting heats on Saturday and the 1.50 at Sandown, live on ITV4 looks a very interesting contest.

With just eight runners this is hopefully a very solvable puzzle and assuming no non runners (fingers crossed) it has a nice each way shape to it.

Pace

A chase ‘sprint’ here which could end up favouring those nearer the pace than those held up. Let’s take a look at the pace data over this course and distance in similar ground in field sizes between 7 and 10 runners.

There isn’t necessarily a front running advantage here which is what we often see but prominent racers do seem to be quite strongly favoured with a very profitable WIN PL (the only run style that is profitable to back blind) and an IV of 1.64. Leaders and those who race in mid division seem pretty evenly matched which backs up the theory that the sweet spot here is to race prominently. Meanwhile the hold up performers here do not perform well. They have a very poor win and place strike rate compared with other run styles and have produced a WIN PL of -42.

The pace map for this race looks interesting given the above information. For a start, the two market leaders are likely to be given contrasting rides with Moonlighter likely to be very close to the pace and Ibleo likely to be ridden much more patiently.

Paddy’s Poem seems to be the main pace angle in the race with several other runners likely to be well positioned just off the pace in this. San Benedeto and Born Survivor are likely to be the worst positioned runners in this race based on the historical pace data.

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Looking at the win data in these conditions, the eyes are instantly drawn to Hollywoodien who seems to score pretty well across the board. The only blot on his Instant Expert CV being a defeat on his sole visit here. He was 3rd of 7 on that occasion and not ideally placed so he certainly acts well enough round here.

Ibleo was 2nd in this class last time out and has won a 7 runner race before so there shouldn’t be many concerns regarding his ability in this class or in this field size.

Fellow market fancy Moonlighter seems to have a few questions to answer here according to Instant Expert. The ground shouldn’t be an issue though, he’s won on both heavy and good ground over either code so is clearly versatile. He was also 2nd in the Haldon Gold Cup so class shouldn’t be an issue either. Like Ibleo, Moonlighter has also won a 7 runner race so this 8 runner field isn’t going to be a disadvantage.

Born Survivor seems to be a negative, not only from a pace perspective, but also going off Instant Expert data (albeit a limited amount of data).

Course form is always a plus, especially at a right handed course like Sandown, and Darebin is the only runner who can boast a course chase win. In total he’s run ten times here over fences and he has a 30% strike rate. Seven of his runs here have resulted in a top 3 finish so it's clearly a course he enjoys.

Trainers Stats

Using the Query Tool in Geegeez Gold we can examine both the record of each of these trainers in January plus their records here at Sandown.

The above shows all of the trainers involved in this race and their records in January for the past 5 years. Nick Williams is a stand out record in terms of A/E, in fact he’s the only trainer with a figure over 1. This is another plus for Moonlighter, who looks as though he’ll be cherry ripe for this given the trainer’s record and he should be well placed according to our place data. Nick Gifford, trainer of Paddy’s Poem, has by far the worst A/E for his runners in January.

There isn’t enough meaningful data to look at their records here at Sandown during January but their overall records at Sandown should be insightful.

We’re seeing almost a reversal of the January trainer data here. Nick Gifford and Tom Symonds have very good records here at Sandown whereas Nick Williams, who traditionally does well in January, does not do well here at Sandown and has the worst A/E here of any of these trainers.

Form View

A lot of the races that these horses have been running in haven’t been working out very well so it’s relatively difficult to compare the strength of each runner’s recent form. Two runners have run in races that have worked out pretty well but they are the two runners who are making their seasonal debuts, Hollywoodien and Paddy’s Poem. Hollywoodien’s last run came in March at Haydock when he beat two subsequent winners. Paddy’s Poem’s last race was just over a year ago over this course and distance. He was 2nd on that occasion in a race where the 1st, 4th and 5th all won on one of their next two starts.

We can check the trainer record for both horses after breaks of 60+ days. That won’t necessarily tell us what can be expected after a year off but it could give an indication. Tom Symonds, trainer of Hollywoodien, has a 11.3% strike rate with all runners and an 11.54% win ratio with runners returning after a 60+ day absence. That’s good news for backers of Hollywoodien who are worried about the time off the track.

Nick Gifford, trainer of Paddy’s Poem, has a win record of 9.13% across all runners which becomes 8.47% when looking at those returning from a break. Slightly less but not a big worry.

Ibleo has been a beaten favourite on his last three runs so whilst he is still clearly in form and running pretty well, he doesn’t look one to take a short price about here. That’s especially the case with the possibility he might not be ideally placed too. Moonlighter should be much better placed but he fell last time out and he too has been finding one too good when completing so I’d be reluctant to back this one at restrictive odds too.

Gary Moore has two runners here, Early Du Lemo and Darebin. The pair met here less than a month ago with the latter, who is less well fancied of the pair in the market here, coming out on top by a neck. Early Du Lemo is 3lbs better off now so has a chance of reversing that form but he did suffer a heavy fall a couple of weeks ago at Ascot.

Hollywoodien remains with potential but is 6lb higher than his last run returning from an absence. If fit and well he should run well but there is some guesswork involved in that. Similar guesswork applies to Paddy’s Poem who has strong course and distance form. The chance he could be pestered on the front end is enough to put me off slightly on his return to racing but he’s a more than fair price.

San Benedeto drops back in trip, presumably in an effort from his trainer to get the horse to finish off his races better. His older form over this trip is strong but he often shaped like further would suit and he might find this a sharp enough test. That leaves Born Survivor who is likely to be poorly placed at the back of the field and he’s run poorly in all three races this season anyway.

Verdict

The market leaders may well win this but they don’t appear to offer much value in this contest and are worth taking on with an each way play. Early Du Lemo and Darebin are very closely matched on previous form but Darebin is a very consistent runner here at Sandown and certainly should not be twice the price of his stable mate. He has an excellent chance of hitting the frame once again at the very least and seems to offer the best value in this race.

Hollywoodien and Paddy’s Poem especially are very much respected but they do have to prove their well being so both are overlooked. Paddy’s Poem also has his trainer's poor record in January to overcome but if this isn't the day for him he would be interesting back here at Sandown at some point this season.

Monday Musings: Christmas Racing Roundup

Yes, it was brilliant stuff for the first two days of Christmas at Kempton, Wetherby and Leopardstown, not to mention the other venues that none of us could go to, writes Tony Stafford. Shock results abounded in the big races and over two days at Kempton, Dan and Harry Skelton had the type of magical 48 hours that professional racing people can normally only dream about.

Five big wins from only nine runners including the convincing Nube Negra, who started out life as a non-achieving Spanish-bred (nought from seven) at Madrid’s La Zarzuela racecourse and now easily humbled an admittedly sluggish Altior in the Desert Orchid Chase.

What with Nicky Henderson also left to try to explain to himself and presumably owner JP McManus (and for that matter me!) how Epatante could be beaten so emphatically in the Christmas Hurdle, not this time by a Skelton runner but Evan Williams’ Silver Streak, a hard-working seven-year-old, it was a rum old do for Team Seven Barrows.

Epatante, in winning this race a year ago, had Silver Streak five lengths behind and that margin had swelled to a dozen lengths in the Champion Hurdle in which Silver Streak was only sixth.

Williams’ runner met another classy Henderson mare in Verdana Blue on his reappearance over Saturday’s track back in October and was not troubled to overturn that odds-on chance. Then his third meeting with Epatante, in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, ended abruptly when Not So Sleepy jinked himself out of the race at the first flight and carried out Silver Streak at the next.

Evan quickly salved his frustration at a wasted 655-mile round trip from his stables in the Vale Of Glamorgan by taking him to Cheltenham a fortnight later when he was only a neck behind another improver, Song For Someone.

Then it was Kempton and another big step forward although whether he can win a Champion Hurdle will depend on further progress from the son of Dark Angel.

Obviously the biggest excitement was Bryony Frost doing over Kempton’s fences what Hollie Doyle has been achieving on racecourses everywhere throughout 2020 by becoming the first female rider to win the King George Chase on her inseparable partner, Frodon.

She already has a Cheltenham Festival win – a fair exchange for Hollie’s Royal Ascot success in the summer - and now on yet another rag, not just a 20-1 shot but Paul Nicholls’ third string, she humbled his dual previous winner Clan Des Obeaux into third, while much-vaunted Cyrname (my fancy) was out of petrol by halfway and pulled up a long way out.

It was left to Waiting Patiently to finish second but Bryony controlled the pace from the start on Frodon and the tried and trusted partnership never looked remotely in trouble.

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Who’s to say that Frodon, always a great jumper, could not stretch out to the full distance of the Gold Cup? Many of its winners have gone there with the question of stamina unresolved. It usually comes down to the quality of the jumping and Frodon has few peers in that regard. The only difference from the Thursday two years ago is that if he goes there, it will not be a repeat same-day dream double with Paisley Park.

Looking further afield, I would not be surprised if another Skelton horse, Shan Blue, who saw off The Big Breakaway in the Kauto Star Novices Chase, didn’t one day win a Gold Cup. He had been very impressive in his first two chases, both at Wetherby, in the second of them outclassing the very tough and talented staying mare Snow Leopardess by 16 easy lengths.

Again on Saturday he was always in control against main market rival The Big Breakaway whose jumping of fences was far less secure. The pair had met before when in fourth and sixth respectively behind the still-unbeaten Envoi Allen in the Ballymore Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham in March when Shan Blue was the loser of their private battle.

It’s great to see the Skeltons doing what Dan, and for that matter Harry and their extraordinary father Nick, had always planned. The dozens of summer jumping winners have been sacrificed for the development of horses that can challenge for the top prizes from a showpiece training facility. It’s just a pity we couldn’t all be there to enjoy their move into the very top echelon of the profession.

As ever, Christmas racing in Ireland provided some brilliant sport and high-class winners, again with the top names to the fore. Willie Mullins is far more accustomed to multiple wins at major fixtures and he matched Skelton’s feat with his own quintet over the first two days of the Leopardstown meeting, but from many more runners – he needed 21 to reach the landmark.

If everything had been as intended, the score would have been six as the Irish Racing TV producers emphasised before the finale. “Imagine what the other trainers must be thinking. Willie’s had three winners already today and he says his one on the bumper is the banker”. And so it looked when son Patrick sent 4/11 shot Reality Cheque clear in the short straight.

But there are no certainties in racing and Patrick, Willie and the horse’s connections were left to mourn the loss of their exciting prospect who broke down a furlong from home.

Before I go on to my final offering, and as you can guess, yes there is a Raymond Tooth element to it, I must return to the Desert Orchid Chase and Nube Negra. The race was delayed for several minutes when Sceau Royal, the majority choice beforehand to challenge the favourite, needed to have some remedial work by the farrier and then made a summarily early exit from the race itself, falling at the fifth.

If you get a chance, try to watch the video of the race. If you scan back a long way behind the surviving runners as they enter the last half-mile of the race, you will pick out the riderless Sceau Royal miles behind.

Astonishingly, by the line he was bombing up the outside, powering past Altior and almost catching the winner – and Alan King’s superstar will have gone back to Barbary Castle thinking how unlucky he was to get up.  As he goes onto the gallop in the morning he’ll be telling his equine companions: “I was at least a furlong behind and would have got them in another stride. I’ll be a certainty wherever the boss takes me next time!” He probably will.

And, finally, to the opening race on yesterday’s Leopardstown card, an 18-runner juvenile hurdle. There were contenders from some of the best stables and, of those that finished in places from second to eighth inclusive, all bar two were at no longer odds than 6/1. As they say, all the right ones were there.

Coltor, 6-1 and rated 86 on the Flat and trained by Dermot Weld, who only ever bothers with nice horses over jumps, was second. Third was the Jessica Harrington-trained 9-2 shot Ilmig, a Galileo gelding who won his maiden second time out at Navan in late October for Aidan O’Brien. This was his third jumps run after a good debut second but an odds-on flop next time.

Henry De Bromhead introduced a well-regarded Golden Horn gelding they’d picked up from the summer sales for £34k, a little more than 10% of the 300 grand the Highclere Stud product fetched in Tattersalls Book 1 sale in October 2018. He was sufficiently well-fancied to go off at 5/1.

Joseph O’Brien usually has serious contenders in juvenile hurdles and he supplied the fifth, Flying Scotsman, the McManus-owned dual Galway winner from this summer. Rated 87, he’s another Galileo and was an 11/2 shot after a couple of okay tries over jumps.

Charlie Bassett, Noel Meade’s Lawman gelding, finished sixth. He is a non-winner in ten Flat races, but with four seconds and three thirds good enough to acquire a rating of 80. He was a 16-1 shot on his third jumps start having been fourth at Fairyhouse two weeks earlier. Seventh came the only true interloper, Denise Foster’s 125-1 chance Ahaziah who made the most of the experience gained from two previous runs.

He was ahead of the Willie Mullins-trained and 77-rated Dark Voyager, another 5/1 shot. The highest-rated of them all was a second Aidan O’Brien graduate, Iberia. This horse was still rated in the low 100’s by the time he left to join Coolmore’s main vet John Halley’s small but shrewd team. He ran in the Irish Derby this year and competed in high-class juvenile races in 2019. Naturally he is another son of Galileo.

Are you bored yet? Well I think if you make time for another look at the videos from yesterday, take note of another newcomer, French Aseel, a son of Raymond’s smart Group 1 winner, French Fifteen. Sold after his Group 1 success to Qatari interests but remaining in Nicolas Clement’s stable, he finished a close second to Camelot in the 2012 2000 Guineas.

French Aseel won once in nine starts in France for a minor stable, never racing beyond a mile and even concluding his career in a six and a half furlong race after which Paul Holden bought him for €62,000 at Arqana’s July horses in training sale in Deauville.

A 22-1 chance in yesterday’s Racing Post betting, word clearly got around and the Ellemarie Holden-trained gelding was down to 7-2 favourite by the off.

French Aseel set off behind a 150-1 outsider, racing easily in second until moving smoothly ahead coming to the end of the back straight. Denis O’Regan kept him to his narrow advantage all around the long bend and approaching the straight he started to edge further clear.

O’Regan gradually allowed his mount to stretch the margin as they approached the normal final hurdle which, owing to the low sun, would not be jumped on either circuit.

As they passed it, O’Regan still had a firm grip on the son of French Fifteen – there I said it again! – and soon after they went past the flight, still needing  only minimal encouragement, he had a look behind and could hardly have believed the gap. This had stretched to 22 lengths by the finish! Honestly you have to look to see it. I have a few times and still can’t believe it.

I wonder how long it will take before black and white hoops become green and yellow? For information purposes only, the extended distances were 22 lengths, 6, 3.5 and 5.5 (to Mr McManus’s Flying Scotsman).  If JP hasn’t bought French Aseel yet - he should!

- TS

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