SAINT ROI (Barry Geraghty) wins The Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle Cheltenham 13 Mar 2020 - Pic Steven Cargill / Racingfotos.com

How Strong Is The Cheltenham Pace Bias?

Cheltenham is going to grab the headlines this weekend so that is where I’ll focus the bulk of my attention. I’ll be looking at pace once again but I’ll be doing it slightly differently this time around.

We all know that pace is extremely important in each race and pace biases exist in some form or another at most UK racecourses but what is often underestimated is relative pace bias. It’s all well and good saying a front runner will be suited by a particular course, but if the horse's recent form has been at a venue that is even more advantageous for front runners then it’s probably fairly likely the horse won’t run as well as the recent efforts (ignoring all other race factors of course).

So this week I’m going to look at how front runners perform at Cheltenham, relative to other racecourses.

How Strong Is The Cheltenham Pace Bias Over Hurdles?

Below you’ll see the performance of front runners, in handicap hurdles, at a variety of distances across UK and Irish racecourses. The data is sorted by Impact Value, which shows how often something is happening relative to the other possible outcomes.

There are several important things to consider from the above data.

Over the minimum distance 52 of the 63 tracks examined have a better IV than Cheltenham. That’s not to say front runners perform poorly at Cheltenham. An IV of 0.92 is fairly respectable (1 would be considered standard, anything above that is ‘positive’, anything above that is ‘negative’) but it’s fairly clear that it’s not as easy to make all at Cheltenham over very short distances as it is at other courses.

At intermediate trips front runners perform less well at Cheltenham. All of the metrics drop and the IV for front runners now stands at 0.64. It’s quite common to find the effectiveness of aggressive tactics decreases over longer trips but we now see just four tracks performing worse for front runners.

Over staying trips the IV for front runners is reduced once again, this time to just 0.36. Over these more extreme trips there is only one course that now has a worse IV for front runners and that is Kelso. There are 8 courses that have an IV of more than 2 so it’s quite feasible that a front runner that has performed well at one of those courses before running at Cheltenham is going to struggle to reproduce the same form around Cheltenham if adopting the same tactics once again (again, not taking into account all of the other race factors at play).

It’s possible that Cheltenham simply hosts more competitive races than other tracks which has a knock on effect as to the success rate of front runners but the racing isn’t becoming any less competitive here so it could be wise to expect front runners to struggle to run quite so well here over hurdles as they have done at other courses.

How Strong Is The Cheltenham Pace Bias Over Fences?

Now time to look at the same data set but this time over the larger obstacles.

Once again Cheltenham is pretty consistent in where it appears on the list for each distance but over fences front runners seem to perform much better than over hurdles.

Cheltenham is in the top 30% of performers out of these racecourses when it comes to front runner IV over minimum distances, scoring 2.08. It’s one of only 16 courses that has an IV of more than 2. The course also performs well when it comes to ROI (38.51%) and A/E (Actual v Expected) which is 1.74. Just like IV, 1 is considered standard or average for A/E with a score above 1 a good performance and a score below one a poorer performance.

Over the intermediate distances over fences Cheltenham has the exact same rank as over shorter distances but it’s worth noting that this time around the IV is down to 1.82. That’s still an excellent performance but obviously not quite as strong as it was over shorter.

Whilst Cheltenham holds the same rank again, it’s also worth noting that the courses and the order above and below change which is something to bear in mind when considering relative performance of front runners over these differing distances. Only six racecourses see a better front runner performance by IV for both of the distances examined so far.

Over marathon trips Cheltenham drops one place in terms of overall rank however the IV actually goes up, very slightly, to 1.83. Again the course sees a strong performance across all metrics for front runners. Only Hereford and Doncaster have stronger front runner performance across all three distance bands examined.

Overall it seems pretty clear that Cheltenham tends to favour front runners over fences more so than it does over hurdles. Over the smaller obstacles the front runner ‘advantage’ decreases as you go up in distance whereas over fences it seems to increase (slightly) the further you go.

Runners Of Interest At The Cheltenham November Meeting

The Paddy Power Gold Cup is the big betting race on Saturday, due off at 2.15. The last five winners of this had all had a prep run which is interesting given four of the first five in the betting will be making their seasonal debuts here.

With that in mind Midnight Shadow is worth noting given his decent reappearance at Aintree and his strong course record here but his very best form has largely come with a bit more cut in the ground and whether he’s well enough treated to win a race this competitive without the ground being ideal is open to debate. Similar worries apply to Galahad Quest who is another with a good reappearance behind them, solid form claims but a lack of good(ish) ground form.

Zanza is another who has a run under his belt but he’s never really shone in four runs here. Coole Cody, last year’s winner is pretty interesting off just a 4lb higher mark than when taking this 12 months ago. He ran very well here last month reverting to hurdles on good ground and has a nice racing style for this course. He was 4th at the Festival off a 2lb higher mark and should run well again.

Slight preference from those that have had a run this season would be with Manofthemountain at a pretty big price (20/1). He’s still lightly raced for an 8yo and that’s probably been because he’s been kept away from soft ground - he seems very reliant on good ground to show his best. He won here in April (beating Coole Cody by 11 lengths, 9lbs worse off now with Coole Cody) and ran a decent 2nd on seasonal reappearance.

Runner Of Interest Elsewhere

There are a couple of all weather races I am interested in on Saturday, particularly at Lingfield who host a very decent card.

Over a mile in mid sized fields at Lingfield we have a nice sample size which suggests that front runners enjoy a small, but definite advantage.

Invincibly (1.20 Lingfield) isn’t going to get the easiest lead ever but he should get the lead with Corazon Espinado often happy tracking the pace.

Invincibly may be stepping up from class 4 to class 2 but he’s shown plenty in hot form races on his last two starts.

He’s only 5lbs higher than winning this Ayr handicap in which six of the first seven home have won since. He followed that up with another win at Newcastle and that hasn’t worked out badly either, the runner up won recently next time out.

Invincibly is only up 2lbs for this latest win and a mid summer break seems to have brought about plenty of improvement - his form figures since then read 211. Corazon Espinado and One Small Step might be the biggest dangers but if Invincibly is an each way price (he is in the very early betting) he’ll be well worth a punt.

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