Adam Wedge and trainer Rebecca Curtis celebrate Lisnagar Oscar win in the Paddy Power Stayers Hurdle at Cheltenham. 12/3/2020 Pic Steve Davies/

Racing Systems: NH Trainer Angles

When Matt sent a survey out to Geegeez members in January he got some interesting and refreshing responses, writes Dave Renham. In this article I will combine trainer angles with system research, two areas that surveyed members wanted to see more of.

A system based approach using trainer data / patterns is a tried and tested formula which has long been very popular with many punters. Indeed, in the first article of this series I shared a John Gosden system that had been successful on the flat in recent years. In this article my focus is going to be on National Hunt racing where I'll be looking for profitable trainer systems within this sphere.

I am going to look over the long term studying UK racing trainer data from Jan 1st 2009 to Dec 31st 2021. If trainers have proved profitable over such a long time frame then we have a potential system to use. From there, though, we may need to drill down further to try and determine the likelihood of an angle continuing to perform well. Of course we cannot know what the future will bring results wise and, as all of us are aware, past results may not be replicated in the future. So, with those messages in place, let’s start:

Rebecca Curtis – ‘Close’ season system

Rebecca Curtis started training in 2008 and quickly established herself as a trainer to keep a close eye on. In 2012 she had 47 winners from 189 runners which equates to a strike rate of 24.9%. Also in 2012 she had the first of her five Cheltenham Festival winners when Teaforthree won the Diamond Jubilee National Hunt Chase. Everything continued smoothly until 2017 when she split from her bloodstock agent, Gearoid Costelloe. That year she struggled, mainly due to losing roughly 50% of her horses. By 2019 she was back on track hitting a yearly win strike rate of 26.4%, but since Covid in March 2020 the performances from the stable have dipped again.

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However, despite the more recent ups and downs, Curtis has continued to produce the goods in the warmer months. Focusing on May to August, the Pembroke-based handler has been consistently impressive all the way back to 2009. So our first trainer system to look at reads:

  1. Trainer Rebecca Curtis
  2. National Hunt UK racing – May 1st to August 31st

These are the annual strike rates for this micro angle:



At first glance the chart line may look a little volatile but the strike rate has exceeded 20% in all bar two years (2009 and 2016). It should also be noted that she had no runners in 2020 (due to the pandemic). Even last year, when she had a very modest overall 12 months, she still managed a strike rate of 29.4% making profits to BSP of £23.05 to £1 level stakes (ROI +135.6%).

From 2009 to 2021 the overall system results were:



A highly impressive bottom line and we know the strike rates have been decent year in, year out – so let’s look at the annual BSP profit figures:



Overall, then, it's nine winning years and only three losing ones, which is pleasing to see – consistency is something that we should all look for in systems.

Breaking the data down like this does highlight that 2016 must have had a huge priced winner or two. In fact it was a just one winner that after Betfair commission would have paid a remarkable 155/1. Thus, the original bottom line of +£220 to £1 level stakes does not look quite as impressive now. It is important to realise that big priced winners can skew results markedly and potentially turn a system on its head. Using Query Tool, the A/E metric will help here, and this - along with other metrics used extensively on - is explained in more detail in this post.

All things being out in the open now, I would still hope this system has potential for the future. Even without that huge priced winner the figures remain solid. My biggest concern in reality is whether Rebecca Curtis will have the ammunition to produce such positive results in the future, but of course nobody can answer this.

There are other options for those who want to narrow the system down further, though - as we saw in my second article in this series - basic is generally best.

That said, if you had focused only on Curtis runners that started clear favourite you would have witnessed 47 winners from 78 runners giving an exceptional strike rate of 60.3%. They have naturally proved extremely profitable securing profits of £35.33 at BSP to £1 level stakes (ROI +45.3%). These market leaders also produced profits in all but one year. Adapting the system to focus just on favourites may be a way to go for some of you. (For the record, Ms Curtis has also saddled six qualifying joint-favourites, two of which won, giving a small profit also).

Before moving on, it is interesting to note that Peter Bowen, a trainer Curtis worked for prior to securing her own license, also has a good long-term record with his runners in the ‘close’ season. His overall performance from 2009 in the months of May to August reads:



Like Curtis, one big-priced winner in 2018 (220/1 after commission) has clearly helped. However, even removing that winner from Bowen's figures, the overall bottom line still looks rosy. I am more circumspect about Bowen, though, because if you take out that big priced winner and look at the more recent years 2014 to 2021, he has only made a small profit. Further, in 2020, he had just one winner from 63 starters! Now, of course, Covid really impacted the 2020 season for many, so that may just be a blip, but it is/was a big blip.


Paul Nicholls – Claiming jockeys in hurdle races

Paul Nicholls has been one of the top National Hunt trainers since the turn of the century but making profits from his runners is easier said than done. Top trainers are by definition unable to fly under the radar and finding value can be tricky. However, one area where Nicholls has performed relatively well is with horses ridden by claiming jockeys. Since 2009, Nicholls has used claiming jockeys on 1513 horses, of which 308 have won (SR 20.4%). Backing all these runners would have shown a loss to BSP but only £15.98 which equates to just a penny in every pound wagered. Compare this to his runners ridden by professional jockeys which would have lost £243.95, equivalent to losing 4p in the £.

Thus, claiming jockeys look a potential route to profits. Here is the system I have come up with:

  1. Trainer Paul Nicholls
  2. Hurdle races
  3. Horse ridden by claiming jockey
  4. Jockey has ridden the horse before

I chose hurdle races simply because there ought to be less chance of an inexperienced jockey falling. In addition I felt that if the jockey had ridden the horse before it would probably be a plus given these riders' general greenness. Again, I have very few rules in the system which hopefully avoids the dreaded back-fitting issue. The overall results from ’09 - ‘21 are in the positive range:



A strike rate of just over one in four and returns of 27p in the £ is a really good outcome. Let’s see how consistent the system would have been by looking at the annual strike rates first:



For this type of system we are more likely to see a volatile strike rate year to year but, as can also be seen, the figures have been stronger in recent years. Six of the past eight seasons have seen a strike rate in excess of 29%.

All well and good, but what of the bottom line? Below, we are looking at BSP profit to £1 level stakes. Looking at ROI% would be far too volatile due to sample size.



There have been nine winning years and four losing ones; but, since 2013, that reads eight winning years and only one losing year. The overall placed percentages are slightly above what I would expect which offers a further layer of confidence.

Sticking my neck out here, I would expect this system to prove profitable over the next five years, assuming nothing changes drastically within the Nicholls set up. The system has been relatively consistent with a decent overall strike rate; the trainer is one of the best in the business and the system has not been skewed due to big priced winners.


Venetia Williams – Chasers coming off a break

Venetia Williams has consistently been more successful with her chasers compared to her hurdlers over the years. Her overall strike rate in chases going back to 2009 stands at just under 16%; in hurdle races this drops to around 12%. In addition to this, for years now I have noticed that Ms Williams' horses seem to be fit regardless of how long they have been off the track. Hence I have devised a system that can take advantage of this. The rules are:

  1. Trainer Venetia Williams
  2. Chases
  3. Horse off track for five months (150 days) or more

I have chosen five months or more because that is roughly the break between the official end of the NH season in late April/early May and when the next season starts to get into full swing around late September/early October. [For the record, if I had chosen six months instead the figures would be very similar]

In terms of days therefore the five months equates to a break of more than 150 days. The overall results from 2009 look strong:



The yearly results are consistent, too – nine winning years, three losing ones and one that broke even. Indeed, two of the three losing years occurred in 2009 and 2011 so, since 2012, there has been just one year producing negative returns.

More positives can be found when we examine the prices of the winners. The pie chart below breaks down the 87 winners into Betfair SP price brackets.



As is shown, the vast majority of winning prices were at the shorter end of the market. 23 winners were 4.00 (3/1) or lower, while 60 were 10.00 (9/1) or lower. Just five winners were bigger than 20.00 BSP (19/1), and the two biggest priced winners were both under 40/1 BSP. This again helps explain why results have been consistent over the years.

Runners off a long layoff is an underused pattern for some punters. However, there are some trainers, like Venetia Williams, who are able to make a break more of a positive than a negative. It is interesting to note that Ms Williams has made profits at all distance ranges as the table below shows:



Strike rates are similar across the board, but the biggest returns by far have been in the longest distance races (3 miles or more), returning nearly 88p profit for every £1 bet. Yes, the strike rate has been marginally higher in that group, but I think this is more an example of punter bias. I think many punters are put off backing horses that are running at long distances after a decent length break. Their thinking, (which is logical), is that they surely won’t be fit enough to be competitive in a really long contest. Hence the prices available become slightly higher than they should be due to that lack of betting interest. Venetia Williams is clearly adept at getting horses fit and that gives us betting opportunities that represent value.


Other potential system ideas to look into further

I have looked above in some detail at three potential systems that I think could and should continue to be profitable for the next few years. To finish, I want to share four more potential systems that you, the reader, might want to use, or indeed to dig around a little deeper:


Anthony Honeyball – Lower Class races

Anthony Honeyball, whose yard is sponsored by, is a trainer that has performed extremely well in lower grade races in recent years. Focusing on class 5 or 6 races only, Honeyball has secured a strike rate of 23.5% (105 wins from 446 qualifiers) showing a profit to £1 level stakes of £148.14 which equates to returns of 33p in the £. There were eight winning years out of 13, while ten of the 13 seasons saw a strike rate of 20% or more.


Nicky Henderson – Debutants in hurdle races

Henderson is one of the best in the business and before sharing the system, if you haven’t done so already please check out Matt’s excellent trainer profile article he wrote on him.

Henderson has produced decent profits since 2009 with horses making their debut in a hurdle race: 78 winners from 201 runners (SR 38.8%) is remarkable. BSP profits stand at £94.49 to £1 level stakes (ROI +47.0%), and eight of the last ten years have shown a profit.

In particular, keep an eye on the shorter priced runners: horses which were sent off at 3.5 (5/2) or less on Betfair have produced 53 winners from 83 runners (SR 63.9%) for a profit of £30.71 (ROI +37.0%).


David Pipe – winners returning within 10 days

David’s father Martin was one of the first trainers to realise that National Hunt horses could return to the track after a very short break and perform well. David has continued to some extent in his father’s footsteps, certainly in terms of success, although not perhaps in volume of runners. When David Pipe winners return to the track within 10 days, their strike rate has been close to 40% with returns of around 31p in the £. There have been ten winning years from 13, but in recent years qualifiers per season have been in single figures. Hence this system will not make you fortunes, but when a runner crops up it commands close scrutiny.

If you want to increase the number of runners, Pipe’s record with winners returning to the track within 20 days is decent also.


Gordon Elliott – handicap hurdle races

Gordon Elliott is a trainer who has excelled in handicap hurdle races since 2009. He has saddled 93 winners from 459 runners (SR 20.3%) showing a BSP profit of £167.99 (ROI +36.6%). A couple of biggish priced winners have made up roughly half of these profits, but it is interesting to note his record if we ignore any horse priced greater than 20.0 (Betfair price).

Doing so means the figures are not hugely skewed in any way. Focusing on these runners (shorter than 20.0) sees Elliott's record read 89 wins from 374 (SR 23.8%) for a profit of £108.59 (ROI +29.4%). That is comprised of nine winning years out of 13 with three of the losing years producing extremely small losses.

It is worth noting that Elliott's record in Ireland in handicap hurdles is much poorer. As an aside, and maybe a point worth further research, the vast majority of his handicap hurdlers in the UK ran in Ireland last time.


I hope you have enjoyed this article and fingers crossed the systems shared will continue in the same profitable way. Nothing is guaranteed but I remain hopeful!

- DR

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1 reply
  1. Liam
    Liam says:

    A great read. Fascinating to see what types of races trainers seem to target. Thanks to Geegeez for listening to their readership and including more of these pieces – thoroughly enjoyable.

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