Trainer Profiles: Nicky Richards
It’s time for another edition of trainer profiles and, for this one, I’ve opted to run the rule over the Cumbrian operation headed by Nicky Richards.
There are two key motivating factors in selecting Richards for a bit of the data treatment. Firstly, it’s not a yard I have especially followed, and I enjoy the educational journey that penning these articles delivers: the discovery of new insight and information is the fun element of compiling these pieces. Secondly, and far more importantly, it’s a results thing. The stable has generally strong and consistent performance over time, which is a solid foundation for deeper analysis. Let’s begin.
Here is an unedited, unfiltered view of all the yards runners from 2011 at SP in UK National Hunt racing (up to and including 5th Feb 2021)
That’s a very impressive set of numbers. I’d speculate that, based on these data, if you were farming the bookies’ offers of best odds guaranteed, backing all runners from the stable you’d be at worst broadly breaking even. Not a bad starter for ten.
Nicky Richards: Performance vs. the Market
As is now tradition (if three events can be counted as tradition) we will commence with a market check to obtain a general feel for the yard, which I’ve found to be a reliable starting point in the construction of a trainer profile.
The table below contains all of Richards’ runners for just over the last ten years, grouped by starting price.
As might be expected, there is a healthy look to the picture, with the probable exception of those sent off at 22/1 or longer. Three winners from 228 runners at these prices is cause enough to avoid almost at all costs. That said, one does need to be a little careful in ranges where a single winner can significantly impact the overall view. Even so, not for me in data terms, given that just one of the 81 horses priced 50/1 or bigger made the frame.
Meanwhile, at the sharper end, there is a strong impression that broad value exists in the 5/2 to 20/1 price range. This implies a slight but consistent underestimation of the stable within the market where perhaps the form claims are not overtly obvious. That’s far from an endorsement or recommendation to get involved indiscriminately, however.
Here are the data represented graphically, displayed by A/E which assists in painting a picture of where general value may exist.
After further rummaging, there wasn’t a lot more to get excited about within this area (that I found, anyway). Therefore, the message is a broad one, in that there is value in following Richards when paying particular attention to those priced in the 5/2 to 20/1 ranges.
Despite this, for the rest of this article I’m going to only consider runners with an SP of 14/1 or shorter, unless explicitly stated otherwise. Yes, the graph and data does show potential value up to 20/1. However, between 16s and 20s, a strike rate of 5.9% (13/222) isn’t enough to insure me against the dreaded losing runs in spite of the potential long-term profit. It’s a personal choice and you have to be geared up for feast and famine at that end of the market: I’m not especially.
Nicky Richards: Seasonal Performance
As is often the case with National Hunt yards, performance can vary throughout the year and it’s something which can be seen from Team Richards, as the table below illustrates.
In relative terms at least, the numbers put up during the summer jumps season are a pale shadow of the rest of the year. They’re not terrible, far from it, but it would appear that the summer season is not a major focus for the yard. The below graph shows the same data through the prism of A/E and clearly illustrates the dip.
Catching the yard from December to March appears to be optimal in rough terms.
Digging further, I’ve mentioned before that seasonal performance and underfoot conditions often go hand in hand. Given that the A/E numbers have a slight dip during the summer it could generally be expected that the overall performance is less positive on firmer ground, a condition more prevalent at that time of year.
Exactly as expected, the insight on Good and Good to Firm are strikingly below those for going on the softer side with clear variance across strike rates, P&L, A/E and even place percentages.
It’s of specific interest to try and establish whether softer ground runners in summer do comparatively well against those running on ground more typical of the warmer months, and vice versa (firmer ground performance in winter).
The above line graph splits the data by underfoot conditions and month. By way of explanation the dotted grey line represents the overall data for the yard in terms of A/E (same data as the graph at the start of this section). The blue line shows A/E performance for stable runners on Good to Soft, Soft and Heavy ground conditions. The sunny orange line contains A/E info for Good and Good to Firm runs.
It reveals that, generally, the yard out turns better numbers when the going is on the softer side irrespective of the time of year. It also at least hints towards an assertion that there might well be some sort of edge backing Richards runners during the summer jumps season when the going is more winter like (June still moderate). In fact, A/E performance peaks in July on the wetter going across all data sets. Granted, this only relates to 12 runs, but it does demonstrate potential value can still be attained in summer, despite the higher-level data pointing in another direction.
Of course, there is no categorical rule; none of this info should mean back or laying blindly, life is always more nuanced than that. However, by gaining an understanding of these elements a general sharpening of the punting process can be attained.
For example, to convince me to part with my cash on a Richards summer jumper on Good or Good to Firm ground I’d want the horse to tick virtually every other box available and show significant superiority over the rest of the field. In such cases, there would very likely be no juice in the price as the horse’s chance would be so obvious.
On softer ground I’d show more leniency with regards to the form in the book. Naturally, we will still be wrong a lot more often than right, but by using data to find value we can ensure our winners pay for a lot more losers!
Nicky Richards: Seasonal performance by race type
Another notable aspect where the seasonal performance can be seen is with National Hunt Flat races. The first port of call is to evaluate accomplishments by the different types of National Hunt discipline to ascertain how data in bumpers holds up against the other race types.
It’s clear, and very much like Fergal O’Brien from my last article, that Richards is a trainer to follow when no obstacles are in play. It may be enough to leave it there, however, the seasonal factor is again well demonstrated focusing on this race category alone.
The above table shows the rhythm of the stable regarding its bumper runners. From May to September there are two wins from 23 runs. However, performance through the winter is exemplary. If this table is representative of the future, then March will be a good time to get on board with a strike rate of very nearly a third since January 2011.
Nicky Richards: Performance by Racecourse
There is little doubt that Richards is a leading light of the northern racing circuit. A perusal of his runners by UK region confirms that beyond all reasonable doubt.
This yard, based in Cumbria, thirty miles from the Scottish border, has saddled just under half of its UK runners in Scotland. Most of the other stable competitors have been heavily concentrated in and around Northern England. In very general terms, the rare forays to the Southern parishes are underwhelming.
The dichotomy is stark: this is a yard that is seemingly content to harvest on the northern circuit consistently, leaving the South to others.
Analysing individual track performance, the below table demonstrates all course data for those where the stable has saddled 50 or more runners over the duration of the analysis.
The focus on Scotland can be clearly seen with Ayr, Kelso and Perth filling the top three berths and Musselburgh not too far behind. However, it’s hopefully obvious regarding the tracks that are front and centre in terms of punting interest. The output at Carlisle and Hexham sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb. Consequently, they’re highlighted by the unsubtle dark blue bandings (Sedgefield and Kelso have claims, too).
Whilst Carlisle has an edge over Hexham in terms of profitability, both are worth noting with percentage strike rates well in the 30s. For the record it’s a 64% ROI at SP combined across this pair of wagering diamonds.
I spent a while trying to ascertain a better edge to the track info: race types, distances, venue of last run, all sorts of other info and, in truth, there wasn’t too much to be found to enhance the edge in question. That’s heartening, I guess, because the best, most sustainable, angles are also usually the simplest.
I did check those runners with SP’s at 16/1 or greater too, just in case there was a trick being missed at these tracks. Reassuringly, the numbers for the stable at these prices are 0/37 with only four placed horses, somewhat validating my semi-arbitrary 14/1 cut off point.
With an edge that is as route-one as this it may be expected that the market would have adapted, evolved, and essentially reduced or removed any punter advantage. To evaluate this, the graph below illustrates the cumulative profit and loss picture from the 2011 start date used in this article.
Basically, there is no sign of abatement, in fact it could be argued that performance is going from strength to strength with the twin track performance being as strong as ever over the past three years. The law of averages (and of Sod!) suggests it’s due a reversal at some point. However, as a bare minimum a Nicky Richards-trained horse at Carlisle or Hexham requires thorough analysis given that a third of them prevail. Until the market adapts, I’m going to keep a close eye on stable runners at these courses.
Nicky Richards: Stable jockeys
The below table shows the principal riders Richards has engaged from 2011 to date [excluding Brian Harding who took the bulk of the rides until his retirement in 2017]. Craig Nichol is also riding with much less frequency for the stable, too, over recent times (but is included).
If the primary focus is a quest for winners, then it’s no surprise whatsoever to see Brian Hughes lead the way. The strike rate on a Hughes ride is far superior (27%) to any other pilot deployed by the yard (Sean Quinlan, who has only taken 21 rides thus far, aside). However, deriving value from a champion jockey-steered runner is easier said than done in the long term as the ROI (0.9%) and A/E (0.95) allude. At first glance, at least, the value approach is to follow the mounts of Ryan Day. In fact, there would be worse ways to indiscriminately wager than backing the Richards/Day combo based on the intel above.
To prevail, or even tread water, in this game it’s essential to swim against the tide of the market on a consistent basis (if you’ll pardon my mixed and mangled metaphors). Listening to the many protagonists within racing media it’s quite easy to pick up on common assumptions or themes and it’s always fun trying to prove or disprove the comments through, you know, actual fact-checked analysis. It’s amazing how many urban myths and factoids are hurled around which have little statistical merit. One such oft-spouted view relates to jockey upgrades or downgrades from race to race and how much this may affect the chances of a particular horse.
By way of example, we have a young, talented jockey (Day) whose impact on his rides may be underestimated by the market. And we have an extremely high profile, leading champion jockey (Hughes) with all the associated focus. This inevitably results in his mounts usually being well found in market terms.
But what about jockey switches between the two on the same horse? We can see (albeit on a micro scale) that moving from Hughes to Day is not necessarily a downgrade. Day to Hughes is not necessarily is an upgrade either. In fact, the numbers suggest the converse.
Horses piloted last time out by Day that have switched to Hughes have produced just three victories from 23 outings. The converse switch is four from 13. Again, these are tiny samples so let’s not go overboard; but the point is to challenge assumptions about supposed rider upgrades. There are cases such as this everywhere, every day. In this example, from a value perspective, you shouldn’t be put off a horse piloted by Ryan Day, even if the champ was on top last time.
Nicky Richards: Headgear
Analysing the Richards stable in terms of headgear performance throws up some interesting stats. The table below shows the performance of the yard’s animals by whichever accoutrements are fitted to aid performance.
Yard runners dating back to 2011 have outperformed market expectations where some form of body kit has been added. Based on these numbers alone it appears to be reasonably clear cut that Richards and team are exemplar in understanding when to call on some of the aids available. Including the visored runners there are a total of 49 wins from 193 runs, an A/E of 1.29 and a 33% ROI just from backing all Richards runners with headgear at SP.
I did check to establish whether there was any pattern in how many times the yard had turned to a particular piece of headgear equipment for a given horse, expecting to potentially see horses with new (to them) attachments performing better to the tried and tested ones. There wasn’t too much in it, with all horses performing well irrespective of the freshness of the headgear solution to the animal. Again, it’s one for the checklist. A Richards runner with ‘go-faster stripes’ is one to shortlist if the price is keen enough at 14s or shorter.
Yet again, I’ve exceeded my intended word count so that’s it for another edition of Trainer Profiles. Hopefully, you’re armed with a few snippets around the top trainer Nicky Richards and have discovered something new along the way. I certainly have. The stable is right in the crosshairs now, and I’ll be tracking runners closely hereafter.