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Monday Musings: A Very Different World

In the week that Lord Derby’s much-hated Hatchfield Farm plan has finally been given approval in its latest scaled-down form, Newmarket’s own Member of Parliament has indicated that there will be further irritations to come for some of his most celebrated constituents, writes Tony Stafford.

Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health as well as West Suffolk MP, said that “in the coming weeks, people aged over 70 would be required to stay at home in self-isolation for four months” with the aim of protecting that vulnerable group from the ever-growing threat of Covid 19.

Sir Michael Stoute is one of the trainers who will need to work out feasible working patterns within his yard to fulfil those conditions. Nick Rust, outgoing Chief Executive of the BHA, indicated that within a very short time, the UK would echo most other racing authorities around the world by imposing the “no-spectator” format, with one groom and one owner only allowed for each participating horse.

I was looking forward to Huntingdon on Thursday but that no longer seems an option. Even if Waterproof is allowed to run, I’m in the soon-to-be-barred age group. Last night my wife, who doesn’t drive, confirmed that our local shop where I’ve bought my Racing Post each morning for the past 17 years had run out of toilet rolls in the manner of the supermarket we visited late on Friday after my return from Cheltenham. Yesterday morning, the Turkish-born owner laughed as he pointed to very full shelves of the largely-missing product. I don’t think the people that sanctioned the seemingly-annual price-rise in that publication, now £3.50 daily and £3.90 on Saturday, might experience a reader backlash!

It’s a fast-moving situation.

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We knew we were on borrowed time in Gloucestershire (or across the border in Worcester where Harry Taylor and I stayed in the wonderful Barn B and B, Pershore) last week. Thankfully for the racing industry and racegoers, but more especially the local community, as the Racing Post headline put it, it was a Last Hurrah. See you, hopefully, sometime in July. Just how much damage in human and commercial terms will have been done by then is a terrifying prospect.

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Every day since 1962, the best part of 60 years, I’ve been obsessed by horse racing. I still find it hard to accept that almost everyone else has no conception of Hethersett, the 1962 St Leger winner who a month earlier at York was the agent of my first big win as a 16-year-old in a Bournemouth betting shop, part of a treble with Sostenuto (Ebor) and Persian Wonder.

In jumping, contrarily, it wasn’t ever Arkle: I was a Mill House adherent in their clashes in the mid-1960’s. It was his compatriot, L’Escargot, a few years on, twice winner of the Gold Cup and the horse that prevented Red Rum from a Grand National hat-trick in 1975 when the weights and the ground turned the tide in his favour. Rummy’s third win was delayed for two years, Rag Trade similarly denying the Ginger McCain star in 1976. These heroics from L’Escargot came five years after his first of two successive Gold Cups.

Last week Al Boum Photo joined the select group of dual winners of Cheltenham showpiece, with Kauto Star’s two victories being separated by success for that great horse’s equally eminent stable-companion and contemporary, Denman. Triple winners in the modern (post 1945) era have been restricted to Cottage Rake, Arkle and Best Mate, whose trainer Henrietta Knight was busily autographing copies of her latest book in the Shopping Village last week.

On Gold Cup Day I believe we were in the process of witnessing the best performance ever by a four-year-old at the Cheltenham Festival when the final flight intervened to halt Goshen’s serene progress. Veterans, like me, will have been recalling a similar blunder by Attivo back in 1974, but he and rider Robert Hughes recovered. The Cyril Mitchell-trained and Peter O’Sullevan-owned favourite kept going to win by four lengths as his owner commentated with his usual unflappable calm on BBC television.

In 2013 - is it really seven years ago? - Our Conor won the race by 15 lengths, his final victory in a career ended a year later with a third-flight fall in the Champion Hurdle. Four horses have achieved the feat of following the Triumph Hurdle win in the next year’s Champion Hurdle. The first was Clair Soleil, in the race’s Hurst Park days. That track, between Kempton and Sandown, closed in 1962, the race transferring to Cheltenham three years later.

The Hurst Park years were generally a French benefit and some of that country’s top trainers targeted it. Francois Mathet, Derby winner Relko’s handler, trained him as a four-year-old but it was in Ryan Price’s care that he won the Champion Huirdle, Fred Winter the jockey both times. Alec Head was another to win the race during that era. At Cheltenham, the great Persian War preceded three consecutive Champion Hurdles with his Triumph victory and the others were Kribensis, trained for Sheikh Mohammed by Michael Stoute all of 32 years ago and Katchit (Alan King).

I’m convinced that had the understandably distraught Jamie Moore managed to retain his balance after his mount’s single error in an otherwise flawless performance, Our Conor’s margin would have been superseded. It was a display of raw power that the handicapper Dave Dickinson would have been hard pushed to keep below 165 at a minimum.

It was a week for the clever trainers, that is those with yards full of horses that they can engineer to enable them to target big races without giving away too much in the build-up, and some spectacular results were achieved. None was more striking than Saint Roi, a horse who had been fourth in his sole run in France, in an Auteuil Listed race in September. Transferred to Willie Mullins plenty was expected, but certainly not the 23-length fifth of 17 at 1-3 at Clonmel in December. He atoned by winning a maiden by nine lengths on New Year’s Day at lowly Tramore.

He’d obviously improved more than a touch in the intervening ten weeks under Mullins’ tutelage as the torrent of money told on Friday morning and, off 137, Saint Roi won the County Hurdle as he liked. McFabulous on Saturday at Kempton, a superb bumper horse the previous season, but surprisingly lack-lustre in his first couple of hurdles, also managed a timely win at the third attempt for Paul Nicholls at Market Rasen last month. That (minimum three runs) qualified him for the EBF Final. Off an undemanding 132, McFabulous strolled home as the 5-2 favourite in an 18-runner supposedly-competitive race where they went 10-1 bar one in the re-scheduled-from-Sandown event.

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I keep intending to give Coquelicot a bigger mention in these jottings and she certainly deserves a stage of her own after a third win in a row on Saturday. Her victory came with some elan in the also re-staged from Sandown EBF Mares’ Final, a Listed National Hunt Flat race which makes the geegeez.co.uk-owned filly a very valuable proposition.

Do I sense a move in her direction by someone whose horses run in green and gold colours and who has horses in the Anthony Honeyball stable? She certainly has the profile of a JP horse! By the time we get the answer to that, Sir Michael and me will almost certainly be in lock-down. This time a week ago we inhabited a very different world.

Punting Angles: The Triumph Hurdle

Stubbornness and occasional obstinacy are two of my less desirable characteristics, writes Jon Shenton. That may explain my historically neutral view of the Cheltenham Festival. Sure, I look forward to it, enjoy the seemingly 12-month build up to the next one and attend every year for at least one day.

However, I haven’t really “got it” in the same way that others seem to. I’m sure I’ve spouted the cliché of a winner at Southwell pays the same as a winner at Prestbury Park on more than one occasion to a non-plussed audience (and perhaps in one of these articles, too!). However, that’s all starting to change, mainly through penning my latest articles on the novice hurdling programme and linking it to Cheltenham. Now it all suddenly and finally makes sense.

Invigorated by that exercise, then, this article will focus on entirely on the Triumph Hurdle, which kicks off proceedings on the final afternoon, Gold Cup Friday, of the four-day fixture.

Graded Race Form

My first port of call was to evaluate the paths that previous winners have trodden on the way to a place in the history books at the Festival. Below is a table documenting each winner dating back to 2010, containing all same season graded hurdle races with the associated finishing position and the winning horse name from the latest renewal.

The table has two clear pointers. Firstly, the market is broadly a good guide in establishing the name of the likely winner. Seven of the last ten winners have returned a single figure price (and Tiger Roll only just a double figure one at 10/1). Countrywide Flame and Pentland Hills bucked the trend with their more exotic 33/1 and 20/1 SP’s.

Secondly, as well as the market pathfinding for punters, Graded form looks to be important, with every single champ having cut their teeth at Graded level apart from the aforementioned Pentland Hills. I make it nine graded wins in total from 15 starts between the last ten Triumph winners.

The Pentland question is still important to acknowledge, with Nicky Henderson's charge either a trend-buster or a potential new trend-setter.  Last years’ champion prevailed following a single run (and win) over hurdles in a £4k Class 4 event at Plumpton after an only slightly ascendant flat career.

I’d be inclined to conclude that the Pentland way is more likely to be an irregular occurrence. Moreover, due consideration needs to be paid to the specifics regarding last year's renewal. It was a difficult affair, with the ill-fated Sir Erec going wrong in the early stages of the race. The market, vibes and form all pointed to the Joseph O’Brien starlet running a big race and his exit changed the complexion, and perhaps the result of the 2019 edition. All ifs, buts and maybes but I see very little reason to deviate from the tried and tested form and/or the market as the starting point.

In terms of specific staging posts en route to a Cheltenham coronation, it’s of little surprise that the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown is a key pointer to the Triumph. No less than five of the ten winners listed have taken in this (sort of) Dublin race on the Festival trail. That may be a tick in the box for A Wave of the Sea, Aspire Tower and Cerberus in terms of the key market fancies.

Taking the UK angle, the Adonis is interesting. It's a race which was won by Soldatino and Zarkandar in 2010 and 2011 respectively. For both, it was their only UK run prior to their triumphs in the Triumph: exactly the same set of circumstances apply to Solo of the 2020 vintage.

Expanding on this theme, the table below shows the chief protagonists for the 2020 renewal, with their graded form to date.  It’s sorted in current ante-post market order.

 

If graded form is a key then Solo, Allmankind, Aspire Tower, A Wave of the Sea, Cerberus and Burning Victory have the potential to unlock the Triumph Hurdle door. That spells bad news for Sir Psycho, potentially Mick Pastor (6th in the Prestbury Juvenile Trial) and, most strikingly, Goshen. The Gary Moore-trained horse has a lofty reputation and is currently a general 4/1 in the market after three bloodless wins in lesser company. There is no doubt that the Triumph will be a big step up in class, one which he may well be perfectly capable of taking, but he doesn't fit the recent mould of winners of this race. Luckily there are ratings available which present tangible data on how big a leap might be required to take the spoils back down to Moore's Sussex yard.

Rating the Triumph

To ascertain if Goshen and his rivals have displayed “good enough” credentials to indicate competitiveness in the Triumph, I thought it’d be of interest to compare ratings of their past performances against the historic winners dating back to 2010. For this comparison I’ve used Racing Post Ratings (RPR), which as far as I can tell have been generated using a consistent methodology over the ten-year period (I’m happy to be corrected if otherwise).

Only races over hurdles have been included. The RPR is helpfully part of the geegeez.co.uk toolkit so obtaining this intel is relatively straightforward, albeit manual in nature.

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Prior to discussing the data, a quick explanation of the columns, in left to right order.

  • Win RPR – the Racing Post Rating given to the winner for their run in the Triumph
  • Price – Current Market Price for the 2020 Triumph contenders
  • 5LR to LR – 5th last run if applicable through to the last run (LR) RPR's
  • High – best RPR recorded over hurdles prior to the Triumph
  • Low – lowest RPR recorded over hurdles prior to the Triumph
  • Avg – the average RPR of all hurdle runs prior to the Triumph

It’s sorted by the last run (LR) column and I’ve signposted this year's crop with white rows, light blue relating to previous winners.

 

Laid out in this manner the table gives some valuable clues as to the likely shake up of the Triumph. The general shape reflects well on the class of 2020, showing that most of the main players have been pitching at a sufficient level over the course of this season to indicate that they have the potential to develop into Triumph winners.

Based on average RPR, three of the 2020 crop rank in the top five (Solo, Goshen and Aspire Tower). Although, it could easily be argued that there is a partial picture here, as it only includes winners from previous renewals, not the whole field. For example, Sir Erec ran to an RPR of 146 on his final outing prior to Cheltenham last year and, as he didn’t win, this is not included. However, even accounting for this it does indicate a high-quality renewal this year if all prospective runners make it to the starting tape.

It’s also logical to conclude that some of the longer shots (Mick Pastor, Sir Psycho, Burning Victory and Fujimoto Flyer) will have to improve significantly to prevail on Gold Cup Friday. Our old mate Pentland Hills’ Plumpton run gleaned an RPR of 128, demonstrating that a relatively low rating in a last run is not necessarily a barrier to onward success; but, PH aside, all other winners ran to at least 136 on their previous outing.

The lowest Triumph-winning RPR in the dataset is 144, and it belongs to household name Tiger Roll for his 2014 victory. This puts into context how much the animals with ratings in the 120’s or low 130’s last time out will have to improve. Notably, four of this year's field have already delivered RPR’s on or around that Tiger Roll winning rating and might be expected to improve further on the 13th March. It’s hard to see the horses at the lower end of the table improving beyond them if any of the main four take a step forward.

Solo’s 145 RPR from the Adonis is also noteworthy. The race was run just over four seconds slower than the Kingwell over the same course and distance on the same card. Perhaps the relatively high rating is a surprise, at first glance anyway. However, the RPR allocated to the winner of the Kingwell (Song for Someone) was a meaty 152 which gives a relative feel to the performance. It was visually impressive from Solo, and the RPR backs it up.

Arguably, Goshen is the most interesting in the RPR context given his lack of graded form. His RPR performance has metronomic consistency at 142 or 143 over the trio of his hurdle runs to date, having barely seen a rival in those three outings prevailing by a combined 68 lengths! Given his lack of experience at the higher level it should be of some reassurance to Goshen backers and fans that his race ratings are right on the money in these lower-class affairs. Based on ratings alone he is a very serious contender.

 

The trainers

Reviewing the trainers' record with juvenile hurdlers may offer another clue to the eventual winner. Using horseracebase the below table shows their complete records in juvenile hurdle events in the UK and Ireland.  It only includes trainers of horses that are 20/1 or shorter in the Triumph Hurdle ante-post market currently.

 

The data confirms that Gary Moore is a superb handler of juvenile hurdlers. There must be a couple of nice angles hidden within this table, perhaps for another time/edition of Punting Angles. The Nicholls operation, too, is meritorious and deserves closer inspection on another occasion.

Overall, it’s a nice insight but in terms of significant pointers for Cheltenham it doesn’t really help, so evaluating performance at the track should be an interesting and logical next step.

 

 

There are some astonishing numbers in the table above, one in particular: Willie Mullins’ 0-from-41 in juvenile hurdles at Cheltenham is the most extraordinary stat of all, although Gary Moore’s 1-from-40 is also equally startling. We’re fishing in small pools of data and the degree of relevance can be argued. That said, data are data and, consequently, a certain degree of bravery and belligerence is required to back Burning Victory or Goshen once you’ve digested these numbers.

To micro-analyse a little further, the table below shows performance only in four-year-old hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival. This includes data from the Triumph and the Fred Winter/Boodles.

 

 

All of Mullins’ 41 runners have been at 'the Fez' and include luminaries such as Footpad and Apples Jade. Moore hasn’t notched in 17 appearances, hitting the place crossbar only twice from those runs. Paul Nicholls' horses are obviously serious propositions; and Skelton, O’Brien and de Bromhead only have a handful of representatives between them, although it is worth noting that whilst Aiden O’Brien was the trainer of 2016 winner Ivanovic Gorbatov, it is widely rumoured that Joseph had a significant role to play in that victory. Overall though, trainer data points to negatives for Goshen and Burning Victory.

Race Composition – Pace to Burn

I’ve attempted to build a pace map of the chief protagonists below: it is constructed in line with the methodology and numbers deployed within geegeez pace maps.

  • 4 – led
  • 3 – Prominent
  • 2 – Mid-Division
  • 1 – Held up

 

Above is the individual race profile of each of the contenders in numerate form and below is a graphical representation of their average pace preference based on their hurdle runs thus far.

 

A lot of talk regarding this race is in relation to a likely pace burn up. The data backs that up with bells on. The top three in the market have all pretty much only ever cut out the running in their recent hurdles starts, with Cerberus and Sir Psycho preferring to race near the head of affairs, too. The addition of the other less fancied runners may further spice to the already fiery pace platter. It would be very, very surprising if this race is run at anything other than a fast and honest gallop.

Based on visual evidence, Goshen and Allmankind appear to be the ones that are most likely bolt on when the flag is dropped. There is a definite possibility of those two damaging each other by over-racing and it’ll be fascinating to see how they react to a bit of competition for the lead, although Goshen can take back as he did between the third and fifth flights last time.

Perhaps Aspire Tower gives the impression of being slightly the least headstrong of the trio which may mean he could pick up the pieces, but that equally could apply to any of the others. Despite the RPR numbers appearing to downplay the prospects of Burning Victory and Mick Pastor, maybe the race composition brings them into play a little.

 

Summary and conclusions

If you’re after a tip then you’re probably reading the wrong article! However, after evaluating each horse's path to the Triumph, their RPR performance, trainer records and the likely pace composition it’s fair to say that there are a plethora of pros and cons to evaluate, many of them ostensibly contradictory.

Of the four market leaders I favour Goshen the least: his lack of Graded form, Moore’s record at Cheltenham with juveniles, and his want-the-lead run style are all negatives in my view. Further, he has jumped markedly to the right in all three of his hurdle races, which is obviously sub-optimal in a Championship race at left-handed Cheltenham, and I do wonder how he will react under pressure as for the first time he is unlikely to get it all his own way, as the ratings and pace profile demonstrate.

Of the four I’d side with Aspire Tower, a perspective that’s driven by current prices as much as anything else. Along with Solo he has the best RPR from a previous hurdle race and I think he could be a good value play, although he is not the most likely winner and does have to bounce back from a fall in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown.

The pace composition holds the key for me: a furious gallop could easily leave the door ajar for horses at the lower end of the pace profile, and maybe not the most fancied in the field. Based on evidence to date it’s likely to be a mega burn up, but if I know that then of course all the trainers, jockeys and pundits know it too. That makes it even more intriguing and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a change in tactics attempted by at least one of the main pace pushers. Good luck holding Goshen and Allmankind back though!

If I was putting my money down today based on this analysis, I would side with Aspire Tower and maybe A Wave Of The Sea all things considered. Along with Solo they tick more of the boxes and possibly have more versatility regarding how the tactics play out. The unappealing price for Solo leads me to the other two, though it will be far from a shock should Solo win as he is the likely favourite.

It would also be no surprise to see Goshen or Allmankind break the field apart! Whatever happens, it’s a genuinely fascinating race: the more I’ve looked at it the more I can’t wait to see how things shake down. I’ll be there to watch it in the flesh, and I haven’t looked forward to a single race as much in my life.

- JS

Novice Hurdles: What’s the Form Worth? Part 2

In my last article I discussed the relative merits of graded novice hurdle races in the UK and Ireland based on how well the horses involved performed over the next calendar year, writes Jon Shenton. You can find that here: https://www.geegeez.co.uk/novice-hurdles-whats-the-form-worth/

It wasn’t planned to be a two-part double header, but sheer volume of interesting takeaways has merited it, thus a sequel was hastily commissioned and here it is.

Before commencing it’s worth noting that I won’t be going into details regarding methodology of race scores, rankings and the like. All of that can be found in the original article, linked to above.

First things first, then: let's catch up on the two races from Part 1 which were highlighted as the most accomplished based on my race rankings. Both events have been contested since publication. Of course, it will only become apparent if the usual abundance of talent was present in a few months', or perhaps years', time but we need to have a better idea before then!

2020 Chanelle Pharma Novices' Hurdle (Leopardstown)

This race was comfortably the strongest novice hurdle based on the historical average race rating of 96+. This year's renewal had a very impressive winner who appears to have a strong chance of living up to the general quality of the race. Asterion Forlonge made easy work of, well, Easywork to win by over nine lengths from the Gordon Elliott-trained 5/4 jolly, extending Willie Mullins’ stranglehold on the race by extracting his seventh victory from the last eight renewals. The full result is shown below.

Both Asterion Forlonge and Easywork disputed the lead from the get-go, giving each other little peace throughout. The eventual victor galloped relentlessly, breaking his field one by one and finishing powerfully. A credible case could be constructed to even upgrade the performance given the contested pace and the seemingly tiring nature of the track on Sunday.

The Chanelle Pharma is a proven stepping stone for Mullins charges prior to tackling Cheltenham and it will be of significant interest to see where the winner rolls up in a few short weeks. Ordinarily the Supreme would be top of the list (the route taken by Klassical Dream, Vautour and Champagne Fever). However, the Donnelly’s, owners of Asterion Forlonge, have a decision to make given that the head of the Supreme ante-post market is fronted by their own Shishkin. Add in another Donnelly novice hurdler, The Big Getaway, and possibilities abound. It would be no surprise to see the yellow and black checkerboard silks in the winner's enclosure on more than one occasion, with Al Boum Photo adding a significant further string to connections' Cheltenham bow.

2020 Classic Novices' Hurdle (Cheltenham)

The second race that was discussed in Part 1, as it was ranked 2nd overall (with an average rating of 78) was the Ballymore Classic Novices' Hurdle on Cheltenham Trials day run at the end of January. The result is below:

 

In truth, it’s hard to assess the strength of this renewal at this stage. Overall, it seems fair to assert that the Irish novices appear to have to an edge over the British crop as things stand. Harry Fry, trainer of the second placed King Roland essentially confirmed this view by questioning his charges participation at the Cheltenham Festival based on not conceivably being able to defeat Envoi Allen. Of course, trainer talk should be often taken with a good pinch of salt and whilst beating the Envoi may be a stretch based on evidence thus far, there is still a case for the King to reign in the future.

Watching the race again, the horse was virtually left standing at the start and gave the early leader, House Island, a 20-length head start. More importantly, the eventual winner, Harry Senior, had a few lengths in hand too. King Roland then breezed into contention on the home turn but didn’t see it through, finally succumbing by three lengths.

The winner barrelled up the Cheltenham hill despite coming under pressure earlier than virtually every other horse in the race. Trained by Colin Tizzard, Harry Senior gave a strong impression that the longer three-mile test of the Albert Bartlett would suit. Consequently, this 6-year-old is on the dauphinoise end of my scale for the potato race shortlist.

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Next time out races to follow

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There are other races from Part 1 that are worth delving into, notably the Navan Grade 2 run in December, the Nathaniel Lacy (2m 6f) run at Leopardstown as part of the Dublin Racing Festival (both won by Latest Exhibition), and any other novice hurdle ran at Cheltenham. However, this time I want to assess the same races but in a slightly different way. Rather than following the races for a calendar year (like in Part 1), I thought that it may be of interest to appraise by only considering the horses' next time out (NTO) performances.

An important distinction is that Part 1 contained five years' worth of data, whereas the table below relates to the entire history of the race contained in horseracebase.com’s database, going as far back as the late 1990’s in some cases. I’ve used the “follow” capability from the big trends page on HRB to then manually compile this output.

The table below presents the data for next time out performances.

The columns starting with the notation “Win” show the fate of only the horses who won the race in question on their next outing. The columns beginning with “All” represent the performance of every runner that competed in each race on their next visit to a track. The data is sorted by the AllNextPL which shows the £1 level stake return if you’d backed every horse from the race next time out. The data is complete for races run up to January 16th 2020.

National Hunt Novices' Handicap Hurdle Final (Grade 3, Sandown)

Reviewing the “All” data in the first instance, perhaps surprisingly, at the top of the tree is the Grade 3 March Novice Handicap Final from Sandown.  Contested over 2m 4f, this event usually attracts a large field. In terms of measuring the subsequent overall form of the race it is on the lower end of the scale with a race rating of 46.6 (see Part 1) and isn’t generally a race to follow.

However, by checking race ranking data there are clues as to why this race might be of interest for NTO runners but not overall form. Using the same table format as part 1 here are the Sandown G3 Novice Handicap individual yearly race ratings and ranks.

Immediately, it can be seen that the ratings are relatively low due primarily to poor performance in subsequent Graded races: in total, 27 runs had followed in Graded company (GPrun), producing a solitary Grade 2 victory in 2017.  However, it is clear from the OthrW column that there is a healthy abundance of future winners exiting this race. It may be a case of quantity over quality for this event from a Graded perspective, but it remains a solid barometer.

This all makes a degree of sense; after all it is the one and only handicap on our list and it is usually staged the weekend before Cheltenham. Ergo, it may be a fair assertion that “not quite top level” novices are targeted at this race as an opportunity to secure a sought-after Graded prize. It is also plausible that a greater number of horses than average are well handicapped improving types given the novice element of the contest. So, even if it is not their day at Sandown in early March, they may still be in a strong position to strike next time.

Evaluating next time out performance by the class of race competed in demonstrates that the vast majority of animals drop several rungs of the ladder to class 3 or 4 races, and by and large perform competently at this earthlier level.

The elite level G1 results notwithstanding, the rest are solid. It must be stated, however, that there is outlying SP of 50/1 (Time For Rupert who finished 10th in the Sandown race and then won a Listed race at Aintree the following month) which obviously gives a flattering edge to the overall P&L number.

I’m not sure that I’d advise backing all runners coming out of Sandown blindly but, with a strike rate of over 23% for next time outers, I will certainly be adding horses from this race into my geegeez tracker for further evaluation.

Rossington Main Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2, Haydock)

Another race worth quickly noting due its recent running and propensity to deliver next time out winners (again, despite its relatively uninspiring race ranking) is the Grade 2 Rossington Main staged at Haydock. Horses exiting this event are 26/109 with a profit of £24.79 to £1 level stakes on their next run; that’s a better than 20% rate of return. That needs caveating with the fact that pickings have been slim in the past five years with only a handful of short price next time out winners. However, in the 2020 renewal, run at the end of January, the trio of Stolen Silver, Thebannerkingrebel and Edwardstone fought out a tight finish with all three looking to be the type to keep on your side. The first two named are entered in the Betfair Hurdle this Saturday.

Cheltenham Festival Novice Hurdles

For this edition most of the focus on novice hurdlers has been on evaluating a Graded race with an eye to its future form. But, of course, at this time of year all roads lead to Cheltenham, so as a final set of analysis below is a brief appraisal of the three Championship Novice Hurdle races staged at the Festival.

By understanding the routes that the winners have taken through their novice campaigns there may be some clues as to where to start looking for this year's bounty.

Supreme Novices Hurdle – 2 miles ½ furlong

First up is the Supreme: in a few weeks' time the Festival will open with a spine-tingling roar as the Supreme protagonists take their first steps toward potential fame and glory. Given its opening berth I suspect that more time and effort is expended on predicting the winner of the curtain-raiser than any other race over the course of the week (or is that just me?!). Other (more qualified) people will commit their thoughts to paper with interesting and informative race form previews, but the below table may offer some historical pointers on where to start evaluating the contenders.

The table is fairly basic, illustrating the winners of the Supreme, their SP and a record of all graded race performances in the same season prior to the Cheltenham event.  This campaigns winner has been added to build a ready-made shortlist for further analysis!

It is not a shock to note that there isn’t a single case over the past nine years where the winner of the Supreme has not already tasted Graded success during the same season. This is of interest, particularly as the head of the ante-post market at time of writing is the Nicky Henderson-trained Shishkin.

Shishkin has yet to dip his hoof into anything above Class 4 novice waters and, with only one entry before Cheltenham (a Listed race at Huntingdon), it’s very unlikely he’s going to get that Graded experience prior to the Festival. Stats and trends of course are there to be broken, and it may be that we have a trend buster in the making here. That said, whilst taking on a Hendo hotpot is not for the meek, I think I’d much rather side at the prices with a horse with greater experience - and winning Graded form - especially after referencing the data in the table above.

The Chanelle Pharma features prominently, three times in total, with the Mullins trio of Champagne Fever, Vautour and Klassical Dream all taking the Leopardstown G1 route to subsequent Prestbury Park glory. The complexity regarding the same ownership of Shishkin and Asterion Forlonge will play out in due course, no doubt. However, if they both line up on the big day my money will be on the latter: the Chanelle Pharma / Supreme double is historically compelling.

 

Ballymore Novices Hurdle – 2 miles 5 furlongs

Graded experience is again important in the case of the Ballymore. Aside from City Island last year, all winners have finished at least in the top two in a Graded event, the lone exception having taken the scenic route via an £11k Naas novice event. City Island's trainer, Martin Brassil, had had up to that point only two previous runners at the Festival which may explain the slightly unconventional path to victory.

In terms of the remaining winners, the Chanelle Pharma is preeminent again and, along with the Leamington, two victors have prevailed from each to take the Ballymore in the past nine years.

The current 2020 ante-post favourite, Envoi Allen, is a slim 5/4 poke largely due to being a dual-Grade 1 winner already this season. The market historically looks to be there or thereabouts too. It’s not a tip but in terms of ticking the boxes the Envoi appears to be an identikit winner

 

Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle – 3 miles

Finally, the gruelling three-mile trip of the Albert Bartlett has borne witness to some Hollywood-priced winners recently. All bar two (Minella Indo and Very Wood) had already tasted Graded victory in the same season, and even both of the non-Graded winners ran second in such an event.

Two horses prominent in the Albert Bartlett betting are the Willie Mullins trained-Monkfish and Colin Tizzard-conditioned The Big Breakaway. Like Shishkin in the Supreme, both animals lack Graded miles on the clock, leading to a question on whether they can step up to the Festival plate. In fact, thus far, neither have competed in any race close to Graded level.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find commonality in the routes to Albert Bartlett glory, with seemingly the whole array of novice races listed above. As mentioned previously, the names in the 2019/20 column are essentially a shortlist of potentially where to start more detailed analysis; although it could easily be argued that checking the market gives a similar result. Nevertheless, given the propensity for unfancied horses to win, my starting point in the spud race will be to evaluate the chances of some of the unheralded names in the table above, Redford Road perhaps being a case in point.

*

That’s it for this novice hurdle deep dive. I’ve enjoyed putting it together and it’s been highly educational in terms of attaining a greater appreciation of the novice roadmap and its leading pathfinders. Hopefully, it will result in some punting improvements too!

- JS

Attrition Rate in Irish National Hunt

Killultagh Vic a High Profile Casualty

Killultagh Vic a High Profile Casualty

Killultagh Vic was the first high-profile Irish horse to miss Cheltenham with injury but you can be sure he won’t be the last, writes Tony Keenan. We are in that horrible space between the conclusion of most of the trials and the start of the Festival where owners, trainers and, yes, punters live in terror of hearing that their horse will miss the meeting with a late setback.

It makes sense that injuries should occur at this time. No more than a human athlete getting ready for a career-defining event, the revs are being cranked up to the max in preparation and it is inevitable that a gasket or two will blow in the process. Some trainers has succeeded more than others in avoiding – or preventing – the last-minute injury; Willie Mullins stands out in terms of getting his Cheltenham horses to end point and punters can rightly have faith in backing one of his runners ante-post at a short price in the relatively safe assumption that they will get to post. But other handlers have not been so fortunate (though perhaps fortunate is the wrong word as it is surely a skill to keep horses sound).

Predicting which trainers’ runners will make or miss Cheltenham by looking at data is difficult if not impossible and it makes more sense to look at a more global sense of how successful they are in keeping their horses sound from season to season. In the table below, I’ve focussed on the top 15 Irish trainers in terms of winners sent out in the six seasons from 2009/10 to 2014/15, leaving out those who are no longer training, i.e. Dessie Hughes and Charlie Swan.

I found every horse they had in that period that acquired an Irish official rating of 130 or more and went through their racing career in totality regardless of whether it began before 2009 or continued beyond 2015. I was looking for how many ‘full seasons’ they had in their careers and I took a very loose definition of what a full season was: a season in which a horse ran twice or more in the Irish National Hunt campaign which takes the Punchestown Festival as its start and end point.

To my mind, this is quite a lenient definition of a full season – many owners would want their horses to run far more regularly – but I was giving trainers the benefit of the doubt and I didn’t penalise for a horse only running once in their first season as trainers often want to start them off slowly. With the number of full seasons and missed seasons I worked out a figure called ‘attrition rate’ which expresses as a percentage how often a trainer’s horses miss a season in relation to their career as a whole.

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Take Tony Martin as an example. In the period covered, he has 131 full seasons from his 130-plus rated horses and six missed seasons; I add the two together to get a total season figure which is 137 and then divide the missed season number into it to leave an attrition rate of 4.4%. As a back-up figure, I also added in how many runs a trainer’s horses averaged per season over that period.

This methodology is far from perfect. Firstly, it looks only at horses rated 130 or more, but the data was so overwhelming that were I to look at them all I’d struggle to have it finished for Cheltenham 2017! It also supposes that every National Hunt horse threads the same campaign trail, starting its season in the autumn and running through to the late spring/early summer. This is not the case with summer jumpers and many horses will have a winter break to avoid the worst of ground.

Using my method, horses could miss two calendar years but only one racing season. Monksland, say, missed 730 days between December 2012 and December 2014 but raced three times in the 2012/13 season and the same in 2014/15 campaign so is only penalised for being absent in 2013/14.

Furthermore, trainers are not penalised for horses having a short career of a season or two but they are hit for getting a horse back off an absence of a season or two for just one run, despite the fact that this could be a major achievement if that horse has had serious problems. Despite all this, I think there is enough in the data to make it interesting to look at, if not necessarily of vast predictive value.

Trainer Horses Rated 130 Plus Attrition Rate Average Season Runs
C. Byrnes 19 15.9% 5.4
C. Murphy 13 10.3% 4.5
N. Meade 53 8.8% 5.0
W. Mullins 171 7.0% 4.2
R. Tyner 6 6.7% 4.7
M. Hourigan 16 6.5% 7.3
M. Morris 17 5.6% 6.0
T. Martin 39 4.4% 5.4
G. Elliott 58 4.3% 6.1
H. De Bromhead 36 4.1% 4.7
P. Nolan 22 3.2% 5.2
E. Doyle 7 2.6% 6.3
J. Hanlon 8 2.4% 5.6
E. O’Grady 27 1.6% 5.4
J. Harrington 31 1.6% 6.1

 

We’ll start with Willie Mullins as we generally do. He has a highish attrition rate and the lowest average season runs so comes out quite badly on these numbers though I doubt Rich Ricci, Graham Wylie et al will be moving their horses in light of them! In fairness, he has improved recently with most of his absentees coming in the early part of the period covered though it must be said that he has quite a few horses that are in danger of missing this campaign, the likes of Abyssial, Jarry D’Honneur, Champagne Fever and Analifet all on the easy list at the moment.

Charles Byrnes has a very high attrition rate, 5.6% higher than the next highest, so perhaps landing gambles takes its toll! His achievement in bringing the nine-year-old Solwhit back to win at Cheltenham and Aintree in 2013 was a notable one but it seems significant that so many of his best horses have missed chunks of time, the likes of Mounthenry, Pittoni, Trifolium, Weapons Amnesty and Our Vinnie all having stop-start careers.

Colm Murphy is another that comes out poorly on the numbers, having not only a high attrition rate but also a low average runs per season, though the reason behind this could be one discussed in a previous article of mine on fall/unseat rate where he came out as one of the highest in the country. Falls and unseats will clearly cause plenty of injuries.

One trainer who does quite well is Gordon Elliott, his horses generally sound and running often, and it needs to be pointed out that he gets quite a few stable switchers. That can be viewed positively or negatively; either someone else has done all the hard work or you have to rectify another trainer’s mistakes.

Noel Meade is having a torrid season in terms of injuries, with Road To Riches having a curtailed campaign and Apache Stronghold out for the year. His attrition rate, third overall, would suggest this is not uncommon. One thing to admire with Meade is that no one else comes close in terms of openness around his horses’ health and he must be praised for that.

In terms of positives, Jessica Harrington stands out as having a low attrition rate and a high average number of runs. I would put this down to two things: she tends to mix flat and jumps campaigns, the former clearly less attritional than the latter; and she will often give her horses mid-winter breaks to avoid the worst of ground, something she frequently references in stable tours.

Edward O’Grady has the name of being hard on his horses but the numbers suggest otherwise, coming in the equal of Harrington in attrition rate. Henry De Bromhead has relatively a low attrition rate too, albeit with not many average season runs, and tends to do well in keeping older horses sweet. Sizing Europe is the daddy of them all but the likes of Sizing Australia and Darwins Fox are further feathers in de Bromhead’s cap.

Finally, mention must go to Michael Hourigan. His attrition rate percentage is only average but he is brilliant in terms of getting runs into his horses, his average of 7.3 a full run per season better than anyone else. I won’t say his horses are always in form but at least they’re out there competing and it is notable that eight of his 16 horses rated 130 plus raced at least 30 times. There are some real heroes in there like Dancing Tornado and Church Island and of course A New Story who ran an amazing 110 times, often over staying trips, and was still racing at fifteen.

- Tony Keenan

 

Related Contingencies at the Cheltenham Festival

Multiple bets are sometimes viewed as the preserve of the desperate, with wise heads pointing out that there is nothing lucky about a Lucky 15, writes Tony Keenan. But, on occasion, punters can multiply their value rather than boost the bookmaker’s edge. Related contingency bets are one such example.

By and large, these bets are not allowed by bookmakers: in this Sunday’s Super Bowl, for instance, one cannot back the Denver Broncos to win and Peyton Manning to be MVP in a double at their current quoted odds, as the performance of the team’s most important player, the quarterback, is intrinsically linked to the outcome of the game. So instead of multiplied odds, a punter has to take a watered down price on both events happening, similar to that offered on a double for a team to win Euro 2016 and that side’s main striker to be the tournament top scorer as they are also linked.

Yet at Cheltenham next month, you can do just that. By backing two or more representatives of the same form line to win separate races you can multiply the strength of your opinion on a race being a hot piece of form and there are many examples of this happening at recent Festivals. Take the two and a half mile Grade 2 novice hurdle run on Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham in 2013 where At Fishers Cross narrowly beat The New One, the latter in front too soon, with Grade 1 winners like Coneygree and Whisper in behind. Two months later, the pair won the Albert Bartlett and Neptune respectively at the Festival and those watching back the Trials Day run could have, rightly as it turned out, assumed that one horse would be suited by going up in trip while the other would enjoy competing at the same distance on better ground where his speed would be seen to better effect.

An even better example occurred last year when the Grade 2 novice hurdle run at Leopardstown on the Irish Champion Hurdle undercard produced three Cheltenham winners; the second Martello Tower won ‘the run for the spuds’ (Albert Bartlett); the third, Killultagh Vic, won the Martin Pipe (benefitting from some lenient handicapping); and the fourth, Windsor Park, won the Neptune.

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Perming those horses in multiple bets, even allowing that the Leopardstown winner Outlander would surely have been included, would have produced a bonanza, the trio returning 14/1, 7/1 and 9/2 (659/1 treble) with bigger prices available in the weeks beforehand.

Both examples were novice races which isn’t the greatest surprise. Connections of the beaten horse(s) can want to avoid the winner next time, and at the Festival they have the option to do so with races over further and shorter, as well as the handicap route and now even a mares’ alternative. There aren’t as many options for those competing in open company who may have to face off with the same opponent again, however.

Furthermore, value is created by a bias against beaten horses in novice races in particular. Punters want to be with last time out winners and especially sexy, unbeaten animals in novice events despite the fact that horses that were beaten last time may have run better in defeat, the idea here being that a horse that was failed to win last time won’t be winning any race at the Festival.

You don’t just need to focus on a single form line either as you can get a good idea of the strength of a crop of horses from a series of races. In 2012/13, the Irish novice chasers over middle distances and staying trips looked a decent group and Lord Windermere and Lyreen Legend fought out the finish of the RSA that spring after Boston Bob fell at the last; needless to say, I backed Texas Jack in the JLT that year, a horse I believed was the best of the lot, and he made no impact in the finish! A year later in 2014, the Irish hunter chasers proved a deep crop and provided the first three in the Foxhunters and were five lengths clear of the fourth; perming the four Irish horses that weren’t complete no hopers (those priced 40/1 or shorter) would have produced a tricast of £1812.28.

This type of thinking doesn’t apply to multiple bets alone as forecasts and tricasts can be used to produce the same related contingency end. Punters who fancied Sire De Grugy to win the 2014 Champion Chase, but wanted more than his SP of 11/4, may have cottoned onto the fact that it was Somersby in the Tingle Creek that gave him his closest race that season and it was the same horse that chased him home at Cheltenham at 14/1, the forecast paying £40.57, which was generous in light of that one’s tendency to run well without winning. While not a related contingency as such, you could also have backed both Sire De Grugy to win and Somersby without the favourite. Those ‘without’ markets, once the preserve of Irish on-course layers only, are something we might all need to be wise to at this year’s Festival with Willie Mullins rolling into the meeting with a number of short-priced favourites.

Finding the strong form lines, what American writer Steve Davidowitz calls a ‘key race’, is the difficult part but there are some sensible places to start. Form that is working out is an obvious point, though perhaps too obvious, and times, sectional and overall, might be of more use or at least be more hidden to the wider betting public. It boils down to good race-reading and sometimes the logical spots are best; meetings like Trials Day at Cheltenham or the Hennessy card at Leopardstown this weekend make sense as does the Betfair Hurdle meeting at Newbury.

As for this year’s possibilities, the Yanworth (Neptune) and Shantou Village (Albert Bartlett) double rather jumps out after Saturday; there are reasons for believing the second is better than the form with his run having come off a break and the ground against him. The sense that a horse can shape better than the form in defeat is a big angle and it could be for a number of reasons be it fitness, distance or ground, the last-named perhaps of most significance given that many of the trials will have taken place on ground vastly different to that encountered in March.

The Ivanovich Gorbatov maiden hurdle at Leopardstown at Christmas looks strong form and Let’s Dance, the second who seemingly went into the race with a massive reputation, could be worth looking at in forecasts with the JP McManus favourite in the Triumph; while those further down the field like Lagostovegas and Tocororo could pitch up in the Fred Winter. Long Dog and Tombstone on their run on the same card is an interesting combo with that pair likely to take in different Festival targets. In light of Vroum Vroum Mag dismantling the English mares at Ascot recently, with the likeable but limited Jennies Jewel chasing her home, looking at Irish mares to perm with Annie Power in the David Nicholson could be interesting and the market hasn’t really taken cognisance of this with the shortest priced Irish entry in the race outside the Ricci pair being 20/1.

One form line I am looking to follow at the meeting is the Clarence House Chase from Ascot. I think we saw the best version of Un De Sceaux thus far and Traffic Fluide was unlucky not to finish closer, not brilliant at the third last, conceding first run to a degree and barely getting a hard time to get within a short head of Sire De Grugy. The presence of the fourth Vibrato Valtat gives substance to the belief that Sire De Grugy ran his race as they’d been mixing it all season and suggests that Traffic Fluide, with improvement to come, may already be better than not only his stablemate but also Sprinter Sacre as that pair are closely matched. Another factor is the time argument – both Sire De Grugy and Sprinter Sacre have been underwhelming on the clock this season – and I want to be with Traffic Fluide in exotic bets at the Festival. The concern however is that he might run in the Game Spirit beforehand, win easily and thus become the biggest danger to Un De Sceaux in the market so it could be worth seeking out some ‘without’ prices at this point (as recommended in this Champion Chase preview).

- Tony Keenan

Trials Day as a Source of Festival Winners

Ask any Cheltenham member what the course’s best day’s racing outside of the Festival is, and you’re likely to find the Saturday of November’s Open Meeting nominated by far the most often, writes Rory Delargy.

While that’s probably true in terms of excitement and atmosphere, it’s a dubious claim in terms of the number of subsequent Festival winners who run there. The Open Meeting as a whole tends to get horses launched high up the ante-post leader boards, but the old golf adage is drive for show and putt for dough: those who peak too far from the track’s showpiece fixture have a poor overall strike rate in March.

On the other hand, those who have their last prep run on late January’s Trials Day tend to fare much better, which may be no surprise given the timing. It often comes up in discussion that horses who have run in the calendar year have a much better record than those coming back from longer layoffs, usually because the latter group have had a less than smooth preparation that has stopped them getting an appropriate prep race.

In recent years, Willie Mullins has been bucking this trend (in lots of ways), and the Master of Closutton seems to give his novices a specific number of runs before establishing their place in the pecking order. It’s rarely a negative for one from this yard to have less experience than seems ideal, or to return from a lengthier break than would be expected. He’s a law unto himself, and should be treated as such.

Cheltenham Festival Runners in Grade 1 Races by Days Since Last Run Range (last ten years to £10 level stakes)

DSLR RUNS WINS PLACES WIN A/E P&L @ BSP
43-56 332 35 48 1.23 £340.70
57-90 264 23 44 1.05 £83.10
29-42 363 27 58 1.00 -£384.70
91-150 116 3 15 0.34 -£991.30
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As you can see from the above, there’s a considerable advantage to having had a prep run in January, although that is clearly affected by the vagaries of the racing calendar. The programme book provides the best opportunities for horses to have a prep run within two months of the big meeting, and those who either haven’t been ready to run, or have had to get a late outing in to ensure fitness/qualification, tend to struggle. This isn’t meant to be mind-blowing, of course, it’s merely common sense.

There are two other obvious factors which punters can use to their advantage in March. Strike rates tail off badly as SP increases beyond 20/1 (bookmakers give little away and most 33/1 shots should be ten times that price), and that is also the case with age, with it being very difficult to win with horses who are regressive and/or fully exposed. The caveat here is with outstanding champions, who remain vulnerable as they get older, but can still outclass their opponents in certain circumstances.

Finally, a Trials Day prep run is about fine tuning, not getting back to square one, so those who run poorly/fail to complete should be ignored. Using horses who completed and were beaten twenty lengths or less seems a fair measure.

That leaves us with a list of horses aged eight or younger, who prepped for Cheltenham on Trials Day by finishing within 20 lengths of the winner, and are likely to go off no bigger than 20/1 on the day. Given those filters, here is the performances of such horses in the last ten seasons.

 

 

Trials Day Runners at Cheltenham Festival (given above parameters – profit to £10 level stake)

CODE RUNS WINS PLACES WIN A/E P&L @ BSP
HURDLES 48 11 13 1.65 £472.90
FENCES 27 4 5 1.33 £105.50

 

There is a notion that very soft ground on Trials Day should mean that contrasting conditions in March should render results invalid. That’s illogical, though, as several of those who qualify above would have been running on unsuitable ground in January, and could therefore show improved form come March.

Horses don’t run here primarily because the ground is suitable, but because the timing and the track are suitable, and that should be borne in mind. In 2015, Cole Harden, Irish Cavalier, The Druids Nephew and Peace And Co all improved on the form they showed on Trials Day when winning at the Festival on what was generally quicker ground. That’s an important consideration to look for, and is the reason why we shouldn’t just be following winners in such circumstances. The New One and Sprinter Sacre similarly showed markedly better form at the Festival when racing away from testing ground.

Finally, we shouldn’t just focus on the winners at the Festival, but also on the horses who were placed, as this is a measure of how robust the logic is. Winners and placed horses should be roughly in line, and a big differential between the two should be a warning sign as to how reliable the win percentage is.

By the same token, a poor win record allied to a bigger than usual place record should mean you look more kindly on those individual figures. Once again, this is not intended to be a system as such, but a general guide to which horses we should expect to be competitive at the Festival given their appearance this weekend. It may prove beneficial to concentrate on those who are unimpressive without being well beaten, and have a marked preference for better ground, as that remains the conditions most likely to be faced in seven weeks’ time.

  • Rory Delargy

How to Prepare for the Cheltenham Festival

Let BSM teach you how to drive Cheltenham profits up.

Let BSM teach you to drive Cheltenham profit up

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

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

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

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

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

Bank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strengths

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mindset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And keep in mind another geegeez maxim too:

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

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

It's going to be great!!! 🙂

Matt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race Histories 5: The National Hunt Chase

Now here’s a conundrum for you. We’ve just seen the 4 mile National Hunt Chase (I’ll just use it’s regular title here), a race in it’s 153rd year. Yet National Hunt racing has only regularly taken place at Cheltenham since the early 1900s, with the festival established in 1911. So what about the early years of the race? Read more