Tag Archive for: Cheltenham handicap stats

A Data Driven Look at Cheltenham Festival Handicaps

It's less than two weeks until the tapes rise on the 2023 Cheltenham Festival and, while the Grade 1 action features the very best British and Irish (as well as a soupcon of French) National Hunt horses, it is the handicaps where the biggest scores are often made.

The potential for a windfall is created by deep fields in terms of both quantity and quality: landing on the right one is usually tough. In what follows, then, I'll attempt to focus the lens on areas of punting potential based on recent history. In plain English, I'll share some stats that might find a winner or two in the Cheltenham Festival handicaps.

As a starting point, my mate Ben Aitken (at Narrowing The Field) has kindly given permission for me to share a subset of the excellent research he's put together in a free guide he calls the 'Cheat Sheet'. You can download the full report (it's short but punchy, not unlike me!) here: Grab Ben's CheltFest Handicap Cheat Sheet >>

Ben's research covers the winners and places at the most recent five Festivals, and I'll use the same period for my contributions. I'll suffix Ben's with (NTF).


Handicap Hurdles

First off, we'll look at the handicap hurdles as a collective, excepting the Fred Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle. That leaves the Coral Cup, Pertemps Final, County Hurdle and Martin Pipe: four races times five years equals 20 handicap hurdle winners and 80 placed horses. Those wins and places were drawn from 478 individual runners.

The first thing to note is that 14 of the 20 winners were trained in Ireland, as were 47 of the placed horses. That majority of both major and minor spoils was accumulated from a minority of the total runners (70% winners, 59% placed horses, from 44% of the runners).



However, the volume of Irish representation has increased notably in just those few years as the chart below illustrates:



In 2018 and 2019, there were 34 and 35 raiders respectively; last year, there were 61. Expect another glut of Irish-trained handicap hurdle challengers in 2023.

Some features of non-juvenile handicap hurdle winners in the past five years are as follows:

- All 20 had had ten or fewer handicap hurdle runs, representing 100% of the winners (and 95% of the placed horses) from 90% of the runners (NTF)

- All 20 (100%) winners - and 91% of the placers - had last run between 18 and 98 days ago, from 87% of the runners. Obviously, those numbers are conveniently precise but a recent run or much more than three months away is not a positive. That said, the places are pretty much in line with numerical representation (NTF)

- 19/20 (95%) had no more than one prior handicap hurdle win, from 77% of the runners. 86% of the placed horses also met this criterion (NTF)


Other notable snippets include:

- 4 of 20 winners (17 placers) were making their handicap debut (20% of the winners, 21% of the places, from 16% of the runners). While 'cap debs have slightly outpunched their numbers, they've been expensive to follow, losing 45.75 points at SP (-59% ROI - ouch!). The four winners included State Man, Galopin Des Champs and Saint Roi, all subsequent G1 winners.

- 9 of 20 winners (33 placers) ran in a Grade 1 or Grade 2 (or a Grade A or B handicap) last time, out of 140 qualifiers (45% winners, 41% placers, from 29% of the runners). They returned +88 at starting price.

- Focusing only on horses that ran 123 in 'actual' G1 and G2 races last time, they accounted for 5 of 20 winners and 10 placers from just 24 runners. That's 25% of the winners and 12.5% of the placers, from just 5% of the runners. And they were wildly profitable to follow, too: +127 at SP, and each way betting returned +170 for £1 e/w on each - a total that excludes 25/1 and 33/1 6th places, which many bookmakers would have paid down to.

- 13 of 36 female runners have finished in the top five, including four winners. The four winners were good enough for +43 after paying for the 32 'win only' losers. £1 e/w at standard four place terms would have returned £60.25 with 25% of the 36 females hitting the first four. The four fifth placed females included three at 20/1 and one at 25/1.

- Two of the six UK-trained non-novice handicap hurdle winners (Ch'tibello 12/1 and William Henry 28/1) were making their first start after wind surgery from a cohort of 13 runners. The other eleven finished 10th or worse! 🤷‍♀️

- Only one of the 20 races (5%) was won by a horse aged nine or above, seven placing (9%). 77 (16% of) runners were of that level of maturity.


Handicap Chases

As with the handicap hurdles, there were until recently five handicap chases, one of which was a novice handicap chase. That has been usurped by the Mares' Chase - pause for your own personal interjection here - leaving a quartet comprised of the Ultima, Grand Annual, Kim Muir and Festival Plate. Here are a few handicap chase snippets, some care of (NTF).

There were 409 runners in those 20 handicap chases, no dead heats so 20 winners, and 79 placed horses.

- All 20 had finished top 3 in at least one of their previous three starts, as had 70 of 79 placed horses (100% of the winners, 89% of the placers, from 83% of the runners) (NTF)

- 19/20 had previously run at Grade 1 or Grade 2 level (95% winners, 84% placers, from 74% of the runners) (NTF)

Whereas Irish-trained horses won 14/20 in the handicap hurdle section (excluding Fred Winter), it is UK-trained horses that have won 14/20 in the handicap chase division, including a clean sweep in 2022. The six Irish-trained winners in the last five years were all single figure prices, four of them favourite and four trained by Gordon Elliot (or his in absentia proxy, Denise Foster). Irish-trained horses sent off at a double-figure price were 0/54, just three places, in the 20 races in question. (However, they did enjoy greater success in the five years prior).

Conversely, last year's quartet of UK winners were priced at 10/1, 22/1, 28/1 and 40/1!

Willie Mullins rarely saddles a handicap chaser at the Festival, the eight he has done since 2018 failing to make the frame between them.

Handicap chase win and place rates were almost identical for horses wearing headgear compared with those that were not. Likewise, largely, age was not a factor, though the 11- and 12-year-olds placed a little higher than expectation (and won three times) from 30 runners.

Horses that failed to complete last time, or were beaten 30+ lengths, won twice (10% of the winners) and placed 15 times (19% of placers) from 107 runners (26% of runners). The win component saw a circa 80% negative ROI. Oof.

Conversely, last time out winners, or horses beaten two lengths or less, won eight times and placed 26 times from 116 starters (40% of the winners, 33% of the placers, from 28% of the runners). The 169 point profit (142% ROI) at Betfair SP was due entirely to the magnificent but sadly ill-fated Croco Bay's 179/1 winning exchange return.



There are lies, damned lies, and Festival handicap stats, so please consider the above with caution aforethought. Plots, back class, and luck in transit are all notable imponderables in the punting puzzle. The flip side is that, typically, we'll be getting a square price about any horse we identify that hits its mark, win or place.

Good luck,



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