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The Conditional on course for rearranged Denman Chase

David Bridgwater has confirmed The Conditional an intended runner in the rescheduled Denman Chase at Newbury next weekend, ahead of a likely return to the Cheltenham Festival.

The nine-year-old claimed a narrow victory in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the showpiece meeting last season and has run two sound races in defeat so far this term – finishing third in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury and second in the Silver Cup at Ascot.

While the weather has disrupted running plans since the turn of the year, Bridgwater reports his stable star to be in rude health as he prepares to clash with dual King George hero Clan Des Obeaux and the exciting Champ.

He said: “He’ll be going to Newbury next weekend, all being well. There’s not many races left for him really, so he’ll be entered again and we’ll try again.

“The horse is in fantastic order, but he’ll need to be.

“He was going to go to Cheltenham for the Cotswold Chase at the end of January, but when it got moved to Sandown last Saturday I didn’t want to run because I’m not sure he wants to go right-handed.

“He went to Ascot and didn’t really like that, so I didn’t think he’d like Sandown.”

Bridgwater expects to have a clearer idea after The Conditional’s run at Newbury as to whether his entry in the Cheltenham Gold Cup is realistic or not, adding: “If you’re not in, you ain’t got the choice.

“Some of the Gold Cup horses have been bombing out and disappointing. If some of them bomb out on the big day, it would give you a chance of nicking a bit of prize-money.

“There’s some good Irish horses, but if it was just the English horses in the race, I’d fancy us to be placed.

“He’s in the Gold Cup, he’s in the Grand National and he’ll be entered for the same race he won at the Festival last year as well.

“We’ll either be going to be back to that race, which would be great, or if he overperforms on Sunday, then we might look at the Gold Cup, which would be the owner’s dream.”

Bridgwater has high hopes for The Conditional

David Bridgwater expects The Conditional to be even sharper in the Good Luck Hollie In Spoty Silver Cup Handicap Chase at Ascot on Saturday.

A Cheltenham Festival winner in March, he was placed in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury for the second successive year on his first outing since his finest hour.

Bridgwater would have preferred to have got a run into him before Newbury, so the fact he ran such a fine race in third behind Cloth Cap bodes well – especially when the trainer does not see the testing conditions as a negative.

“I know he’s favourite, but I leave things like that to the so-called experts. I just get on with the training,” he said.

“It’s going to be very testing ground, but he won’t mind it. He goes through it well and showed at Newbury that he goes on good ground, too.

“Heading to Newbury he was fit, but he wasn’t hard, race fit. He is now and if he progresses from Newbury and has a clear round then we shouldn’t be too far away, hopefully.

“He’s never run at Ascot before, but I can’t see it being a problem. There’s never a problem with things like that until there is a problem, but I don’t think there will be an issue.”

One horse who certainly has no issue with Ascot is Anthony Honeyball’s veteran Regal Encore.

He may turn 13 in a few weeks and have been competing at a high level since finishing second in the 2013 Champion Bumper to Briar Hill, but he showed first time out this season he is no back number yet.

Regal Encore was winning at Ascot for the fourth time and while he was pulled up in the Ladbrokes Trophy, that can almost be forgotten now he is back at his favourite hunting ground.

Dan Skelton’s Ardlethen was another to run in the Ladbrokes Trophy, finishing sixth, but the Alcester handler believes he will benefit for a return to a softer surface.

“I think a bit slower ground than he encountered at Newbury is better for him,” said Skelton.

“It was a nice run at Newbury. It’s a competitive race, but he goes in soft ground and has got a lower weight than others.

“I think you’ve got to give him some sort of chance, for sure.”

Other interesting contenders are Venetia Williams’ Espoir De Guye, who tries three miles for the first time, Jonjo O’Neill’s Quarenta and Sophie Leech’s French recruit Enfant Roi.

Bridgwater has Cheltenham in mind for Barnaviddaun

Barnaviddaun, who won the Brown Lad Handicap Hurdle for Tom Mullins recently, has joined David Bridgwater.

The seven-year-old had previously gone close in the EBF Auction Final at Punchestown, saved from that course’s big spring festival.

His new trainer is hoping the Cheltenham Festival beckons in March before a novice-chase campaign next season.

“He won a nice race last time out, and I’m hoping he might end up in either the Coral Cup or the Pertemps Final,” said Bridgwater.

“To be honest, we’ve never been a handicap hurdle yard – we’re known for novice chasers really – so to have a horse like him who might end up at Cheltenham is fantastic.

“I’m not thinking we’re going to go and win it or improve him off Tom Mullins or anything daft, but it would be nice to get him to Cheltenham.

“The reason we bought him is because I want him as a three-mile chaser for next year, that’s what we’re after. We’ll look after him until then really.

“We’ve bought him for an existing owner in the yard. We can’t afford to go and buy these pointers that fetch stupid money – I’d rather go down the route of those who have already shown some form.”

Ascot on agenda for The Conditional

David Bridgwater has next month’s Dave Dawes Silver Cup at Ascot in mind for The Conditional, after he was placed in the Ladbrokes Trophy for the second successive year.

A Cheltenham Festival winner in March, The Conditional was running off a 9lb higher mark on Saturday than 12 months ago but once again ran with great credit – travelling as well as anything for jockey Brendan Powell until the second-last fence when, like everyone, he was left in Cloth Cap’s wake.

Bridgwater has the Grand National in mind for him this season but will not pass up the right opportunity beforehand if he thinks it presents itself.

“It was a good effort – almost a career-best, for the time being anyway,” said Bridgwater.

The Conditional (red hat) jumps the last still in touch with Cloth Cap
The Conditional (red cap) jumps the last still in touch with Cloth Cap (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“He was running against good horses who were hard fit, and we’d just had some minor problems – nothing serious, but things that stopped him cantering for a week, which catches up with you in these races.

“He jumped the ditch, and Brendan just felt him go, and he had he blow, but he kept going. I even thought at the second last we were going to win.”

Bridgwater’s previous flag bearer was The Giant Bolster, who finished in the first four in three Cheltenham Gold Cups under Tom Scudamore – Cloth Cap’s jockey at the weekend.

“Tom gave the winner a great ride – he only had 10st and he sprinted away,” said Bridgwater.

“On good ground, they don’t stop in front.”

“If I’m honest Newbury probably doesn’t play to our strengths, because they don’t come back to you, especially when they are ridden by an assassin like Tom Scu!

“At Cheltenham and the stiffer tracks, it’s harder to do what he did – they don’t get away from you as much and they come back. Ours isn’t ungenuine, but I don’t think we want to hit the front two out or anything like that.

“Look, we’d have loved to have won, of course we would, but to finish third, having been second last year – and it was first time out this year – I thought he’d improved physically and I’m looking forward to his next run now.

“I don’t think we’ll go to Warwick. I don’t think that Classic Chase suited us last year – it didn’t work, so why go back? The only time he’ll go beyond three and a quarter miles is if and when he runs in the Grand National.

“He won’t run over hurdles, I’m not into all that – it’s just not cricket for me. There’s a nice race at Ascot on December 19. It’s normally worth £100,000, but it’s £60,000 this year. He’ll have an entry for that, and we’ll see how we get on.

“If you’ve got dozens of horses for these races you can pick and choose. But it was the same when we had the Bolster – we took every race as it comes.”

The Conditional taking direct route to Trophy date at Newbury

David Bridgwater hopes The Conditional is still improving as he prepares to try to go one better than last year with victory in this month’s Ladbrokes Trophy.

Bridgwater has deliberately chosen to keep the eight-year-old fresh and head for Newbury’s big handicap first time out.

Twelve months ago, The Conditional had already run twice for Bridgwater following his arrival from Ireland last season, when he outran his odds to finish a close second to De Rasher Counter.

The Conditional (left) had to settle for second in last year's Ladbrokes Trophy
The Conditional (left) had to settle for second in last year’s Ladbrokes Trophy (Nigel French/PA)

The Cotswolds trainer then took him to Warwick in the new year, and believes it was the track rather than a move up to three miles and five furlongs that contributed to his defeat there.

The Conditional concluded his successful campaign with victory at the Cheltenham Festival, in the Ultima Handicap Chase, and Bridgwater is optimistic there should be plenty more to come this season.

“That’s the plan,” he said, confirming a long-term intention to head straight to the Ladbrokes Trophy without a prep run this time.

“I don’t abuse them anyway – and he goes well fresh.”

Bridgwater reports The Conditional to be thriving after the Covid-19 lockdown provided him with a longer rest than intended since his Festival success in March.

“He’s definitely a bigger, rounder type of horse,” he added.

“When we (first) had him, he was quite a tall and lean horse really.

“But with the summer he’s had out, he’s come back in twice the size.

“Whether that means he’s twice as good, or a little bit better, I don’t know. (But) he’s certainly a different shape anyway.”

David Bridgwater (left) hopes The Conditional can spark more celebrations this season
David Bridgwater (left) hopes The Conditional can spark more celebrations this season (PA)

Bridgwater is convinced another big spring prize was within his grasp, if the pandemic had not intervened.

“After Cheltenham, if racing had continued, we’d have run him again – and he’d have won again, because he’d come forward so much,” he said.

“But racing was shut down, and that was it.”

He also believes that although The Conditional weakened into a well-beaten fifth at Warwick, it was an invaluable learning experience for horse, trainer and jockey Brendan Powell, who was then on board for Festival success.

“If we hadn’t run him at Warwick, we wouldn’t have won at Cheltenham,” he said.

“Brendan and I learned a lot (at Warwick).

“The (longer) trip’s not a problem. (But) the course probably didn’t suit him – the fences come quick, and Brendan was probably asking him a little bit too early, and it was just one of those races that didn’t pan out for us really.

“But I’m glad we ran, because we wouldn’t be where we are now otherwise.”

The Conditional is currently favourite with some bookmakers for the Ladbrokes Trophy after Topofthegame was ruled out for the season.

Early NH Season, Part 2

A few weeks ago, my last article focused on National Hunt trainers who fly out of the gates in the autumn, writes Jon Shenton.   When compiling data and researching angles for that edition there were a few other areas of interest which I’d like to touch on today.

A key aspect that was considered for the aforementioned piece was evaluating where trainers had a runner returning to the track after an absence of more than 180 days, or about 6 months.  The thinking is that some trainers will have horses wound up and ready to go after a summer absence, while others’ animals generally come on for a run, taking a long-term view of the season ahead.

The below graph shows the total volume of runners returning to the track after a layoff of that magnitude.  Clearly, now is a good time to dive into which trainers are ready to go or otherwise.  As can be seen, we are in peak season for long absence returners.

Graph illustrating number of horses returning to the track after a break of 181+ days, since 2010, by month

 

Bargepoles and Scary data

My general approach is to always try and provide a few pointers to find a reasonable return over the medium to long term.  However, there is definite value in identifying horses through which to strike a line: data for those inclined to lay in other words.

The first stop is what I’d uncharitably term a ‘bargepole list’. The table below comprises of trainer records in terms of horses making a reappearance after more than 180 days off the track.  50 runs is the minimum level for inclusion and I have sorted in reverse A/E, accounting for all runs from the start of 2010 onwards.

 

Trainer performance for all runners from 2010 where the horse last ran 181+ days previously

Trainer Runs Wins Win% P/L(SP) Place% ROI(SP) A/E
Jewell, Mrs L C 51 0 0.0 -51.0 5.9 -100.0 0
Menzies, Rebecca 52 0 0.0 -52.0 11.5 -100.0 0
Young, Mrs L J 62 0 0.0 -62.0 11.3 -100.0 0
Carroll, A W 81 1 1.2 -72.0 11.1 -88.9 0.17
Stephens, Robert 56 1 1.8 -39.0 17.9 -69.6 0.24
Newton-Smith, A M 51 1 2.0 -40.0 11.8 -78.4 0.25
Dennis, David 73 2 2.7 -61.8 12.3 -84.7 0.3
Wintle, A 57 1 1.8 -48.0 10.5 -84.2 0.31
Brennan, F J 55 1 1.8 -26.0 10.9 -47.3 0.34
Henderson, P 79 2 2.5 -63.0 12.7 -79.8 0.37
Dyson, Miss C 99 2 2.0 -71.0 9.1 -71.7 0.37
Easterby, T D 62 3 4.8 -36.3 22.6 -58.5 0.37
Thompson, V 53 1 1.9 -44.0 11.3 -83.0 0.38
Davison, Miss Z C 57 1 1.8 -36.0 10.5 -63.2 0.41
Normile, Mrs L B 67 1 1.5 -54.0 9.0 -80.6 0.43
Goldie, J S 68 3 4.4 -42.0 19.1 -61.8 0.44
Candlish, Jennie 129 5 3.9 -90.5 22.5 -70.2 0.47
Frost, J D 76 2 2.6 -37.0 7.9 -48.7 0.47
Bewley, G T 62 3 4.8 -42.8 27.4 -69.0 0.49

 

That’s a combined 30 wins from 1290 attempts with a A/E performance on average of 0.30.  Ordinarily I’d like to keep table data to a top 10 or so, but in this case, it felt a bit like a civic duty to share it all!

It goes without saying that if you’re backing a runner from these stables under these conditions that you need a very compelling reason to argue against the data. Obviously, it doesn’t mean that they can’t win – and horse can win any race – and, as ever, sample sizes are sub-optimal. Treating all of these stable runners with caution under these circumstances is advised.

The yards contained on the bargepole list are generally of the small/mid-range in terms of size.  Of greater interest may be to evaluate some of the household names of the game with the same conditions applied.  The table below contains larger outfits (100+ runs and not included in the first list above).  All have A/E rates of 0.8 or lower for horses where they are absent from competitive racing beyond the 180 days limit.

 

Trainer performance for all runners since 2010 where the horse last ran over 180 days previously (min. 100 runs at A/E less than 0.8)

Trainer Runs Wins Win% P/L(SP) Place% ROI(SP) A/E
Gordon, C 110 5 4.6 -48.1 18.2 -43.8 0.51
Webber, P R 188 8 4.3 -104.5 17.6 -55.6 0.51
Keighley, M 145 9 6.2 -61.6 22.1 -42.5 0.51
Dobbin, Mrs R 127 7 5.5 -83.0 21.3 -65.4 0.58
Williams, Ian 180 13 7.2 -72.5 25.0 -40.3 0.59
Hammond, Micky 110 5 4.6 -75.2 14.6 -68.3 0.59
Smith, Mrs S J 308 24 7.8 -104.2 26.3 -33.8 0.65
Russell, Lucinda V 332 27 8.1 -147.5 27.4 -44.4 0.66
Richards, N G 220 24 10.9 -68.5 35.0 -31.2 0.67
Hill, Lawney 120 10 8.3 -41.1 24.2 -34.3 0.67
Down, C J 106 4 3.8 3.5 17.9 3.3 0.67
Case, B I 102 6 5.9 -34.2 22.6 -33.5 0.7
Phillips, R T 115 5 4.4 -53.0 19.1 -46.1 0.71
Wade, J 166 10 6.0 -76.3 22.9 -45.9 0.72
Alexander, N W 169 12 7.1 -84.1 20.1 -49.7 0.73
Greatrex, W J 250 40 16.0 -106.7 37.2 -42.7 0.73
Wadham, Mrs L 118 13 11.0 -6.3 31.4 -5.3 0.74
Jefferson, J M* 163 20 12.3 -63.5 33.7 -39.0 0.75
Mullins, J W 175 11 6.3 -70.5 19.4 -40.3 0.76
Bailey, Caroline 100 7 7.0 -34.8 22.0 -34.8 0.77
Moore, G L 317 32 10.1 -144.1 24.6 -45.5 0.79
Dickin, R 116 7 6.0 -41.3 17.2 -35.6 0.79

*J M Jefferson yard now overseen by daughter, Ruth. It remains to be seen whether she adopts the same patient approach

 

A lot of these are undoubtedly considered elite level exponents of the training game.  They all will have short priced horses making their seasonal reappearance right about now.   Across the board the win strike rate is a moderate 8%.

On a personal level, awareness of this data has resulted in a modification of my betting habits over the last few weeks.  Sure, sometimes using intel such as this will leave you kicking yourself as you leave a winner out but it’s all about getting a few more right than wrong in the long-term.

 

Winter Sunshine

Enough with the negativity. Let’s find a few rays of winter sunshine. Using the same 180 days off the track criteria with the addition of only considering runners at an SP of 20/1 or less (to prevent one or two big winners skewing the data) I’ve curated the following, more optimistic, data set.  This time I’ve sorted by ROI: bottom line profit is the ultimate goal after all. To qualify for the winter sunshine list at least 50 runs are required, a minimum of a 10% ROI at SP and a minimum of a 10%-win rate.

 

Trainer performance for all runners since 2010, 180+ days layoff, SP 20/1 or shorter

Trainers Runs Wins Win% P/L(SP) Place% ROI(SP) A/E
Bridgwater, D G 98 21 21.4 53.7 41.8 54.8 1.47
Easterby, M W 51 11 21.6 24.9 35.3 48.8 1.65
Hales, A M 74 12 16.2 34.0 35.1 46.0 1.42
Pauling, Ben 100 25 25.0 37.6 45.0 37.6 1.24
Honeyball, A J 119 26 21.9 41.2 43.7 34.6 1.14
Walford, Robert 59 10 17.0 18.9 30.5 32.0 1.33
Scott, J 118 20 17.0 30.4 39.8 25.8 1.23
Symonds, Tom 64 10 15.6 13.6 43.8 21.2 1.09
Williams, Evan 339 60 17.7 64.0 39.2 18.9 1.07
Scudamore, M J 74 11 14.9 13.3 35.1 17.9 1.27
Leech, Mrs S 74 10 13.5 12.8 27.0 17.2 1.14
OBrien, Fergal 189 38 20.1 29.7 42.3 15.7 1.12
Dartnall, V R A 119 19 16.0 15.8 40.3 13.2 1.09

 

A much more interesting set of results for backers, all pretty positive and all worth further investigation.  As usual it’d be remiss not to have a quick dive into the most profitable on the list, in this case the Cotswolds-based trainer, David Bridgwater.

 

David Bridgwater runners after a break of 180+ days, SP 20/1 or shorter by year

Year Runs Wins Win% P/L(SP) Place% ROI(SP) A/E
ALL 98 21 21.4 53.7 41.8 54.8 1.47
2018 7 2 28.6 19.0 71.4 271.4 2.41
2017 3 1 33.3 2.0 66.7 66.7 1.18
2016 13 1 7.7 -7.0 23.1 -53.9 0.71
2015 25 8 32.0 15.0 44.0 59.9 1.65
2014 15 2 13.3 0.5 40.0 3.3 1
2013 20 3 15.0 20.0 35.0 100.0 1.4
2012 6 1 16.7 -2.0 16.7 -33.3 1.23
2011 6 2 33.3 5.8 66.7 95.8 2.27
2010 3 1 33.3 0.5 66.7 16.7 1.89

 

Judged on this criterion, “Bridgie” has clearly peaked between 2013-2015 in terms of volume. However, he still appears to get his horses primed after a layoff these days, just in lower numbers.   Perhaps the increased activity during the peak years were as a result of his stable star The Giant Bolster finishing 2nd, 4th and 3rd in consecutive Gold Cup’s at Prestbury Park, thus raising the profile of the operation.  Delving slightly deeper into the data the performance is strong in the rank and file classes of NH racing (4 and 5), with 19 winners from 70 runs, ROI of 106% at SP. That’s probably an angle to keep in the back of your mind I suspect, rather than to follow blindly.

Picking another yard in a semi-random way (as I have an affinity for them) let’s check the Ben Pauling outfit. Willoughby Court signalled a change in fortunes with regard to my woeful Cheltenham Festival record back in 2017 and I’ve been following them ever since that momentous occasion.  The expanding yard is coming off the back of its most successful season and is clearly going in the right direction.

The beauty (or one of them) of evaluating data such as this is that it can act as a gateway into a deeper understanding of a trainer, generating a different angle or view to what was initially expected.  Let me illustrate:

Pauling’s 25 wins from 100 with a 37% ROI looks overwhelmingly positive (and it is), however, here is the breakdown by month 

Ben Pauling runners with 180+ off the track at SP of 20/1 or shorter by month

Month Runs Wins Win% P/L(SP) Place% ROI(SP) A/E
January 4 1 25.0 9.0 50.0 225.0 2.08
February 4 0 0.0 -4.0 0.0 -100.0 0
May 5 2 40.0 -1.0 40.0 -20.0 1.3
June 3 0 0.0 -3.0 66.7 -100.0 0
July 1 0 0.0 -1.0 0.0 -100.0 0
October 20 1 5.0 -14.0 35.0 -70.0 0.27
November 46 13 28.3 11.2 50.0 24.4 1.31
December 17 8 47.1 40.4 52.9 237.5 2.31

 

Look at October in relation to November and December.  They are pretty powerful numbers (small sample small-print applies).  In fact, they’re so powerful I have the strong inclination to check all of Pauling’s runners, irrespective of whether they’ve had over 180 days rest or not.  The graph below shows the split of profit and loss by month for all of the stable’s runners at 20/1 or shorter.

 

Ben Pauling P&L performance by month for all NH runners at 20/1 or shorter from 2010 onwards

 

The first thing to say is that the trend from the 180+ data is very much a representation of the whole yard’s performance.  Backing every Pauling entry during November and December appears to be a very promising area in which to potentially invest the kid’s university funds.  The whole stable appears to go into overdrive as we get towards the dying embers of the calendar year.

As a final and potentially arbitrary step, the Pauling record in Nov/Dec with fillies and mares is very poor with just one win from 28 runs.   Checking the overall year-round performance with the fairer sex there have been a skinny 5 wins from 68 runs, losing over 70% of funds invested.  As a result, I’ll happily exclude fillies and mares from the angle: training these has unique and different challenges, so exclusion can, I feel, be justified. That leaves the overall angle performance as per the table below.

 

Ben Pauling November/December male runners by year with, SP of 20/1 or shorter

Year Runs Wins Win% P/L (SP) Place% ROI(SP) A/E
ALL 205 56 27.3 104.7 46.8 51.1 1.35
2018 5 1 20.0 0.0 40.0 0.0 1.75
2017 72 18 25.0 14.2 47.2 19.7 1.17
2016 56 13 23.2 2.1 41.1 3.8 1.17
2015 36 15 41.7 54.3 52.8 150.8 1.72
2014 31 8 25.8 35.1 51.6 113.3 1.57
2013 5 1 20.0 -1.0 40.0 -20.0 1.56

 

In summary, backing Pauling male runners in November and December at 20/1 or shorter returns 51% to SP with a healthy strike rate of over 27%.  Maybe the market is catching up and pickings have certainly been slimmer over the past year or two.   Having said that, the yard is definitely still one to keep close to your thoughts as soon as we move into November.

Another trainer from the Winter Sunshine list, this time entirely based on volume, is Evan Williams.  The Vale of Glamorgan handler has delivered 50+ National Hunt winners every year since 2010 and is on track to do so again in 2018.

There is little doubt that this is an operation that gear themselves to getting horses out fresh and ready in October and November.   Using the P&L graph again, below is the distribution.

Evan Williams P&L performance by month for all runners 180+ days off the track, 20/1 or shorter, since 2010

 

A nice profit has been gleaned in the focus months; unlike Pauling, however, there are other potential periods of interest. Also, whilst the Pauling yard is historically flying with all runners in months 10 and 11 there is a clear distinction in Williams’ stable between fresh and already active animals.

 

Evan Williams Oct & Nov runners by month from 2010 by days since last run, SP 20/1 or shorter

Days since LR Runs Wins Win% P/L(SP) ROI
180 days or less 456 78 17.1% -84.0 -18.4
181 days or more 190 45 23.7% 84.4 44.4

 

As a result, we only want to consider the fresh horses from the yard, even though performance for the other horses is far from terrible.

If we want to sharpen up further, the trainer hasn’t had a victorious horse at odds of greater than 16/1 from 11 runs in this dataset.  There might be a big one out there though, as always, it’s personal choice in terms of appetite for risk and reward.

In summary, backing all Williams charges with over 180 days off the track in Oct/Nov at 16/1 or less would yield 53% at SP, delivering £95 profit from a £1 level stake.

I’m fully aware that October is in the rear-view mirror in 2018.  However, this year the stable was exceptionally quiet during the month in terms of qualifiers, finishing with a record of 0/5.  My guess would be that the exceptionally dry summer and autumn may be pushing this (and other) yard’s general routines back a few weeks, patiently waiting for winter ground.  If that is the case, then Team Williams may burst into life as the squad start hitting the course over the next few weeks.

Obviously, it doesn’t always work like that, it’s just part of the evolving punting puzzle that we all know and love.

Good luck!

 - Jon Shenton