Stat of the Day: 17th Dec 2011

Stat of the Day

Stat of the Day

Stat of the Day: 17th December 2011

Avoiding the temptation to put up Big Buck's (winner of the Long Walk Hurdle for the last two years, but 1-3 favourite!), I'm going to put my head in the lion's mouth, and take a peek at the...

Ascot 3.35

A seventeen runner Listed handicap hurdle may not seem like the soundest wagering conveyance (and may also prove not to be!), but I think there is some value in a stats angle here.

Nicky Henderson loves this pot, and has bagged it three times in the last seven renewals. He's also saddled a second and a third in that time. Henderson's overall record at the track is impeccable, and he has two entered here: Gibb River and Radjhani Express.

Whilst four-year-olds have hit the woodwork a few times in this contest, they've yet to win, and that puts me off Radhjhani Express and a number of others including topweight Brampour and fancied Irish raider, Sailors Warn. (Despite the excellent record of Irish raiders in British handicap hurdles, they've yet to win this).

Gibb River on the other hand is a 5yo - like five of the last eight winners - and comes here off the back of a fine 3rd in a similar class and trip contest. The easier track should suit, and if he acts on the ground, he looks a very good each way play at around 9/1.

Click here for the latest betting on the 3.35 Ascot.

A Bookie Bonus to take to the Bank!

Magen's Star might be value against Cue Card

Magen's Star might be value against Cue Card

It's just one week until the Cheltenham Festival starts next Tuesday, dear reader, and - unless you've been living under a rock - you'll have started to formulate some views on who might come home in front in at least a few of the 27 races held during the meeting.

This is also the time when the bookmakers traditionally offer more value than usual. For instance, who can ever remember William Hill being best price on most horses at the top of the market?! Well, they are now. Shunning the bonus culture which most of their competitors have adopted, Hills have embraced the simple mantra of 'back your horse at the best odds here'.

Totally fair enough, and let's give credit where it's due. I do rarely give credit to Hills because they are generally tight as the proverbial when it comes to their odds.

One thing that lets them down currently, and here we probably can't have our ante-post cake and eat it, is that they are not going non-runner no bet (NRNB) yet on all races.

A few firms are offering this concession now, which as I mentioned last week, is great if you fancy one that has multiple entries. But one really good concession, which obviously worked for them last year as they've repeated the dose this time, is Paddy Power's money back if Cue Card wins offer.

PP's offer is this: back any horse you like in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and if Cue Card wins, you'll get your money back. So, if you backed Gibb River for instance, you'd have that one running for you.

If Gibb River finished nowhere, but Cue Card won, you'd get your money back on the Gibb River bet.

The 'only' way you can lose with this bet is if both your selection and Cue Card fail to win. I say 'only' because of course there's a good chance of that happening!

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But having a 2/1 chance in your corner definitely adds a lot of value to any other horse you might back.

My initial 2011 Supreme Novices Hurdle thoughts were posted here:

Since then, not too much has happened to change my mind, and I still think Gibb River offers good value at a reasonable price, because this race does tend to be won by one of the numerous improvers in the field. Cue Card has shown a very high level of form, but is more exposed than some in the field, such as Gibb River.

This is the trend from previous years.

With that in mind, and all of the other lines of consideration from the previous post, my three against the field are Gibb River, for reasons already mentioned (another facile win since the first post has proved nothing except he remains of huge potential); Magen's Star, from Tom Stack's yard (she may just want it softer so the fact that Paddy Power offer non-runner no bet insures against that - she's also in the Mares' Hurdle, but we're covered by NRNB also if she goes that route); and, Rathlin (bolted up last time in a decent race, and has huge scope for improvement).

Best odds are Gibb River 20/1 (the same price with PP); Magen's Star (40/1 totesport, NRNB; 28/1 PP); and Rathlin (66/1 VC; 50/1 PP NRNB).

Obviously, the best known form is Cue Card's. So if nothing improves past him, he will likely win. I watched his defeat by Menorah this morning and he pulled very hard early on. If he did that again, he'd find little at the end again, though he may not have to.

In any case, if he does win, you'll get your dough back on the others. At this point, I was planning to add my affiliate link here so that if you opened an account to take advantage of this Paddy Power offer, I'd get a small introductory fee.

But I can't find it, and I want you to avail yourself of this offer if you'd like to anyway!

So here is the non-affiliate link. Buy me a pint if your horse or Cue Card wins... 🙂

Stop press, I've just found my affiliate link. If you like the above offer and want to cut me in on the deal (!), click this blatant affiliate link here.



Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 2011 Preview

Supreme Novices Hurdle winner, Menorah

Supreme Novices Hurdle winner, Menorah

The first race of the Cheltenham Festival 2011 is the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, run over two miles and a half furlong, for horses aged four or older. In recent seasons it has been dominated by the Irish, so it is interesting to see that this year's ante-post lists contain a proliferation of British-trained horses at the head of affairs, with just the occasional Emerald Isle interloper.

Perhaps this presents an opportunity to find some value, and to give us a flying start for the toughest, funnest, bestest, four days racing anywhere in the World. [Hyperbole? Actually, no, I don't think so...]

Last season's Supreme winner, Menorah, bucked a couple of pretty strong trends, with his victory coming off the back of a runner up finish the time before and also given that he was trained in the UK.

Let's take a look at the Supreme Novices' key profile angles, and see if we can't pare down the ante-post lists to a likely candidate at a fat, juicy price to give us a ticket on which to weave a dream of a winning start to the 2011 Cheltenham Festival.

First up, I mentioned a couple of points in relation to Menorah: the Irish have dominated in recent years, bagging seven of the last ten runnings of the Supreme Novices. And, eight of the last ten (and twelve of the last fourteen) Supreme winners won last time out.

If we extend the last time out performance to previous winners' entire hurdling careers at that stage, it's interesting to note that seven out of the ten had never been out of the first two. That stat includes Menorah. So we might very well say that we're mostly interested in a last time out winner, but we'll consider runners up if they've never been out of the first two.

Five and six year old's rule supreme in the Supreme. Although Captain Cee Bee won as a 7yo in 2008, and Like-A-Butterfly as an 8yo in 2002, only five horses older than six or younger than five have claimed the Supreme Novices' glory since 1974.

A really interesting point - at least, I think it's interesting - is that half of the last ten winners had never won better than a Class 2 novice hurdle and, whilst there's a hatful of last time out winners claiming the spoils in the Supreme, only one horse - Brave Inca in 2004 - actually won a Grade 1 event last time out. In other words, I suspect that the Supreme Novices Hurdle is typically won by a horse who has been brought along gradually; one undoubtedly with more potential than it has thus far demonstrated; and, consequently, one which usually pays a better odds multiple than the favourite (who is normally the horse with the best public form).

Eight of the last ten winners had between two and four runs over hurdles, with one of the exceptions - Go Native - having had five hurdle starts in 2009. Too bad for Toubab, then, who has already had six starts, and actually only managed to win one of them.

Perhaps lending some credence to my 'hiding their light under a bushel' notion is the fact that, perversely perhaps, nine of the last ten winners of the Supreme Novices have failed to run a previous Topspeed figure above 126. Whilst it is obviously harsh to penalise a horse for performing to a higher level, this does suggest that each year the winner runs a good bit faster than they previously have.

Moreover, horses who have shown only slow races prior to turning up at Cheltenham on a Tuesday in mid-March, do not win the Supreme. The Topspeed bracket for winners' previous best speed figure has seven of them in a range between 107 and 126. For the purposes of this study, I have elected for a range of 105 to 130.

On the other hand, Racing Post Ratings have more clearly pointed to the potential of Supreme Novices winners, by recording a rating of 137+ against the names of eight subsequent winners prior to their Cleeve Hill success. Indeed, seven of those eight had notched a 143 or better.

Stallions preclude no runners, with an even split of jumps and flat sires amongst the last ten winners. But Irish bred horses hold the upper hand, having grabbed seven to UK bred runners' three wins in the last decade.

An interesting sidebar on breeding is that Frenchies have a moderate (at best) record, with just the exceptional Hors La Loi III (subsequently Champion Hurdler) winning for the French-bred's from 42 starters in the last fourteen years. He was a 9/2 chance...

My penultimate pointer is that ten of the last eleven Supreme Novices Hurdle winners had their final prep race within 45 days of lining up at Cheltenham. Given that there are currently 48 days until tapes up in the Cotswolds, I'm expecting the winner to have another run between now and then.

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Finally, and as a neat enough segue into this year's contenders, let's remind ourselves of the abominable record of Cheltenham Champion Bumper runners in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. I researched this last year when pondering the case of early 2010's Pegasus, Dunguib (where are they now?!).

He won the previous Champion Bumper in a similar fashion to Cue Card's rout last March. At that time, I mentioned that only Montelado had won both the Bumper and the Supreme Novices, making him the only horse ever to have won back-to-back Cheltenham Festival races. Of course, the Bumper is no longer that last race on the card, so Montelado will hold that unique position in history forever.

Casting aside the anorak momentarily, the material point in all this is that Montelado, way back in 1993, remains the only Bumper winner to have won the Supreme. AND... only Back In Front has joined him from the full casts of the previous year's Cheltenham Champion Bumper. Of course, these stats are made to be broken, but I'd be very cautious about piling into Cue Card at best odds of 5/2 in light of the above.

So, to the rest of this year's contenders and how they shape up against the profile we've created. It should be clear that there are currently more question marks in this puzzle than your average university entrance exam, and the ethereal nature of this conundrum is akin to the proverbial attempts to nail jelly to a wall. That's why those generous bookie types are still offering 14/1 bar two in the race! 🙂

Cue Card is a standout form horse at this stage, but may not have as much improvement as others (may not need any improvement). But... he is up against the Bumper stat. And... he might still go for a different race. And... he's highly unlikely to be shorter on the day given his unfashionable connections and the strings of 1's adorning many contenders' form lines cometh the hour.

So, politely decline the Cue Card for now, with a view to possibly taking a 3/1 saver on the day, should he turn up. (Remember the clamour to 'give Dunguib away' last year? Many bookies would pay you back if Dunguib won - I'm sure there will be some doing likewise this year).

Next in, and the only other in single figures is Ireland's leading light - according to the odds board at least - Zaidpour. He's a Frenchie, which doesn't preclude him from winning, but does put me off, given their weak overall record. He's done little else wrong, being beaten a fag paper in a muddling race last time, and he's entered in the Deloitte Novices, a Grade 1, on February 6th.

He'll be around 5/1 for the Supreme if he wins that, and both Brave Inca (2004) and Like-A-Butterfly (2002) won that prior to Supreme Novices glory. Still, I'm looking for value with so many unanswered questions at this stage, so my quest continues, into the deeper double-digit depths of the oddsmakers.

The third choice with some books is Backspin, who ranges from 12's to 14's where offered. On Betfair, he is a 45 shot, which bears reference to the fact that he's probably going to run in the longer Neptune Investments' hurdle. Apart from that, all his wins have been in slow times, and his Grade 1 victory may actually count against him in the context of the Supreme. No thanks from this quarter.

The Neptune may also be the preferred destination for Rock On Ruby, and indeed Minella Class as well.

This leaves Hidden Universe as the only other contender in the top six in the betting more likely to run in the Supreme than the Neptune. On that score alone, Skybet's 14/1 may appeal. Factor in his trainer's 'softly, softly' approach so far and he's tempting. But... he ran in last season's Champion Bumper, and he's yet to reach the requisite speed and form figures, albeit off just the one hurdle run.

Hidden Universe has two entries later this week, which will tell us more about the horse. On the basis of what he's achieved, his current price seems to factor in quite a lot of what he might be projected to do going forward. So, reluctantly, no thank you.

From the chasing pack of potential protagonists emerges Spirit Son. With just two runs, one of which was in France, he 'could be anything' (couldn't they all?!). Nicky Henderson has a pretty poor record in this race in recent years, and hasn't won since Flown in 1992, despite saddling plenty of fancied runners (including Binocular, Khyber Kim and Oscar Whisky in the last three years).

And he's a Frenchie with their accompanying poor record, and he's got more to prove on the ratings - which he likely will do.

I could go through the top 22 in the betting with cases for and against (as I have done in the document at the bottom of this post), but you might be getting bored of all this dessert decoration (jelly-nailing, if you prefer), so let me cut somewhat belatedly to the chase and tell you who I like at the prices and with all foregoing caveats in situ.

Prince Of Pirates, a Henderson inmate, was traveling as well as the leader, Al Ferof, when that one fell at odds on last time, and won cosily up Cheltenham's hill on his only hurdle start so far. As a McManus-owned horse, you can expect money for this one on the day should he line up. A possible but 33/1 is only fair in my view (57 on the Betfair site).

Gibb River may be yet another Henderson hoss, but he's had a very covert preparation so far. Two wins in Class 4 big fields at short prices offer hope that he's got more in the tank, and I'm very keen to see where he turns out next. The 25's generally (44 Betfair) looks worth a speculative couple of quid, as he's likely to be half those odds if winning next time.

Extremely Tentative Selection: Gibb River

Below is the 'working out', and below that, my current ante-post portfolio.


Supreme Novices Hurdle 2011 [Open Office Document - download Open Office free here.]

Supreme Novices Hurdle 2011 [Excel file]

Ante-Post ups and downs...

Ante-Post ups and downs...