In a recent survey, you told us you were less interested in ante-post tipping articles and more interested in trainer profiles. That's music to my ears personally, and I'm delighted to oblige (though I know a few will be disappointed by the change of tack).
To kick things off, I thought we'd have a rummage through perma-champ Nicky Henderson's back catalogue in search of profitable angles. The challenge, of course, with such a high profile name is that little is lost on the market; that is subtly different however from nothing being lost on the market, so enough with the defeatism and out with the metaphorical shovel.
Jon Shenton has set a very high bar with his beautiful data visualisation - as well as killer insights - in these previous trainer profiles, and I will try to carry the baton with a degree of dexterity... or at least not drop it. Hopefully Jon will return with further contributions later in the year, but for now it's me. My intention is to create a loose template which provides for both a set of fairly generic pointers but also some 'off road' insights. The latter will usually be where the good stuff lurks.
Nicky Henderson Brief Bio
Born in 1950, Nicholas John Henderson was educated at Eton and began his training career in 1978 having previously ridden as an amateur and served his training apprenticeship with the legendary Fred Winter.
Henderson has been based at Seven Barrows in Lambourn throughout most of his training career, after starting out, I'm told, at Windows House; and has won the Champion Trainer title six times spanning 26 years between the first (1993/4) and most recent (2019/20).
During his more than forty years with a licence, Henderson has (according to wikipedia) saddled 70 Cheltenham Festival winners, second only to arch nemesis Willie Mullins on that scale, and a haul which includes multiple victories in all of the major Championship contests. He will head to Gloucestershire in March with high hopes again, spearheaded by the brilliant two-mile chaser, Shishkin.
Nicky Henderson Overall Record 2009-2021
During the period covered by our database, Henderson has been remarkably consistent and has recorded a win strike rate of greater than 20% throughout. It may be worth noting that the most recent full year, 2021, saw his lowest annual strike rate and, though it is very early days in 2022, Nicky is operating at about 18%.
We can see in the chart below how the each way percentage line follows the same slightly downward trajectory in recent years as the win line.
More materially from a betting perspective, pure profit and loss figures - and the A/E indicators - are not numbers about which to get excited. That's as far from a shock headline as anything a racing dataset could reveal given the prominence and longevity of Henderson in the training ranks. So let's dig more deeply in search of, I hope, some genuine insight...
Nicky Henderson Performance, by Race Distance
It is often mentioned that the one glaring omission from Nicky Henderson's lustrous palmarès is the Grand National. The reality is that he has a far less impressive record over staying distances than trips up to an extended three miles; indeed he has very few runners over longer ranges - just 3% of those saddled were set to travel beyond 3m1f.
The likes of Sprinter Sacre, Altior and Shishkin are demonstrations of Henderson's prowess in the speed division. Though that trio were all Champion Chasers (or -elect, in the case of Shishkin), they also each contested the Supreme Novices' over hurdles: the latter pair won while Sprinter Sacre was 'only' third. The point is that Henderson majors with fast National Hunt horses in the main.
Those columns to the right may be the most interesting for us punters revealing that, across almost 7000 runners, NJH has managed to return a small profit at Betfair odds. The sample is plenty big enough to slice and dice further, as we shall in due course.
Nicky Henderson Performance, by Starting Price
The market is the most consistently reliable barometer of a horse's chance. In the case of Seven Barrows runners, they've stayed incredibly close to break even at prices up to 2/1, from nearly 2100 runners. Predictably, then, a small profit could have been chiselled on 'the machine' for those with sufficient foresight; and early prices with the Best Odds Guaranteed concession would likely have yielded a quid or three more.
[Across 13 full years, that's an average SP loss of less than 3 points per year - hardly terminal for those who like to stay in the game - and compares very favourably with an overall UK NH ROI of -6.24% for horses priced 2/1 or shorter]
Nicky Henderson Performance, by Handicap or Non-Handicap
Henderson is dealing largely with the better class of animal and, as such, most of his runners are in non-handicap races, as the table below illustrates.
His strike rate in non-handicaps of better than 31% is remarkable given that the average number of runners in UK National Hunt non-handicaps since 2009 is around 8.45 (and therefore overall strike rate is less than 12%). In spite of the outstanding winner-getting ability of Nicky in non-handicaps, as an approach it is poor house material: an SP ROI of more than 12% in the hole, and worse than 3% down at exchange prices.
Handicaps are a different story. Here, we punters are asked to trade regular winners for the chance of a profit; and that is a microcosm of the game as a whole: do we want winners, or profit? A bit of both would be nice, so this near 14% hit rate allied to a better than 7% ROI at exchange prices (a chunky 10% deficit at SP - who still bets at SP?!) is another interesting facet.
Delving into that a little more deeply, the next table shows performance by number of (NH) handicap starts. So, for example, the first row - '0' - is how Henderson inmates have fared on their first National Hunt handicap outing, i.e. zero prior NH handicap starts. It paints a fascinating picture.
Here we have one of the pre-eminent trainers of his generation, profitable to follow blindly at SP with his handicap debutants!
There were some losing years in the sample (seven at SP, three at exchange prices), but nothing of grave concern; and recent performance offers hope that the gravy boat is not yet empty, though it may be stalling through a dining table doldrums (not sure that analogy works...).
More generally, following Henderson horses on their first five runs in handicap company has paid off on the exchanges.
The more fearless readers may like to note that backing only the subset of these horses sent off at 10/1 or greater has reaped an exchange ROI of 58.55% (376.45 points on 643 bets).
Before you contemplate pawning the proverbial granny, keep in mind that a) the strike rate has been a lowly c.8%, leading to b) a longest losing run of 40 (and further losing spins of 37, 31, 30, 29, 28, 27, 26, 21 twice and on), and c) it is not always possible to know whether a horse will meet an odds threshold. Oh, and d) the odds threshold was arbitrary/convenient in any case.
Nevertheless, even with more caveats than my old mate the dyslexic tie seller, there is nourishment in the above. Not to wager religiously, but to be aware of when pondering a handicap with an unexposed Hendo at a price.
Nicky Henderson Performance, by National Hunt Race Code
The majority of Nicky Henderson's National Hunt runners are in hurdle races, almost exactly 60% of them to be (nearly) precise. Although it may look a bit lop-sided that's actually broadly in line with the overall ratio of hurdle runners compared with chasers and bumper starters. [That surprised me though, on reflection, it probably shouldn't have]
We again see a clear front-runner in betting performance terms; Hendo's hurdlers win one in four, which is about two-and-a-half times above the normal frequency and, while a negative 7% ROI at SP is no good, once more there is exchange jam on the wagering bread.
A Nicky Henderson Markup Combo
A number of the angles mentioned thus far are what might be called 'mark ups'. That is, they're not necessarily profitable to follow blindly, but they are a starting point to being on the right track. And they can be stacked up, like so...
We have seen that the Henderson yard seems to perform best at distances up to around three miles, and is a little under-estimated by the market with hurdlers and in handicaps, particularly those with limited (or no) previous handicap convictions to their name and/or at a price. So let's make that a 'system'.
- Nicky Henderson hurdlers at up to and including three miles on any of their first five attempts in a NH handicap
That angle, predominantly rooted in Seven Barrows logic, would have secured a miniscule 37 point profit on 1313 bets at SP; but rewards would have been considerably more substantial at early BOG prices. Exchange returns amounted to a strong 306 points (23% ROI).
If you had the stomach to only bet the longer-priced ones (10/1 and up), those figures become 40 winners from 425 runners (9.41%) for an SP return of 194 points (45.65% ROI) and an exchange tally of a whopping 381.71 points (89.81% ROI).
Now, clearly, there is a degree of retro-fit about this, as there always inevitably is with racing data analysis. But these are not best fit numbers; instead, they are based on the supersets shared earlier. [Profits were available from odds of about 15/2 and up, not just 10/1 and up; losses were made beyond 2m6f, not simply beyond three miles]
Another kicker on that angle...
Before closing, I'd like to introduce one more 'kicker' to the Nicky Henderson angle above. In my own generic research, triggered I should add from Jon Shenton's excellent earlier work, I've noted that horses which were unplaced last time are somewhat under-bet. So, when I find an angle that shows promise, it is often the case that the promise is amplified if focusing on those finishing off the podium the last day.
Adding 'unplaced last time out' to Nicky Henderson handicap hurdlers at up to and including three miles on any of their first five attempts in a NH handicap revises the bottom line thus:
122 wins from 781 runs (15.62% strike rate) and a starting price profit of 174.84 points (ROI of 22.4%). At exchange prices, that improves to 385 points and an ROI of nearly 50%.
This angle was profitable in four of the last five years at SP and all of the last five at exchange odds, and is in profit on both in 2022. And, for the purists, you can ditch the distance parameter as well as the odds range if you like; the bottom line is virtually unchanged (and is enhanced, rather inconveniently as I've only just finished the research, by 7/1 winner Scarpia this afternoon).
Nicky Henderson Profile Summary
There are lots of ways to isolate profitable approaches with even the highest profile trainers once you start looking. I hope this piece on the Master of Seven Barrows underscores that.
A great place to start looking is our Profiler tab, which Gold users will find on every racecard (and registered free users on every Race of the Day - register here if you need to).
Select the TRAINER option on there (or SIRE or JOCKEY), choose a few filters at the top (or not) and a date range, and away you go.
After that, you might want to graduate to Query Tool where you can really get stuck into some detail. And, once you find something you like, you can save it as a QT Angle meaning qualifiers will appear both on the racecard and in the QT Angles report which is unique and specific to you.