As regular readers of these Punting Angles articles will know, most of the focus is on the staple diet of UK day to day racing, writes Jon Shenton. This is at least partially deliberate. Firstly, there is lots of it and therefore more data to crunch. Secondly, it makes at least some sense that higher class racing is watched more, tracked more closely, better understood and that it is consequently harder to find an edge from data. After all, there is wall to wall coverage of the big days and events.
Better late than never, it’s time for us to get involved in the upper echelons of the sport. For one or two editions it’s going to be less about Plumpton, Sedgefield and Southwell (with all due respect) and more about Cheltenham, Leopardstown and the like.
This article, the first of two, is solely focusing on Graded novice hurdle races, exuding the mares' programme. I will be evaluating most of the key dates in the calendar from Chepstow in October up to the festival at Cheltenham in March, with one eye on trying to find contenders for those mega spring festivals. This means events such as the Aintree and Punchestown festivals in April are not included.
To do this, I’ve pulled together data on Graded (Grade 1, 2 and 3) novice hurdles from both sides of the Irish Sea. In all honesty, the process has been quite a long one, and painstaking at times, manually checking race data and inputting it into a spreadsheet. However, it’s been a fantastic education and ultimately a rewarding exercise. Whilst there are no usual point and click recommendations, I hope it’s of some use in your punting: the process has certainly opened my eyes to the world of novice hurdling.
Approach and method
Don’t worry, it’s not a science paper! However, I do think it’s important to outline the process that I’ve used as a basis for much of this article.
To the best of my knowledge every Graded novice hurdle race since autumn 2015 (run in October to March of those years) has been evaluated to establish how runners performed over the subsequent 365-day period. That intel has then been pulled into a data table. Based on key criteria a rating has then been generated to measure the quality of that race based on the future results of participants.
It only includes data up to 16th January this year so doesn’t contain any of the races from the most recent weekend, the Rossington Main, for example.
An example using the Tolworth
Sandown's Grade 1 takes place in early January and was won by Fidderontheroof earlier this month. It is run over a 2-mile trip and the question I’m trying to answer objectively is whether the race form is worth following or not based on the recent history of the race. The below table shows a breakdown, by renewal, of the subsequent performance of all competing horses over a 90-day and 365-day period. Horseracebase has been used to obtain the data.
Hopefully the column names make at least a modicum of sense. But, to explain further, the columns numbered 90 and 365 relate to form for that length of time, in days, after the Tolworth was run. So for example, the 6 in the 90run column for 2019 means that there were 6 runs from horses that ran within 90 days of the Tolworth in that year, the next column (90win) illustrates the number of winners from those 6 runners, 90pl the number of places and so on. Already this table gives a flavour as to whether this may be a race to follow in general terms.
The second part of the standing data shown in the table is evaluating the quality of the future form in terms of wins and places over 365 days, the column headers have “365” titles for clarity.
It is of intrigue that by backing every Tolworth runner blind for 90 days after the race at SP you’d walk away with a profit of £26.20 to a £1 level stake, a 72% return! (The P&L numbers are marked in yellow)
Volume of wins and places is interesting, but it’s helpful and important to understand the quality of those victories. So again, evaluating the Tolworth form in terms of the breakdown of those W’s and P’s in relation to the class they have been attained in, the below table gives the split.
The table shows the number of subsequent runs in Graded races at any level (GPrun) then working across from left to right:
- G1W – number of G1 wins
- G2W – number of G2 wins
- G3W – you’ve guessed it, number of G3 wins
- OthrW – wins in all other classes (inc. Listed)
- G1PlOnly, G2PlOnly and G3PlOnly are the number of places attained in those grades, not inclusive of any winners
Summarising, the data paints a picture that, from 2015, there have been 49 runs from horses that competed in the Tolworth who then ran in Graded company during the following 365 days. Of those, there have been four Grade 1 wins, three at Grade 2, three at Grade 3 and the column OthrW represents 19 wins in Listed or lower classes.
For information, the G1 victories are;
- 2018 - Summerville Boy in the Supreme Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham
- 2017 – Finians Oscar in the Mersey Novices Hurdle at Aintree
- 2016 – Yorkhill in the Neptune (Ballymore) Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Mersey Novices Hurdle at Aintree
These three animals prevailed in the Tolworth, all progressing to festival success and rubber stamping it as a race to follow. You’d be right in thinking that fancy data is not required to confirm that the Grade 1 Tolworth is a strong contest. However, understanding how the race compares against other quality races in terms of future form is of potential interest.
To contemplate its relative strength against other events, finding a way to rate or score each race is required. As a result, a relatively straightforward race rating has been constructed to do the job. The race rating system is highly subjective and there is a strong suspicion that if a hundred people did it, no two individuals would do it in the same way! The exact method isn’t too important though, as the objective is to evaluate without bias which novice races are best to follow. A relatively simple (even with flaws) rating system still should give enough detail to be a bridge to further analysis.
Below is a breakdown of the ratings for the Tolworth, 2015 to 2020.
Here is a quick run-down of the columns and what they represent;
365%Score – this relates to the general quality of the race. It’s calculated in the following way.
(The Win % of the race form for 365 days) + (the Place % of the race form for 365 days divided by 3)
A real example, the 2019 has 3 winners and 8 places from 19 runs (data in the first table), resulting in a winning percentage of 15.8% and the place percentage of 42.1%. Therefore the 365%Sc is calculated as below
15.8 + (42.1/3) = 29.8. All scores are rounded to the nearest number. A minimum of 10 runners in each race is required to generate a rating.
GPWScore – this represents a rating generated from the subsequent winners over the next 365 days from each race. The scores are comprised of;
- Grade 1 win 10
- Grade 2 win 6
- Grade 3 win 3
- Other Win 1
GPPLScore – this is the score value generated from the placed horses (excluding winners) over the following 365 days
- Grade 1 place 3
- Grade 2 place 2
- Grade 3 place 1
GPScore = GPWScore + GPPLScore (i.e. a combined score from the win and place data)
RTNG = the overall rating for the race in question, adding 365%Score + GPSccore
RaceRNK – is the overall rank of the race in terms of quality from the 163 races evaluated. The lower the number the better.
Therefore, in the case of the Tolworth, the 2016, 17 and 18 renewals were relatively strong, with the 2016 renewal having the 7th best race rating in the dataset. 2015 and 2019 were disappointing with rankings of 122 and 97 respectively.
And that’s the process, fully transparent and easy to follow, I hope.
That’s quite a long scene set and explanation, but necessary in my view!
Onto the results...
Novice Hurdle Race Ratings
The below table is a consolidated summary of all of the analysed races from the years 2015 to present day and, as explained previously, only contests that have 10 or more subsequent runners are included in the data (the number of qualifying races is shown in the column titled QualR).
The table is sorted by the highest average rating of the race over the 5-year period.
There is unsurprisingly a large variance in quality based on subsequent 365-day form, from the Prestige, averaging a rating of 32.8, to the Chanelle Pharma, previously known as the Deloitte, averaging 96+ at the top of the pile.
It is at least mildly reassuring that the Grade 1’s feature in the higher end of the table in general. The Tolworth ranks in joint 7th confirming the view from the opening section that it’s a solid race to follow.
As someone who struggles to keep on top of the racing calendar and track the key movers and shakers, these data focus the mind. The bad news is that from here onwards there are no easy answers or instant takeaways: the only truly effective way to progress to a deeper understanding is good old-fashioned hard work and metaphorical elbow grease.
Having said that, interestingly, the 365P&L column shows in yellow where backing every subsequent runner from the events in question for 365 days post-race has been profitable to a level stake of £1 at SP. The fact there are so many is a pleasant surprise and worthy of more focus; there may be something to consider for building profitable angles, but ideally more than five years of race data would be needed to have the necessary confidence to invest.
For now, as a starter for ten, a quick dive into a couple of the prevalent races to follow seems a sensible path to follow.
Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle
This rating system shows that the Chanelle Pharma Novice hurdle (Deloitte until 2019) at Leopardstown is a clear and obvious winner with an average score of 96.2. That's higher than the second placed Cheltenham Classic Novices Hurdle by over 18 points! The Chanelle Pharma is now contested over a 2-mile trip since the newly-formed Dublin Racing Festival became reality in 2018 (it was previously run over 2m2f) and it is well known as a good pathfinder towards the Supreme and Ballymore in March.
This novice event has racked up 44 subsequent winners from 200 runs with a £1 level stake loss of £18 if you’d backed every one blind up to a year after the race.
Below is the view by renewal year, using the key columns described earlier. Immediately the eye is drawn to the RaceRNK column, confirming that this contest had the 1st (joint), 3rd and 6th best individual races in the novice sphere since 2015.
Significantly, 19 of those 44 wins were delivered in elite Grade 1 company. That’s a whole ten more than any other race on the list and obviously worth delving into.
On closer inspection, those 19 triumphs are attributable to 11 individual horses. Nicholls Canyon with 4 of the victories (from the 2015 renewal), Sharjah with 4 (2018), Le Richebourg (2018) & Petit Mouchoir (2016) with 2 each. With sole G1 wins secured by Klassical Dream (2019), Samcro (2018), Barcardys (2017), Bellshill & Coney Island (2016), Windsor Park & Identity Thief (2015).
Perhaps surprisingly, there are only a trio of same season Cheltenham Festival winners after competing in the Chanelle Pharma for the analysed races. Klassical Dream won the Supreme last year with the two other two Prestbury Park winners coming in the Ballymore, Samcro in 2018 and Windsor Park in 2015.
It is noted that the 2019 renewal has had a relatively disappointing outturn. The law of averages perhaps would nod to a better 2020 vintage.
The Ballymore Novices Hurdle (Classic Novices Hurdle)
The second race on the list by some distance is the Ballymore Novices Hurdle (Classic) run at Cheltenham on Trials Day, which is very much on the radar for the upcoming weekend. Arguably, this race is a better one for the trackers than its Leopardstown counterpart as it’s delivered a £1 level stake profit of £57, through backing all runners each time they took to the track over the subsequent 365-day period. That’s nearly a 36% return which seems utterly insane for 5 years-worth of renewals encompassing 159 total runners. Perhaps it is the fact that it’s a Grade 2 which may drive some of that potential future value. Whatever the reason it’s a race about which to sit up and take notice.
I’ve added the 365P&L column to this table showing the value of backing all runners blind at SP for each renewal of the race. This event has a solid feel in terms of consistency, and whilst there have been 12 fewer G1 wins than the Leopardstown race previously discussed, the overall number of winners is only one fewer at 43, from a much smaller number of runs too: 159 compared to 200 in the Chanelle Pharma. Each Classic renewal has generated its share of future winners, with the 2016 version being the cream of the crop with a RaceRNK of 7.
Considering it’s an event which occurs on Cheltenham Trials Day, a good starting point would be to check how horses go on to perform at the big event.
It’s no silver bullet based on the last five years' data, that’s for sure. Not a single winner has been drawn from this race at the Festival in the same year, although it must be stated that five years is not a significant sample size. Also, in fairness, the crossbar has been rattled several times with Yanworth and Black Op coming close in the Ballymore, and Santini, Champers on Ice and Wholestone hitting the frame in the longer distance Albert Bartlett. Black Op and Santini did go on to enjoy Grade 1 victory at the Aintree Festival a month or so later in the Mersey and Sefton respectively. Several horses have developed into Festival winners in future years too.
On the point of future winners, whilst trawling through the results it was very easy to spot some eye-catching names finishing in eye-watering places in this contest historically. It’s best represented by this result card from the 2015 renewal.
Whatever happened to some of those also-rans failing to complete or trailing in 60 or so lengths behind the winner (whatever happened to the winner too?!)?
Whilst it’s a stretch to claim this picture is typical there are a whole raft of horses in this event who go on win on much bigger stages, often chasing ones too. In no particular order, Topofthegame, Elegant Escape, Slate House, Poetic Rhythm, Royal Vacation, William Henry and, going back further, Whisper, Coneygree and The New One have all cut their teeth in this race. That is an impressive roll call, which bodes well for Birchdale, Brewin’upastorm and Jarvey’s Plate from the mildly disappointing up to now 2019 crop.
Originally, I planned to go into more detail, but the powder will have to remain dry for a second part (this is already too long!) where I’ll cover the potentially profitable races to follow in more detail; including analysis of a horse's next run only after competing in one of these Graded novice hurdles. I’ll also be evaluating the winners of the novice hurdles at Cheltenham to ascertain if there are any patterns linking back to the races included in this article.