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Art Power returning to scene of finest hour

Tim Easterby is eyeing a return to Ascot for his star sprinter Art Power.

The grey son of Dark Angel looked every inch a top-class sprinter in the making when dominating his rivals in handicap company at the Royal meeting in June – his fourth win from his first five starts.

He finished a disappointing sixth when well fancied for the Nunthorpe at York last month, but shaped better when fourth in the Sprint Cup at Haydock on his latest appearance.

Art Power has looked a top-class sprinter in the making
Art Power has looked a top-class sprinter in the making (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The Qipco British Champions Sprint on October 17 is next on Art Power’s agenda.

Easterby said: “He’s in good shape – he came out of Haydock well.

“I was very happy with how he ran at Haydock and it will be Ascot next for him, all being well.

“He’ll be a better horse next year as he’s still got some strengthening up to do.”

Fahey targets third Ayr Gold Cup with Mr Lupton

Mr Lupton is out to bag his second major prize in the space of a week in Saturday’s QTS Ayr Gold Cup.

Richard Fahey’s sprinter was rated as high as 113 at one stage of his career, but a fairly slow start to the current campaign saw him fall to a mark of 98.

A third-place finish in last month’s Great St Wilfrid at Ripon suggested he was on the way back and he continued his resurgence with victory in the lucrative “Bold Lad” Sprint Handicap on Irish Champions Weekend at the Curragh last Sunday.

With talented apprentice Billy Garritty booked for the ride to negate his 5lb penalty, Fahey is hopeful Mr Lupton can provide him with a third victory in this weekend’s Scottish showpiece following the previous triumphs of Fonthill Road (2006) and Don’t Touch (2015).

“He hasn’t done a lot since he came back from Ireland, just a couple of light canters,” said the Musley Bank handler.

“He seems in good form. It’s one of those – you just don’t know until the day, but we’re happy to run him.

“He’s been a star, a legend. It’s amazing. He was bought at a charity function. Out of the charity came a bit of good.”

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Fahey also saddles outsider Gabrial The Wire, of whom he added: “He’s a bit hit and miss. A fast-run six-furlong race should suit – it’s just if he’s quick enough to lay up early on.”

Tim Easterby was relieved Staxton made the cut, having decided against running him since winning the Great St Wilfrid last month.

He said: “He’s in good order and I hope he’ll run a good race.

“We took a gamble by waiting for this race. I could have run him somewhere else under a penalty, but I spoke to the owners and we decided we’d wait for this and thankfully he’s just crept in.

“He’s drawn down the middle (15) and I hope he’s got a good chance.”

Seven days on from claiming Classic glory in the St Leger at Doncaster aboard Joseph O’Brien’s Galileo Chrome, jockey Tom Marquand has high hopes of landing another major prize with the William Haggas-trained Nahaarr.

Tom Marquand is looking forward to teaming up with Nahaarr
Tom Marquand is looking forward to teaming up with Nahaarr (Edward Whitaker/PA)

The lightly-raced son of Dark Angel was a runaway winner at Newbury in July before finishing ninth when favourite for the Stewards’ Cup at Glorious Goodwood.

“He’s a really good ride to have. I think we’ve got drawn pretty well in 13, so I’m looking forward to riding him,” said Marquand.

“He’s a horse with lots of ability. He didn’t handle Goodwood all that well in the Stewards’ Cup and I just hope this can be a bit of a bounce back from that run. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be.

“Fingers crossed things can go our way.”

The formidable combination of trainer Andrew Balding and champion jockey Oisin Murphy is represented by Stone Of Destiny, who bids to follow up his win in the Portland Handicap at Doncaster last Saturday.

Balding said: “He won the Portland well and although this is a little bit further for him, he is a good horse when everything drops right – that is the key to him.

“He needs a strong gallop to aim at, which is what he will get at Ayr, but he doesn’t want the ground too soft.

“The Portland was the aim, but we decided this was worth having a go at afterwards.”

David O’Meara fires a four-pronged assault, with top-weight Gulliver joined by stable companions Arecibo, Cold Stare and Young Fire, while Kevin Ryan has three runners in Bielsa, Hey Jonesy and Major Jumbo.

Jedd O’Keeffe’s Air Raid and the David Barron-trained Another Batt also feature in what is always a fiercely competitive affair.

Stat of the Day, 14th August 2020

Thursday's pick was...

4.25 Bath : Tell William @ 11/4 BOG 4th at 9/4 (Close up, ridden and every chance over 1f out, kept on same pace) 

Friday's pick runs in the...

3.40 Chester :

Before I post the daily selection, just a quick reminder of how I operate the service. Normally, I'll identify and share the selection between 8.00am and 8.30am and I then add a more detailed write-up later within an hour or so of going "live".

Those happy to take the early price on trust can do so, whilst some might prefer to wait for my reasoning. As I fit the early service in around my family life, I can't give an exact timing on the posts, so I suggest you follow us on Twitter and/or Facebook for instant notifications of a published pick.

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Who?

Bossipop @ 7/2 BOG

...in an 8-runner, Class 4,  Flat Handicap for 4yo+ over 5f on Good To Soft, ground worth £5,984 to the winner... 

Why?...

We start with the racecard...

...which primarily tells me that Tim Easterby is a trainer to follow in handicaps here at Chester with a 1 in 6 record backed blindly over the last three seasons prior to this one. My starting point for trainer/course angles is always last three seasons / 15%+ SR / AE of 1.25+ and IV of 1.50+.

Moreover, since the start of 2016, Tim's Chester handicappers sent off at 2/1 to 17/2 are 15 from 48 (31.25% SR) for 52.35pts (+109.1% ROI) at an A/E of 1.87 and an IV of 3.11, including of relevance today...

  • 10/29 (34.5%) for 32.3pts (+111.4%) in races worth less than £10,000
  • 9/27 (33.3%) for 34.92pts (+129.3%) in 3yo+ handicaps
  • 8/24 (33.3%) for 26.25pts (+109.4%) at Class 4
  • 7/22 (31.8%) for 33.18pts (+150.8%) with runners unplaced LTO
  • 6/21 (28.6%) for 27.45pts (+130.7%) over 5 to 6 furlongs
  •  5/7 (71.4%) for 25.04pts (+357.7%) on Good to Soft ground
  • 4/14 (28.6%) for 13.28pts (+94.8%) for jockey David Allan
  • and 3 from 8 (37.5%) for 11.42pts (+142.7%) over this 5f course and distance...

...giving us... a 1pt win bet on Bossipop @ 7/2 BOG as was available at 8.10am Thursday, but as always please check your own BOG status (*some firms are not BOG until later in the morning)To see a small sample of odds offered on this race...

...click here for the betting on the 3.40 Chester

Don't forget, we offer a full interactive racecard service every day!

REMINDER: THERE IS NO STAT OF THE DAY ON SUNDAYS

Here is today's racecard

P.S. all P/L returns quoted in the stats above are to Betfair SP, as I NEVER bet to ISP and neither should you. I always use BOG bookies for SotD, wherever possible, but I use BFSP for the stats as it is the nearest approximation I can give, so I actually expect to beat the returns I use to support my picks. If that's unclear, please ask!

Jon Shenton: Who to Layoff?

Under normal circumstances April and May is my favourite time of the year, both in personal “real-life” terms but also through the racing lens, writes Jon Shenton. Usually, as the flat season kicks into gear it is a period when I’d be at my most active in punting terms. This year there is a void, and I’ve as yet not wanted want to fill it with third tier US racing, or whatever other meagre scraps are on offer.

Before we begin, an uber-caveat: the date of the restart of the sport will go a long way to establishing whether data-driven angles have a strong role to play in this years’ flat campaign.

Sadly, it may be smart to keep certain angles in cold storage until the spring of 2021: a truncated campaign will quite likely manifest in all sorts of data anomalies for otherwise robust angles. Let me explain with a specific example.

Many of my favourite angles are early season specific. Several yards are typically fast out of the blocks and others have a more nonchalant approach to the first exchanges in the campaign, in result terms anyway. Avoiding some yards during the initial knockings of the turf season can be a prudent move. A case in point is Tim Easterby: the powerhouse yard has a colossal number of runners throughout the spring and summer months with performance notable by its variance over the course of the season as the below graph illustrates.

It’s not the most exciting data, illustrating only the yard’s win percentage. However, it clearly shows a seasonal variance: Easterby’s performance in April and May is moderate in comparison to the peak summer period. To give a feel for the scale, there are 642 total runners in April alone, so in horse racing terms the sample sizes are broader than most (the yard is also 0-from-29 in March).

Focusing on 2020, what happens now? It is pure speculation but for the sake of this article let’s assume the season starts in July. Ordinarily, this would be peak Tim territory assuming a standard racing calendar. The million dollar question is, would the yard be expected to drop straight into the usual July prolific form or will it build slowly like usual, allowing its animals to develop race fitness through visits to the track, peaking as a yard in September or later? Perhaps we will see neither and the yard will flatten their own curve.

It is very difficult to project with any confidence, especially when placed in the context of every other yard rethinking and rehashing their own usual blueprint, planning for and around a truncated season.

Arguably, all typical trainer patterns could be of limited relevance. I certainly wouldn’t back a usual Easterby July qualifier this year, at least until I had more evidence to show the yard had adapted to the revised topology.

However, we don’t give in that easily at geegeez. Yes, it is true that a data-driven gambler may have to tread carefully; but there is also such a thing as first mover advantage! By cutting through the noise more quickly than most, there may be opportunities to gain utility from the numbers as they happen. Within that, possessing a good understanding of the ‘norm’ is beneficial as it provides a head start in terms of knowing what to look for as racing awakens from its enforced hiatus.

One sensible starting point is to evaluate how trainers perform after a horse has had a long rest from racing. This year, most animals are going to be hitting the track after a sizeable hiatus when the sport re-commences. Knowing the trainers who perform well in these circumstances ought to be of use.

The table below (containing data from horseracebase) shows exactly this: it summarises trainer performance with horses returning after a break of 181 days or longer (UK flat turf races only, 2011-present, SP 20/1 or shorter). The SP cut-off is a personal choice and generally helps sort the wheat from the chaff in my opinion.

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The insight is sorted in A/E order (Actual vs. Expected, assessing performance vs. the expectation of the market, 1.00 being par, anything greater being outperformance against market expectation) and a minimum of 100 runs are required to qualify for the table. There are plenty of points to discuss but we will begin with my eye being drawn to the four yards marked in yellow.

These jump off the page, predominantly due to their impressive strike rates around one-in-four win to run ratio. They are also bona fide prime flat racing organisations where value can be hard to come by so merit closer scrutiny.

Given the profile of these yards, it is surprising that the market seems to ever-so-slightly underestimate their lay-off horses: time and again these guys fire in winners after an absence. The length of time off the track is far from detrimental to their chances; in fact, it may be a positive indicator of intent. However, we, as the general punting public still subconsciously prefer the reassurance of a recent run. In the case of the highlighted yards (and several of the others) it is a wise move trying to ignore the long elapsed time between runs.

Taking this concept further, the graph below illustrates the same trainers contained in the original data table above. The red line shows the A/E performance for the horses returning to the track after more than 180 days by trainer, whereas the blue bars shows the A/E for those who have a run during the last 180 days.

In basic terms, virtually all these trainers perform more profitably with lay-off animals than they do with more recent runners (using A/E as the measure). The only three that do not are Messrs Balding, Prescott and Ryan, but even then, the difference in results is virtually negligible.

The left-hand side of the graph indicates those where the variance between the lay-off horses and the race fit animals is most significant. Ballydoyle maestro Aidan O’Brien heads the list. There is some logic in this, at least theoretically. It is not beyond imagination to speculate that a horse travelling across the Irish Sea to the UK is ready for action and means business. Were it not it would be running closer to home, presumably.

However, to satisfy whether that is a fair assertion or not, a comparison with the yard’s Irish return-after-a-break horses should confirm if this is the case.

As can be seen, O’Brien’s travellers outperform their stay-at-home counterparts on every measure. Whilst it is probably not angle material it is certainly worth factoring into big race considerations, especially if the money is down (the record for horses 6/1 or bigger is just 2-from-45 within the UK dataset).

Another trainer highlighted in the table with a large differential between the performance of his lay-off and recent runners is Roger Varian. The Newmarket-based operation is one that, considering its scale and profile, I do not particularly follow or have many related opinions / angles.

However, in the context of his layoff runners there is an interesting edge to consider when runners are evaluated by age.

The table demonstrates that the winning performance level of Varian’s three-year-olds after a break is not as strong as his older horse returners. This could easily be a sample size issue, particularly as the place performance is very consistent. Regardless, the numbers of the four years and older brigade are highly noteworthy.

Taking those four-plus aged horses and evaluating their performance after an absence against the yard’s performance where a run has been more recent, the numbers grow in stature still further by comparison.

Effectively, the table above confirms that the absolute right time to back a Varian horse aged four or older is its first run after an absence.

I dare say that this is the tip of the iceberg and there are plenty of other interesting data-driven nuances in relation to all trainers in the table. A bit of homework for me – or you? – over the next week or two perhaps.

Again, 2020 may prove to be wholly different from recent history given these unique circumstances. Normally, much of the value in these yards horses after a break can be attributed to the likelihood that much of their competition would have had a recent outing: the beady eye of the market is often drawn to those who have provided recent evidence of their well-being rather than those who have been out of sight, out of mind.

This year, especially early in the season, most runners in each race will be racing on the back of a long break. It is conceivable that every yard and every owner will be desperate to get their charges out as early as possible to mitigate some of the economic damage received through the enforced absence.

Consequently, if the phasing of animals having their first run in a while is compressed into a short period of time as there isn’t the luxury of a long campaign, it could be easily argued that the market  will focus more towards the likes of O’Brien, Varian, Gosden and Haggas given their elevated status.

If the mooted Royal Ascot behind closed doors meeting does proceed, virtually every horse will be hitting the track after a long absence. Gosden, O’Brien et al runners could be like moths to a light for punters, even more so than usual, eroding potential value from the lay-off angle.

However, the bottom line is that these yards have proven performance after a lay-off in their locker. Plenty of others do not and those others will have to elevate their game and do something uncharacteristic to their norm to prevail.

Of course, it is conceivable that trainers who build a horse’s fitness through racing will adapt easily. Trainers are generally highly skilled practitioners and should be able to modify their approach to match the situation.

The yards listed in the table below are some of those for whom the first run is typically a sighter; whether things will be different in 2020, time will tell, but it seems prudent to be cautious until evidence to the contrary manifests itself.

It is certainly the case that the performance of runners from these yards after an absence is not meeting market expectation with unhealthy A/E numbers across the board. Again, the table is restricted to runners at 20/1 or shorter (SP), and 100 runners is required to qualify.

In broad terms, unless there is a compelling reason not to, it’s a straightforward decision to pass on entrants from these guys after a hiatus. Naturally, Easterby (Tim) is on here as intimated earlier. It is going to be fascinating to see whether these yards will still be content to play the long game once racing is back.

Personally, I’m not sure how to play things yet. The timing of the resumption will be key in shaping a strategy. With the deferral of four of the Classics it’s looking more and more likely that the resumption date will be mid-summer. Given that, my gut feel is that angle and data-driven wagering of this kind will be fraught with danger. However, where there is a market there will always be an opportunity to find an edge.

One thing is for sure: one of my starting points will be to man-mark the yards in this article when we get going again. By spotting the trainers who are ready to go, or otherwise, there should be plenty of chances to make up for lost time. Who knows, I may even be backing Tim Easterby horses after a prolonged absence. These are strange times, after all!

Stay safe.

- JS