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Ibleo doubles up with comfortable Doncaster verdict

Ibleo’s fine run of form continued as he was the game victor of the Sky Bet Best Odds Guaranteed Handicap Chase at Doncaster.

Placed second twice at the beginning of the season and then a winner at Sandown last time out, the eight-year-old has risen 15lb in the ratings this term already.

Jumping fluently throughout under Charlie Deutsch, the 6-5 favourite locked horns with The Big Bite over the last before pulling away to record a three-and-a-half-length success.

“I always look forward to riding him. He’s a brilliant jumper, he knows his job and he knows where the winning line is,” Deutsch said.

“He’s very straightforward, but fair play to Venetia (Williams, trainer) for keeping him in such good form all season.

“He’s done it very well, he’s really quick over his fences. He goes so fast and lets himself get very close as he approaches them, but he still seems to not lose any ground – he makes up ground when the others are jumping longer and higher.

“He’s got better and better as he’s got more confident.”

Sam Barton shed his maiden tag for Emma Lavelle and Adam Wedge when taking the Sporting Life EBF “National Hunt” Maiden Hurdle at odds of 3-1.

The Trevor Hemmings-owned gelding finished second in a similar contest at Hereford in November and went one better this time to come home two and a quarter lengths ahead of 2-1 favourite The Edgar Wallace, with the rest of field a further 18 lengths behind.

“We were really pleased with him,” Lavelle said.

“He’s such a lovely, big horse, but he is just a big baby.

“He was a little green as you saw over the second from last, but he’s a horse that will improve with time and we hope there’s a lot more to come from him.

“The likely next step with him would be to go for the EBF final, but we absolutely hope he’d make a lovely chaser in time.

“He’s a perfect example of the Trevor Hemmings horse – he’s a big, strapping horse who we really like, we’re really pleased with him.”

Oliver Greenall’s Zalvados claimed a first victory over fences when taking the Sky Bet Britain’s Most Popular Online Bookmaker Novices’ Handicap Chase under Paddy Brennan.

The eight-year-old had finished second on four occasions, but ended his winless run with a comfortable seven-length success at a price of 18-1.

“It isn’t easy running on this ground, you need a horse to keep going,” Brennan said of the soft conditions.

“When they start pulling up early in a race it would suggest it’s really hard work, but I like riding him, he’s a challenge.

“There’s no life in the ground and the horses feel it, and feel it early, but it’s great to be racing.”

Lunar Sovereign then provided Brennan with a double when triumphing in the First Race Special On Sky Bet Tomorrow Novices’ Hurdle.

Following up a debut hurdle success at Wetherby in late December, the 9-2 shot crossed the line four and three-quarters lengths ahead of Alastair Ralph’s Jack Sharp, with 11-10 favourite Flinteur Sacre, full brother to Sprinter Sacre, well beaten in 12th.

Trainer Mark Gillard and son Theo then teamed up to take the Play ITV7 Tomorrow Novices’ Handicap Hurdle with the six-year-old Finisher (12-1), before the Sky Bet Extra Places Every Day Handicap Hurdle went the way of Laura Morgan’s J’Ai Froid (5-4 favourite), piloted by Max Kendrick.

Monday Musings: Two Major Contenders from Left Field

At the age of 25 back in 1978 Kim Bailey took over the training licence from his father Ken at their family farm in Brackley, Northamptonshire, with the experience of having learnt his trade from three training greats, Humphrey Cottrill, Tim Forster and Fred Rimell, writes Tony Stafford. In 1995 he enjoyed the almost unthinkable achievement of winning both the Champion Hurdle, with the novice Alderbrook, and the Gold Cup with Master Oats.

Until Saturday they had been the only Grade 1 wins on his card. Now, 26 years later and in his 43rd year as a trainer, the still-boyish Bailey, greatly to his own surprise, can refer back to a wonderful performance by the nine-year-old, First Flow. After an end-to-end battle he emphatically saw off reigning Champion Two-Mile Chaser Politologue in Ascot’s Clarence House Chase.

Kim Bailey has, over the years, gone through a number of transformations and training locations as well as a major domestic upheaval and a Henry Cecil-like slump. That must have caused this consummate horseman to question whether he should continue to pursue his career.

Throughout, Bailey has always had the respect of his fellow professionals, even in the darkest days. The same was true of course for the future Sir Henry before the arrival of Frankel and the subsequent great loyalty – hardly surprising one might say – of Prince Khalid Abdullah. The recent passing of Prince Khalid could have significant implications for the future of many of the present-day’s leading Flat-race trainers.

Bailey’s own darkest years came in the first decade of the present century when in the four seasons between 2004 and 2008 he won respectively only six, six, nine and finally three races. Those three in 2007-8 came from 131 runs and produced earnings of a little over £29,000. Nowadays he characteristically has one of the higher strike rates, operating at close to 18%. Less than three per cent must have given him kittens!

The Racing Post statistics for each trainer includes a section at the bottom entitled Big Races Won. Between March 2002 and November 2012, a full decade, none of the Bailey winners qualified for entry in that section.

In more recent times, he has built up his business again at a modern farm in Andoversford, 15 minutes or so from Cheltenham. A great adherent to modern technology, he was moving around his snow-covered 70-strong yard on Sunday morning, reflecting by video on the previous afternoon’s exploits by one of three chasers that could be lining up in the top races at Prestbury Park in six weeks’ time.

As he progressed with his commentary, all the time he was sharing the credit, principally to David Bass, whose opportunist ride on First Flow he described as “one of the best rides I’ve ever seen”. Also earning his gratitude were various key members of his staff. If ever there was a benevolent boss, it is Kim Bailey, who stresses that any success achieved by Thornfield Farm is very much a team effort.

That attitude will undoubtedly bring loyalty from the staff and he certainly has managed to keep a number of owners, among them First Flow’s, Tony Solomons, with him over many years. “Tony was one of my first owners all those years ago and I’m so happy for him. First Flow was not an expensive buy and he’s done so well for us,” says Bailey.

He certainly has. Saturday’s win for First Flow was his sixth in succession and his tenth in all from only 16 races over obstacles. The race was worth a few bob short of £60k and represented a nice early birthday present for his owner.

Tony rarely has more than a couple of horses in training but the retired banker also had tremendous success in recent years with the staying Flat handicapper, Nearly Caught. That smart gelding, trained by Hughie Morrison, won nine races and was placed 15 times.

His last win, as an eight-year-old, came on his final appearance when he easily won a Newmarket Listed race from an official rating of 107. That was his fourth Listed win, to which he could add a Group 2 victory at Deauville as a six-year-old. All of his five stakes wins and eight places came in his final three seasons’ racing.

While Bailey had some sparse years where major races were concerned, that could not be said of 2020 when he earned seven entries in that category. First Flow is joined by Imperial Aura and Vinndication as fellow high-class performers and Bailey hopes all three will make it to the Festival.

He regards Vinndication as a potential Gold Cup candidate. The eight-year-old is still lightly-raced and although he has yet to win going left-handed, he ran a blinder when only two lengths behind Cyrname in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby when starting out the present campaign at the end of October.

Bailey aimed him at the Ladbroke (ex-Hennessy) Handicap Chase at Newbury the following month and the gelding was still very much in contention when unseating David Bass five fences out (his only non-completion) under a big weight. The trainer hopes he will be able to prepare him in time to participate.

Until Imperial Aura’s unexpected early exit from his Kempton Grade 2 target a couple of weeks back he had been carrying all before him, adding two nice wins to his Cheltenham Festival novice handicap chase victory in March. Another eight-year-old, like his two stablemates he also has an enviable win ratio, seven from 12.

Nothing succeeds like success. From the dark days Bailey has now put together seven highly rewarding seasons, all bar last term’s 32 (for obvious Covid) reasons bringing between 43 and 61 wins and at least £400k in earnings.

With £450,000 already this term and more than three months to go, he could even get close to the £696,000 of the extraordinary Master Oats/ Alderbrook campaign when he had 72 wins from 312 runs, especially if things work out at the Festival.

It is hard not to be excited by First Flow, but one other horse produced an even more eye-opening performance the same afternoon. The Venetia Williams-trained and Rich Ricci-owned Royale Pagaille turned the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock Park into a rout and must be followed over a cliff for the rest of the season and beyond.

This race has had a proud heritage since its inception in 1981, with its early winners including the three Cheltenham Gold Cup victors, Little Owl, Bregawn and The Thinker. Jodami made it four a decade later, while its best recent champion has been Bristol De Mai, also a three-time winner of the Grade 1 Betfair Chase over the same course and distance.

Royale Pagaille was bought as an experienced four-year-old by French agent Guy Petit out of the Francois Nicolle yard in November 2018 at Arcana for €70k. He had won one of ten starts, a minor hurdle race at Pau, although he did have plenty of experience over fences after that victory.

Sent To Venetia, it was more than a year before he saw a British racecourse and his two runs last season before racing was summarily curtailed were hardly  earth-shattering. First, in a two-runner Chepstow novice chase he found the 150-rated Vision Des Flos predictably too good, trailing home almost ten lengths behind. Then, in a three-runner chase at Huntingdon he was miles behind the lower-rated pair Equus Secretus (Ben Pauling) and Lies About Milan (Fergal O’Brien) who fought out a close finish over the near three-mile trip. Those performances gave little inkling of what was to come.

Hence when Royale Pagaille reappeared for this season at Haydock on December 2, the son of Blue Bresil was the 11/1 outsider in a four-runner novice chase over two miles and five furlongs. He confounded those odds, very easily coming from the back to draw clear of the Kim Bailey-trained favourite Espoir De Romay, who carried a 5lb winner’s penalty.

After that, on the second day of Kempton’s big Christmas meeting, his winning margin of just over three lengths might not have been extravagant, but the style of the victory off his revised mark of 140 was such that the chase handicapper raised him 16lb to 156.

At no stage on Saturday did it appear likely that Royale Pagaille would have any difficulty in defying his new mark, travelling and jumping with utter authority. Conceding 20lb to the proven staying handicappers Just Your Type and Potters Legend, he was already a long way clear of the pair at the last fence in the heavy ground and it seemed as though Tom Scudamore could have doubled the eventual victory margin of 16 lengths over Potters Legend had he wished.

That suggests to me the chase assessors will struggle to keep his new mark below 170 and at the present rate of progress, further improvement could easily be forthcoming. That already takes him right into the top echelon of chasers. For the record, in its 41-year history the Peter Marsh Chase has never been won by a horse younger than seven, Royale Pagaille’s age.

Bookmakers are quoting Royale Pagaille for four races at the Festival, but if he was mine I would find it difficult to disregard the big one. There are many instances of trainers thinking their emerging horses are not quite ready but with the number of pitfalls that can assail them, those delaying plans often prove fruitless with the horses never actually making it to a later Gold Cup. And this one already has eleven chase starts to his name, so is hardly an inexperienced novice.

I’m suggesting you take the 12-1 (unless you can get better) for the Blue Riband of the meeting.  If you prefer to be safe, he is 8-1 non-runner no bet.

Royale Pagaille connections to mull Cheltenham options

No early decision will be made on the Cheltenham Festival target of impressive Peter Marsh Chase winner Royale Pagaille.

Despite a 16lb rise in the weights for a win at Kempton over Christmas, the Venetia Williams-trained seven-year-old won even easier at Haydock.

He holds four entries at the Festival in the National Hunt Chase, the Marsh Novices’ Chase, the Festival Novices’ Chase (formerly the RSA) and the Gold Cup itself.

Muddying the waters further is the Willie Mullins-trained Monkfish, who is also owned by Susannah Ricci and a hot favourite for the Festival Novices’ Chase.

“There’s no bad news to report,” said Joe Chambers, racing manager for the owner, on Racing TV’s Luck On Sunday.

“I think it would have been great if the two Sams (Sam’s Adventure and Sam Brown) had been able to complete the course and turn up as we’d have learned an awful lot more than we actually have.

“We put him in the Gold Cup opportunistically at the time because it was closing when the travel ban was coming in and we just thought for the sake of the initial entry fee we could always take him out at the next forfeit stage on February 9 if his next run didn’t go according to plan.

“But I guess we’ll be leaving him in it, and we’ll be leaving him in the novice races as well.

Royale Pagaille clears the last in splendid isolation
Royale Pagaille clears the last in splendid isolation (David Davies/PA)

“We’ll see what the handicapper says on Tuesday as to what the substance of the form is. We thought we got fairly hammered after Kempton as he went up not once but twice.”

The least likely option at this stage for Royale Pagaille would appear to be the Festival Novices’ Chase, should Monkfish run.

“All being well should Monkfish turn up are we likely to run two in that race? Probably not as I think Susannah has had 88 runners at Cheltenham and 67 have been sole representatives so it’s not really our MO to run two in the same race,” said Chambers.

“There are eight weeks to go and a lot of water to go under the bridge. We’ll see what the ground is like closer to the time and take it from there. As a handicapper he’ll be pushing into the 160s and that’s puts him bang in the frame of the seasoned three-mile chasers, I think.

“The conversation about running them both in the same race wasn’t realistic three weeks ago never mind six weeks ago but he (Monkfish) has to come through his own trials OK.

“What we won’t do is make commitments this far out, we’ve burned ourselves in the past doing that so we’ll take our time and keep the options open. Hopefully the horses will tell us which direction to go.

“If he goes up 10lb or so you could count on one hand the chasers rated higher than him. I know he’s a novice but it’s his third season as a novice and that was his 11th chase. I think Champ has only had three or four in comparison.”

Royale Pagaille rises to Peter Marsh challenge

Royale Pagaille looks a horse destined for the very top judged on a brilliant display in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock.

The French import was beaten on his first two starts for trainer Venetia Williams and leading owner Rich Ricci last season, but appears much improved this winter, with this his third successive victory.

A novice chase success on Merseyside was followed by an emphatic victory on his handicap debut at Kempton over the Christmas period – and even a 16lb hike in the weights to a lofty mark of 156 was nowhere near enough to stop him completing his hat-trick in devastating style.

Initially ridden with restraint by Tom Scudamore, Royale Pagaille jumped and travelled with such fluency that he tanked his way to the from racing down the back straight for the second time.

While most of his rivals had cried enough in the ultra-testing conditions rounding the home turn, Scudamore’s mount was remarkably still full of running – and safely negotiated the remaining obstacles in the straight to score by 16 lengths.

Scudamore said: “To do that in this ground – win off a mark of 156 by 16 lengths – is very impressive. You don’t get too many horses that are able to do that.

“I don’t know him well enough to know if this ground is important to him, but he’s handled it well enough today.

“He’s jumped from fence to fence and travelled so well. He’d got them cooked at the top of the straight.

“It was a huge thrill and a pleasure to be able to ride him today.”

The seven-year-old has several options at the Cheltenham Festival, having been entered for three of the four novice chases, as well as the Cheltenham Gold Cup – for which Coral go as short as 12-1.

Scudamore said: “I’ll leave plans entirely up to Venetia and Rich Ricci. I was just lucky to be able to ride him today.

“He’s a second-season novice. I’ve ridden some very nice novice chases and he’s up there with the best of them.

“Whatever they go for, whether it’s the RSA (now Festival Novices’ Chase), or the Gold Cup or the National Hunt Chase, the world is most certainly his oyster.”

Williams was at Ascot, where she was guarded on a Gold Cup bid, but nevertheless delighted with her charge’s progress.

She said: “I bought him at the Arqana Sale at Deauville in November 2019, and it took me until 12 months later to sell him, and that’s when Rich and Susannah (Ricci) stepped in.

“Looking at the times (at Haydock), I don’t imagine it was too heavy up there – but the handicapper will hike him up again, and it will force me to put him in rare areas near the top.

“This is his third season as a novice chaser, and in the first two he didn’t win, but he’s very progressive now.

“But I was delighted. He’s a perfect example of a horse that’s needed time.

“I can’t say he will definitely go for the Gold Cup, and there will be much discussion before any decisions are reached.”

Williams sets out Peter Marsh aim for Royal Pagaille

Impressive Kempton winner Royale Pagaille is likely to head for the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock next.

The Venetia Williams-trained novice is now rated 156 after the handicapper took retrospective action following his Christmas victory over Cap Du Nord.

Owned by Rich Ricci, he also holds an entry in Doncaster’s Sky Bet Chase but he will head to Merseyside on January 23, all being well.

“The handicapper has gone and popped him up another 2lb after (third-placed) Double Shuffle’s victory (last Saturday), which I thought was a bit punchy as he would have probably been beaten had the other horse jumped the last better,” said Williams.

“The plan, all being well, is to go to the Peter Marsh at Haydock on Saturday week. We will take it one step at a time with him.

“I got him at the sales in France two years ago, but he didn’t run for a year. It took a while to get him sorted.

“He was a tad disappointing in the first couple of runs the previous season for us, but we are thrilled that he has stepped up now. I do find it slightly intriguing that he (the handicapper) has taken the view he has in putting him up above most of the novices that have been running in the graded novices, which seems a little bit bizarre.

“You have to remember at Kempton he was running against handicappers and not all of them were at the top of their game at that stage. I’ve no doubt the second was in good form, but there were quite a few that weren’t.

“We will see how he goes at Haydock and make further decisions after that.”

Ricci has the vast majority of his horses trained in Ireland by Willie Mullins, and Williams explained: “I met Rich through Andrew Brooks (owner) a number of years ago.

“We’ve met up on a few occasions since and he said a few years ago to get in touch if I found a nice horse, so I’m delighted to have found one.”

Jacob is centre stage again as Zambella completes Listed hat-trick

Daryl Jacob made his fleeting visit to Leicester a triumphant one aboard Zambella, who maintained her unbeaten record over fences with a tenacious success in the Pertemps Network Mares’ Chase.

After riding the first five-timer of his career at Wincanton on Saturday, Grand National-winning jockey Jacob took centre stage once again with victory in the Listed feature on the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained six-year-old.

The 8-13 favourite dug deep after the last to defeat Cut The Mustard by two and a half lengths and add to her previous Listed victories this season at Bangor and Warwick.

Jacob said: “She is very game. She is tough, and three from three over fences, and is getting better.

“Two and a half is a good trip for her, but two miles on heavy ground is just as good. You’ve just got to find your feet a bit and find nice opportunities.

“She has won three Listed chases now, and there was no hiding place out there today.

“The ear plugs just keep her relaxed, because when she came over she was very keen and an excitable filly, but they seem to be working at the moment.”

Fontaine Collonges, left, on the way to completing trebles for Venetia Williams and Charlie Deutsch in the Pertemps Network Novices’ Hurdle (Mike Egerton/PA Images)
Fontaine Collonges (left) on the way to completing trebles for Venetia Williams and Charlie Deutsch in the Pertemps Network Novices’ Hurdle (Mike Egerton/PA Images)

Trainer Venetia Williams and jockey Charlie Deutsch took the plaudits with a near 44-1 treble, completed by the victory of Fontaine Collonges in the Pertemps Network Novices’ Hurdle, which the 5-6 favourite landed by a neck.

Williams said: “I must admit a couple of days ago, after declarations, I thought she was our strongest chance of the day.

“I was going to step her up in trip – but with testing conditions here and that long uphill finish, I thought it might compensate a bit.

“Half way up the run-in, I was cursing myself for not stepping up in trip – but bless her, she got back up.”

Jack Valentine (5-2) got the ball rolling for Williams and Deutsch, making his debut over fences a winning one by four lengths in the Pertemps Network Novices’ Handicap Chase.

Williams said: “We thought we still had unfinished business over hurdles, so we kind of delayed chasing a little bit, but clearly this is the way forward.

“I know Charlie has ridden one or two winners lately where people have said it is perfectly judged – but in those cases it has been the horses’ inability to go quicker earlier. In this case, though, it was very well judged.

The Crooner (6-1) formed the middle leg of the haul, prevailing by three-quarters of a length in the Pertemps Network Handicap Chase to make it two wins from as many starts at the track.

Williams said: “He had been a little bit disappointing, and I was actually scratching my head a bit.

“He needed every yard to get there. This is the only place he has won at, because he won a hurdle here last season.”

Jonjo O’Neill junior carried the silks his father, and namesake, wore to glory in the 1980 Champion Hurdle aboard Sea Pigeon – steering When You’re Ready to glory by a head in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle.

O’Neill junior said: “The silks were great for dad, and I used them for pony racing, and it is nice to be back in them. They’ve been in the family a good while.

On the 3-1 shot trained by his dad, he added: “He ran over two and a half the last day – and he didn’t run too badly – but two miles in this ground up the hill at Leicester, we thought wouldn’t be too bad for him.

“All mine did was stay, and I was hoping the line was far enough away so he could get back up – luckily we just got back up.”

Jamie Moore posts personal landmark with Grugy success

Jamie Moore celebrated his 800th winner in Britain following the front-running success of Hudson De Grugy in the Unibet Extra Place Races Every Day Juvenile Hurdle at Sandown.

The 35-year-old has enjoyed many highlights during his distinguished riding career to date, most notably steering the popular Sire De Grugy to several big-race victories, including the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham and two Tingle Creeks at Sandown.

Hudson De Grugy, a relative of trainer Gary Moore’s former stable star, has some way to go to scale those heights, but nevertheless looks a fine prospect judged on his determined display in the Esher mud.

Sent straight to lead by Jamie Moore, the 4-7 favourite was strongly pressed by Hystery Bere between the final two flights, but pulled out plenty up to hill to prevail by two and three-quarter lengths.

The winning rider said: “I had my 799th winner when I last rode a winner, which was about two years ago!

“The horse was very genuine – he jumped good. Josh (jockey’s brother) has done all the work with him, but he has just had a little bit of trouble with a shoulder. It is really down to Josh and Dad, I’ve just had to do the steering.

“He is related to Sire De Grugy and he has got that little bit of heart in him.”

On future plans, he added: “We will see what Dad thinks and see what mark he gets. Dad is good with juvenile hurdlers, so we will let him decide where he goes.”

Doitforthevillage rolled back the years
Doitforthevillage rolled back the years (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Paul Henderson praised stable stalwart Doitforthevillage, who gained his first win in more than two years at the age of 12 when swooping late to land the Read Nicky Henderson’s Unibet Blog Handicap Chase under Tom O’Brien.

Henderson said of the 14-1 shot: “He has been a super horse and a real stable star since we’ve had him.

“He only ran a few days ago, but the ground was too fast – it was almost good to soft, good ground.

“He likes soft ground as he has always been a relentless galloper.

“This is huge for us today as it keeps us in the limelight. He is such a good horse.”

The Venetia Williams-trained Ibleo enjoyed a deserved change of fortune in the Unibet 3 Uniboosts A Day Handicap Chase.

Runner-up on his two previous starts this season, the eight-year-old was the 13-8 favourite to go one better and charged home from an unpromising position to score by a length and a half under an excellent ride from Charlie Deutsch.

“I did rather laugh when the commentator said Ibleo is held up at the back, as Ibleo does his own holding up! The idea was to jump out smartly and be as handy as possible,” said Williams.

“He is a bit of a cold horse early on. I must admit, the strong pace was in our favour.”

Williams earmarked the Grand Annual at Cheltenham as a potential long-term target, adding: “Like everybody that has a horse at this sort of level, you are working back from the Festival in March.”

The father-and-son combination of Nigel and Sam Twiston-Davies took out the concluding Unibet Casino Deposit 10 Get 40 Handicap Hurdle with 3-1 shot Guard Your Dreams.

NH Season Fast Starters

As I’ve alluded to in previous articles I would consider myself more of a flat game specialist, writes Jon Shenton.  However, with the onset of winter and the monumental battle of wills around when to put the heating on, perhaps you could argue that my timing is less than impeccable in terms of becoming a contributor to Geegeez.

Data are data, though – and in some ways the fact that I’m not invested so much in the history, the characters and the equine stars of the show arguably means I can be more objective about what I’m looking at.  In other words, the data can speak for themselves.  Every day is a school day and I’m hopeful that I can build some profitable and interesting angles to keep things ticking over during the cold, dark months when I’m wrapped in a blanket because I’m too tight to fire up the boiler!

In this article, I will try to unearth a bit of early season value with regard to the winter game.  That said, and as a starter concession, I still can’t work out officially when the National Hunt season starts.

As ever a reminder that analysing past performance is no guarantee of future spoils; but, as a minimum, it should help in generating ideas and approaches for evolve our knowledge and therefore our betting skill.

Let’s start with a broad-brush approach evaluating National Hunt runners by trainer during the months of October and November.  This time all the data have been crunched using the Query Tool on this very site, any runners on or after 7th October 2018 are not included.

All National Hunt runners with an SP of 20/1 or shorter by trainer in October and November from 2012 onwards

The table above displays trainers ordered by the best return on investment (ROI) at starting price (SP).  Encouragingly, there are nine of them returning over 10% without diving any deeper.

Top of the tree and first cab off the rank is Henry Oliver, the Worcestershire-based trainer who is returning a very substantial 61% over the period in question: it’s stating the completely obvious but that’s worth more than a quick glance.   First stop is to check the context of this apparent seasonal bounty, it may be that Mr Oliver is an all year-round cash cow.

All Henry Oliver National Hunt runners with an SP of 20/1 or less from 2012 onwards

If you backed every Oliver NH runner from January 2012 you would have a neat 5% return to SP with 90 winners from 534 bets.  Not quite ‘cash cow’ status but there are certainly worse ways to put your money on the line.  The below graph shows how the 26.7 points of profit is split by month.

Monthly P&L to a £1 level stake for all National Hunt runners at 20/1 or shorter from the Henry Oliver stable from 2012 onwards

 

First thing to note is that, like a number of NH trainers, the summer months are fallow for Oliver’s charges.  December aside, Oliver is operating at a profitable level over the winter months and I wouldn’t put you off tracking all stable runners over the core NH season so certainly a trainer to follow.

However, we started searching for early season value and clearly November sticks out like Brian Blessed playing hide and seek, returning 94% profit to ROI.  The 20% October ROI is worth noting, too.

Trying to dive deeper into those autumnal runners, evaluating variables such as obstacle type, race class, horse age or date of recent run doesn’t generate anything of real material value.   If you’re nit-picking, Oliver’s horses are 0/11 for runs greater in distance than 2m 6f in those months and 5/58 overall, something to keep an eye on.

The last metaphoric hurdle is to understand the consistency aspect of the performance.

The table below shows Oliver’s October/November runs by year.  Maybe a little streaky but scintillating performance in 2013, 2015, and in particular 2017, with a bit of a washout in 2016.  Only one losing year though (excluding 2018 thus far for hopefully obvious reasons) means that this is solid enough to go on the list!

All Henry Oliver National Hunt Oct/Nov runners with an SP of 20/1 or shorter from 2012 onwards

Suggestion: Back all Henry Oliver runners in October/November at 20/1 or less

 

The second luminary of the list is Fergal O’Brien, who quite simply has the best (in my opinion) and most entertaining twitter profile of all of the trainers, well worth a follow (@FOBracing) if you’re active on that medium. The stable contains relative household names such as Chase The Spud, Cap Soleil, and their first Grade 1 winner Poetic Rhythm to name but three of them.

There is no doubt the yard has impressive credentials and performance has been very strong over recent years.  If you backed every single stable runner at SP from January 2012 you’d walk away with 3.7% more cash than you invested.

I think there are angles aplenty when it comes to O’Brien, most of which are for another day but with specific reference to the early season view there are a couple of options to home in on for profit. The first is National Hunt race code

All Fergal O’Brien Oct/Nov National Hunt runners with an SP of 20/1 or shorter from 2012 onwards by race type

All profitable, which is nice. The pertinent angle for me though is his performance in bumpers, where O’Brien has nearly double the volume of winners than expected with a 186% return to boot.  Yes, the sample size is small, but within the data there are ten winners from horses making their debut (from 22), indicating that the yard gears up to get quality horses (or horses ready to win) out on the track in the months of October and November. Generally speaking, the later in October, the better as the record is 1/11 from the 1st-16th.

Profit in relation to hurdles and fences is quite small over those two months; however, if we zoom in a little closer there is a quite telling split in monthly performance, again it looks like the stable is peaking in November.

All Fergal O’Brien Oct/Nov Hurdle & Chase runners with an SP of 20/1 or shorter from 2012 onwards by race type

It’s not an absolute rule, and certainly doesn’t mean that a horse on the track on the 1st November is in different shape to one on 31st October, but it does indicate generally that as we start heading towards the big November Cheltenham meeting, the O’Brien yard picks up pace and is a definite one to follow closely.

Suggestion 1: Back all O’Brien NHF runners in late October/November at less than 20/1 SP

Suggestion 2: Back all O’Brien Chase and Hurdle runners in November at less than 20/1 SP

 

Moving to the trainer in the bronze medal position in the opening table, Harry Whittington: the Lambourn-based outfit is growing rapidly, currently housing nearly 50 horses with an increasing number of runners per year. I like these yards that are growing, it often means they’re on an upwards trajectory and are worth closer review.

First port of call is checking the race type in the table below, a small number of runners but the bumper aspect doesn’t look entirely compelling so I’m happy enough to exclude and keep a watching brief.

All Harry Whittington Oct/Nov National Hunt runners with an SP of 20/1 or shorter from 2012 onwards by race type

Again, evaluating the profile of Whittington’s hurdle and chase runners across the whole year gives an interesting picture in terms of P&L.  The graph below shows that very same P&L by month to a £1 level stake, it’s fair to say that Q4 looks quite compelling – another yard that’s fast out of the blocks for the new season.

Monthly P&L to a £1 level stake for all National Hunt runners at 20/1 or less from the Harry Whittington stable from 2012 onwards

 

If we analyse the October to December runs in terms of race class as a differentiator there is a further shard of light to assist profitable punting.

All Harry Whittington Oct-Dec Hurdle and Chase runners with an SP of 20/1 or shorter from 2012 onwards by race class

 

The basement C5 races are easy enough to ignore in punting terms, most of them crossing over with the NHF group we already discounted; the Class 1 & 2 are less straightforward, particularly if the yard’s expansion means they may be knocking on the door of the higher echelons of the racing ladder. Here and now I’d be inclined to back the C3 & C4 horses and track the C1/2 runners for signs of improvement or add to a shortlist to back on their relative merits.

Suggestion: Back all Harry Whittington’s October, November and December Chase/Hurdle runners at less than 20/1 in Class 3 or 4 races.

 

The final trainer I’m going to run through from the initial table is Venetia Williams, largely due to her volume of runners: to deliver a 17% ROI across 440 runners in the months of October/November from 2012 onwards is impressive and merits closer scrutiny.  That’s not to say all of the other trainers are not worthy of further investigation and I’d definitely be inclined to sharpen the focus on Messrs Pauling and Keighley in particular.  Have a play on QT yourself and maybe post anything of interest (or otherwise) in the comments below.

Returning to Venetia Williams, the Grand National-winning trainer has a profitable record during the months in question, but the below table tells a stark tale.  Clearly, Williams has a knack for getting her cavalry of chasers ready early in the season

All Venetia Williams Oct/Nov National Hunt runners with an SP of 20/1 or shorter from 2012 onwards by race type

 

Again, if we look specifically at the month, the record in November is much stronger than that of October.

Perusing the “Venetia” page at her website www.venetiawilliams.com the following sentence caught my eye:

“Since then Venetia's career has flourished. Never one to expose her horses to the high risk of summer ground, each year Venetia can be seen with the big Saturday winners during the core NH season”

There is a common belief that Williams’ runners love soft turf, and the statement above also seems to indicate a preference to avoiding the risks associated with summer ground.  On Geegeez we like facts to back up a theory, so the table below shows Venetia’s chase runners in November by official going.

All Venetia Williams Chase runners in November with an SP of 20/1 or shorter from 2012 onwards by official going

 

While there is confirmation that Williams’ runners prefer a softer surface, it is worth noting that the stereotyped ‘hock deep’ runner from this yard fares less well than those encountering merely ‘winter ground’, i.e. good to soft or soft.

There is one mild concern with the overall angle though, namely 2017 performance, showing a loss of 28%, this is also on the back of a moderate 2016.  It could be this angle has run its natural course, albeit I will be adding it to my own armoury this November.  Williams had a very quiet spell last winter, alluding to a potential problem in the yard so I’m just about happy enough to strike a line through 2017.  This is one for keen observation though.

All Venetia Williams Chase runners with an SP of 20/1 or shorter from 2012 onwards on good to soft, soft or heavy ground by year

Oh, and incidentally the Saturday assertion in the quoted sentence does have a degree of credence too.

Suggestion: Back all Venetia Williams November Chasers on Good to soft or softer ground with a 20/1 or less SP (with caution)

- Jon Shenton