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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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