Brian Hughes and Donald McCain at Stratford. 19/8/2021 Pic Steve Davies/

Trainer Profiles: Donald McCain

We head to Cheshire to meet the next trainer in this Profiles series, and welcome Donald McCain. As with previous pieces I will be sharing nearly ten years of UK National Hunt racing data from 1st January 2013 to 31st October 2022. The vast majority of the stats I share with you can be sourced by members using from the Geegeez Query Tool. All profits / losses have been calculated to Industry Starting Price and I will quote both SP and Betfair SP returns where appropriate.

Donald McCain Brief Bio

Born in 1970, Donald McCain is the son of the legendary trainer of Red Rum, Ginger McCain. He took over from his father in June 2006 having worked as his assistant previously. He also rode in his youth and, over the years, gained experience in the racing business when working for Luca Cumani, Sir Michael Stoute and Oliver Sherwood. As a trainer he has won the Grand National (2011 with Ballabriggs) and enjoyed success at the Cheltenham Festival six times, albeit before the period of study for this piece (2006 to 2012). In fact, between 2009 and 2012 his overall win strike rate stood at 19.2% - this is worth noting when looking at the last ten years which I plan to do right now!

Donald McCain Overall Record

Let's break McCain's win record down first by year:

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Overall, SP losses have equated to 21p in the £ over this 10-year period; to BSP it has been nearer 11p in the £. As we can see, from 2015 to 2020, with the exception of 2017, the win strike rate dropped quite markedly. However, there has been a very positive uptick, or so it seems, in the past two seasons. This recent improvement has been mirrored when we study the win and placed (Each Way) percentages:



So McCain’s journey as a trainer seems to have gone from early highs to modest lows and now to new highs. Any trainer can have fluctuations from year to year so it will be interesting to see whether the stable can maintain their stronger recent form in the next year or two.

Time to dig a bit deeper.

Donald McCain Performance by Race Distance

Splitting his performance by distance first:


There is not much to be gleaned from the race distance splits: a slightly better win percentage at shorter distances, but returns and A/E indices across the three groups are similar. If we split the distances stats comparing chases with hurdle races, we see the following win percentages:



Again, we see remarkably similar figures. This seems to suggest that McCain doesn't specialise, and is equally adept at training all types of horses.

Donald McCain Performance in Chases

I want to dig into chases races in more detail. Let me start by splitting them into handicap and non-handicap contests:


As can be seen in the table, there are considerably more handicap runners and, overall, they have proved far better value. To BSP, losses in handicaps are down at around 5p in the £. Below is a course breakdown of McCain's chase record in terms of strike rate at tracks where he has had at least 75 runners:



The strike rates are in a fairly narrow range, except for Aintree, where McCain has had just one winner in 76 chase races. He has made an SP profit at three courses – Catterick, Kelso and Musselburgh.

One course that is not on the list is Perth, but his chase record there is worth sharing. He has an excellent strike rate at the Scottish track of 30.4% thanks to 21 wins from 69 runners. Profits to SP stand at £27.23 (ROI +39.5%). To BSP, returns edge up to 50% (50p in the £). He picks up winners there consistently despite averaging only seven runners at the track a year. He has saddled at least two winners in eight of the last ten years and, in one of the other years (2020), he didn’t send any runners there at all.

If we combine the yard's chase record at all Scottish tracks, they have saddled 67 winners from 310 (SR 21.6%) for a profit of £39.52 (ROI +12.8%). Exchange returns increase by just over 9p in the £ to 22p.

Before moving on, here are a few extra chase nuggets worth noting:

1. Horses having their second chase start have secured 37 wins from 162 (SR 22.8%) for a small SP profit of £12.01 (ROI +7.4%); BSP profits stand at £28.58 (ROI +17.6%);

2. Chasers returning to the track within two weeks of their last run have won 37 races from 129 runners (SR 28.7%) for a profit of £48.83 (ROI +37.9%); profit to BSP is £65.24 (ROI +50.6%);

3. Horses aged 6 or 7 have been far more successful in chases than other ages. 6 and 7yos have combined to score 19.5% of the time (165 wins from 848); all other ages combined (4, 5, and 8+) have won 12.4% of the time (93 wins from 747).

Let's take a look at hurdle races now.

Donald McCain Performance in Hurdles

Let’s start once again with handicap versus non handicap splits:


This time we see a much better win percentage in non-handicap hurdle races but without too much of a differential in returns as far as Industry SP is concerned. However, to BSP, non-handicaps have lost just 3p in the £, compared to 13p for handicaps.

A course breakdown now and I am sticking to courses that have had 85 or more runners in hurdle races. I have chosen 85 as the ‘cap’ as I wanted to include the Scottish course Ayr (where there were 86 runners in the study period). I have ordered the courses by win strike rate percentage:



Aintree results are poor once more, as are those at Market Rasen. From a positive perspective, the Scottish courses tend to sit near the top of the table in terms of strike rate once again, although there is none of the overall profit that we saw in the chase data. Two courses have shown a profit to SP (Bangor and Newcastle) and the Bangor data is worth digging down into. Firstly, McCain's hurdle record at the Welsh course by year:



There was a dip in 2015, part of the period when the yard struggled, but the other nine years have seen strike rates above 18% which suggests he targets this course somewhat; in seven of the ten years there was a profit to SP, and in eight of the ten years a profit to BSP. These are consistent hurdle profits at Bangor rather than simply a couple of huge priced winners skewing the P&L column. Indeed, if we focus on horses priced 8/1 or shorter McCain’s hurdle performance at Bangor is extremely good:



Those are excellent numbers and, for the record, returns to BSP edge just over 40p in the £.

Bangor, McCain and hurdle races should definitely be on our radar in the future.

Donald McCain Performance in National Hunt Flat races

Here are the figures for all National Hunt Flat races (bumpers):


These are very modest figures from a betting perspective in spite of the decent strike rate. Losses to BSP were also steep at a painful 26p in the £. This suggests he has not had many big priced winners in this sphere and that is indeed the case. McCain runners priced 10/1 or bigger in bumpers have won just twice from 135 for a loss of £103.00 (ROI -76.3%). Ouch.

His performance at the front end of the market is not too bad, however; horses priced 3/1 or lower have won 34.9% of their races losing just 4p in the £ to SP and breaking even to BSP. Having said that, odds-on runners have won just 41% of the time losing a hefty 32.8p in the £.

Here are three more NH Flat race stats for stable that readers may find useful:

1. McCain has had just 15 NHF runners at Musselburgh but eight have won; he is 10 from 32 at Carlisle as well;

2. Jockey Brian Hughes has a 23.6% win strike rate in these races for McCain;

3. Horses that have had three or more previous career runs (that includes flat/AW races) have won just 11% of races losing over 60p in the £ to SP; 54p in the £ to BSP.

Donald McCain Performance by Starting Price

We have seen a small amount SP data already, but let us now look at all races as a whole:



The win strike rates go down uniformly as the price bands increase – it would be weird if that wasn’t the case. Industry SP losses have been the smallest with the Evens to 15/8 bracket, but there doesn’t seem a pattern to returns as a whole. However, I would definitely steer clear of his bigger priced runners (14/1 or bigger) – even to BSP you would have lost 20p in the £. This is much higher than the average loss across all 14/1 + runners which stands at around 13p.

Donald McCain Performance by Running Style

A look at run style next. To begin with let us see the proportion of runners that fit a specific run style. Geegeez breaks these run styles into four:

Led – front runners, horses that take or share an early lead; Prominent – horses that track the pace close behind the leader(s); Mid Division – horses that race mid pack; Held Up – horses that race at, or near the back of the field early.

Here are the splits for McCain:



We can see the preferred running style seems to be tracking the early pace (prominent runners); that position has accounted for nearly 40% of all runners from the stable. The early leader / front runner percentage is also high at over 27% which is good to see. Regular readers of my articles will know that horses that take the lead early win more often than any of the other run styles. Not surprisingly, this is the case for McCain as we look at the win strike rates across all run styles:



Around one in four of McCain's front runners have won, whereas just one in 14 of his hold up horses have passed the post first. Indeed, if you had backed all of his hold up horses you would have lost a whopping 43p in the £ to SP.

I want to look at favourites now in terms of their success rate by run style:



The win percentage for hold up horses that start favourite is extremely poor and would have lost you a remarkable 49p in the £. Once again front running favourites do best, and comfortably so.

Before moving on, I have looked at front running performance across different courses to see if front runners have done better at some courses than others. The graph below compares all courses where McCain has had at least 40 runners that have taken an early lead (I have rounded the %s to the nearest whole number so it fits more neatly on the graph).



There is quite a range of success here: excellent at Ayr (18 winners from 44), much less so at Aintree (two wins from 46). As we have seen, McCain's overall Aintree stats are poor so this will come as no surprise.

Donald McCain Performance by Jockey

Onto some jockey analysis now. A look at any jockey who has ridden at least 100 times for McCain since 2013, with the proviso that they have had at least one ride for the stable in 2022. I have ordered them by number of rides starting with the most:



Stable jockey Brian Hughes has by far the best strike rate. Losses of 13p in the £ were incurred to SP; with BSP, this improves to 4p in the £. Theo Gillard is in profit but a 40/1 winner makes all the difference between a profit and a loss.

As far as Hughes is concerned here are some stats worth noting:

1. Hughes has a 32% success rate on front runners;

2. On favourites he has essentially broken even; clear favourites have just nudged into profit;

3. In races of 2m1f or less he has secured a strike rate of over 24% with marginal 2% losses to SP; 11% profit to BSP;

4. Horses priced 3/1 or less (SP) have provided a BSP return on 6% (6p in the £);

5. Hughes when riding a horse who is having their first career start has a strike rate of one in three and a profit to BSP around the 35p in the £ mark.

Let's summarise the key findings from this research...

Donald McCain – Main Takeaways

It seems that Donald McCain is moving in the right direction once more. It will be interesting to see if he is able to sustain success around the 20% win mark again this season – early signs suggest he will be close.


I hope you have found this piece useful.

Best wishes for the remainder of the festive period, and wishing you a very Happy New Year.

- Dave Renham

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