What Kempton Tells Us About Cheltenham

Can Binocular win the Champion Hurdle after winning the Christmas Hurdle?

Can Binocular win the Champion Hurdle after winning the Christmas Hurdle?

As must always be the case, dear reader, after big pre-season races, the ante-post markets for the Cheltenham Festival events receives a rare old shake down.

On Saturday, Kempton hosted its two premium Boxing Day fixtures, the Christmas Hurdle and King George VI Chase.

Favoured for the two events were Binocular, last season's Champion Hurdler, and four-time King George winner (as well as two time Gold Cup winner), Kauto Star.

History will have already dictated to you that Binocular won readily enough in the former, and Kauto finished a respectable third behind Long Run in the latter, Nicky Henderson's up and coming chasing import.

But what does Kempton's Christmas (or, in this case, January) form tell us with regards to the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup at Cheltenham in March? Let's mull the deeper lessons of history to learn more.

In fact, each of the Christmas Hurdle winners who went on to contest the Champion Hurdle in the last ten years were beaten in the latter race. This list includes Go Native, the last Christmas Hurdle winner, who was sent off 11/4 favourite at Cheltenham.

However, contrast that with beaten horses in the Christmas Hurdle who go on to win in the Blue Riband at the Festival.

Binocular was only third in the Christmas Hurdle last year, but was simply imperious up Cleeve Hill come March.

Before him, Punjabi fell behind Harchibald on Boxing Day 2008 before winning the Champion Hurdle in 2009.

We then have to go all the way back to 2001/2 find the next Champion Hurdle winner to have run in the Christmas Hurdle. Hors La Loi III could finish no better than third to Landing Light at Kempton before finally lowering Istabraq's crown at the Festival.

So the message is clear - be extremely wary of Christmas Hurdle winners in the Champion Hurdle. They often go off very short prices, but the totally different course constitution and pace in the race makes for a contrasting test of a horse's racing talents.

Placed horses in the Christmas Hurdle have a decent record in the Champion, which might imply a second glance at the form of Donald McCain's Overturn (25/1 for the March showpiece) and Alan Fleming's Starluck (50/1).

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The latter does seem to be a poor battler but could run into a place off his high cruising speed, and the former will stay well, so McCain looks to have a strong hand for the race with Peddlers Cross in there pitching too.


Turning our attentions to the Gold Cup, and looking at previous King George and Gold Cup winners, we learn the following:

Best Mate, Kicking King and Kauto Star himself have all won both the King George and Cheltenham Gold Cups in recent years. In fact, between these three horses, they possess SEVEN King George's and SIX Gold Cups!

That's quite an incredible trivia stat, and leans heavily towards the fact that Kempton King George form does seem to transfer to Cheltenham.

Why might this seemingly counter-intuitive (in light of the hurdle contrast) situation be?

Well, I suspect the key determinant is the stronger pace at which the King George is typically contested. It could also be that we have borne witness to more than our fair share of superb chasing talents in that time. There's no doubt that both the King George and Gold Cup require a high class combination of speed and stamina and, whilst a fair few beasts own one or the other of these two attributes, it's a rare breed that has both.

Can Long Run be the new Kauto Star? And what of Kauto Star himself?

Well, the answer to the former question is a resounding 'yes', with a whispered 'but maybe not yet'. And to the latter, I suspect it may be the start of the inevitable decline that all of us endure when our limbs aren't quite as agile and our engine not quite as feisty as once was the case. Kauto owes nobody anything and whatever happens, I dearly hope that they make a decision to retire him sooner rather than later, when the times comes (probably after the Gold Cup).

Long Run, remarkably, is still a six year old and, while both Kicking King and Kauto Star won their first King George's at that age, in real terms they were a year older, as Long Run has only just turned six, whereas the two jumping legends were about to turn seven.

The last, and only, five year old to win the King George was Manicou in 1950!

A six year old hasn't won the Gold Cup since the majestic Mill House in 1963 and, even though Long Run is clearly a monstrously precocious talent, I'd be loathe to take a short price about him winning this year. That said, he's an obvious Gold Cup winner of the future, and I suspect 2012 may well be his year.

As I've written before, there are chinks in all the top runners' armour, and it could be a shock result in the Gold Cup. Certainly, I'd be against most of the top horses in the betting, with a small saver on the day on Imperial Commander.

Make of the weekend's results what you will, but the Geegeez management summary is this:

- Beware the Christmas Hurdle winner in the Champion Hurdle, but don't be afraid to play one of the placed horses with a touch more stamina for the Blue Riband

- Note the strong translation of King George winning form to the Gold Cup.

I'm away skiing in Borovets this week with my brother, missus, and some friends, but will be staying in touch, as best I can, and will even try to capture some mountain monkeying around for you in glorious high definition technicolour (or at least on video).

The pistes await me... 😀


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7 replies
  1. ron.goodall says:

    to matt
    i backed long run as i replied before n.henderson said he could be the best horse he has trained to date
    he is my ten to follow and he was last year as well theirs is still more to come from him my only doubt is
    the jockey [ regarding gold cup] i think theirs only 3 horses to back long run imperial commander and the
    one that bet imperial at liverpool and i backed the right one that day and i believe it will be p.nicholls number one horse what a friend [dont like one of the owners ] been a big liverpool fan;champion hurdle we all can make a case for binocular hurricane fly menorah and peddlers cross the first one and last one are in my ten to follow .binocular turned up last year and i just had a small punt on him [blast] any enjoy your break
    regards ron.g

  2. Kevin says:

    I note your observation about Christmas Hurdle winners following up in the Champion but in Binocular’s case he won despite the track not playing to his strength’s. This run should make you more inclined to back him for the Champion not less. Typical Christmas Hurdle winners are horses with a smart turn of foot. Overturn probably negated that requirement this year by setting up a good gallop but Binocular’s jumping was also very smooth, efficient and fast. He may yet get beat by someone like Peddlers Cross, who may be better on the day, but not because he won the Christmas Hurdle.

    Kauto Star is so definitely on the decline. I previously gave sound reasons why his laboured Down Royal win suggested that and so it proved. To me Long Run is an out and out stayer. Last year’s Feltham was won in a time seven seconds slower than the King George. Not because it was run at a dawdle but because Tchico Polos set a suicidal pace which then collapsed about two out. Throughout Long Run kept up and then when everything else was stopping he sauntered pass and won with ease. The only thing that will stop Long Run winning the Gold Cup now is the track or fast going.

    I’m not convinced that last year’s RSA (ground was very fast, ignore the official going) proves a dislike of Cheltenham but maybe this years Paddy Power does? He did struggle to go the gallop early on and his jumping wasn’t great. I guess if it’s soft I’m a backer, If it’s faster I’m a layer.

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Very interesting Kevin.

      It rarely comes up on the slow side at Cheltenham and I agree about ignoring going reports there. Look at the clock for all the evidence you need.

      Long Run looks a horse of immense potential and when he has improved to what he can be, I’m pretty sure he’ll be able to deal with the track and competition at Cheltenham. Fast ground is a worry. Some horses just don’t put down on it, and he may be one of them.

      Time will tell.

      p.s. I do agree that Binocular is more likely to win than most Christmas Hurdle winners, but the balance of his Kempton form doesn’t imply he won despite the track. I think he’s perfectly well suited to it.

  3. Dan says:

    Hi Matt,

    Going back even further than Hors La Loi III (who won the Champion Hurdle before I reached the legal age for betting!), only 3 of the 31 different winners of the Christmas Hurdle went on to win the Champion Hurdle, which is a strong indicator that what is required to win one race is different to what is required to win the other. In the case of Binocular, the fact that Christmas Hurdle winners have a very poor record in the Champion Hurdle is negated by the fact that he has already won the Champion Hurdle. He is the first reigning Champion Hurdler to win the Christmas Hurdle race, meaning that he falls into a different statistical category to all other winners of the Kempton race – or, more colloquially, he is a freak.

    Long Run is, statiscally speaking, even more of a freak. As an April foal, he is really still a 5yo, so he effectively achieved something that hasn’t happened since 1950, so the fact that no 5yo has won the Gold Cup wince Golden Miller in 1932 (thank you Wikipedia) should not be seen as a trend that is particularly against him. Nevertheless, I still expect Imperial Commander to beat him around Chelters due to his love of the track.

    On another note, I remember you picking out Oscar Whisky for the Champion Hurdle at an astronomical price (320 on Betfair?) – I must congratulate you for a very shrewd piece of business there! I was very impressed with his win over Any Given Day, I reckon he and Binocular can make it a Henderson 1-2 in the Champion….

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Well done with the stats, Dan. Excellent work.

      There have been some good points made for and against Long Run and, despite his impressive King George win, he has a number of questions to answer on his previous running behind Little Josh in the Paddy Power.

      He’s 0 from 2 at Cheltenham, albeit in strong races, and may need more time to become a Gold Cup winner. At least, that’s the way I see it…!


  4. Joyce says:

    Enjoy your holiday Matt, you deserve it…………. and good write up as usual .

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Thanks Joyce. Not sure I deserve it, but I’m happy (and lucky) to have it nevertheless.


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