Third Time Lucki and Harry Skelton win the From The Horse's Mouth Podcast Novices' Chase at Cheltenham. 13/11/2021 Pic Steve Davies/Racingfotos.com

When Hurdlers Go Chasing

Some horses are bred to chase, others are not, writes Dave Renham. Some horses are better over hurdles, others are better over the bigger obstacles. In this article I will look at horses making their debut in a chase having switched from hurdling last time out. The data have been taken from UK National Hunt races spanning the seven calendar years from 2016 to 2022. All profits and losses have been calculated to Betfair Starting Price less 5% commission.

All Runners

Firstly let’s review the breakdown for all first-time chasers that qualify having run las time out (LTO) over hurdles:

 

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These chase debutants have won around one race in every seven and there is not a particularly good bottom line with all runners combining to lose over 10 pence for every £1 staked. In addition, the A/E index is quite modest at 0.88.

Handicap vs Non-handicap

Diving deeper into the stats, we’ll start by splitting the results between handicap and non-handicap races. Here is the win strike rate comparison:

 

 

As can be seen from the graph, debutants that contest a non-handicap have a much higher strike rate, which is to be expected; but, not shown, handicap runners would have lost a little less money overall. A/E indices are similar with 0.89 for non-handicaps, 0.87 for handicaps. It should be noted that most horses making their chase debut do it in a handicap – 72% in fact. With no clear edge to be had let’s move on to market factors.

Betting Market

How good a guide is the betting market is the next question? Here is the breakdown by Industry SP grouping.

 

 

As is shown, very short prices (less than 1/2) have scored enough times to make a profit. Conversely, the very big priced (40/1+) debut chasers have a dreadful record. They have proved extremely unlikely to spring a surprise and losses of nearly 80p in the £ would be painful had you backed them all. Horses priced between 5/2 and 6/1 (combining the price brackets 5/2 to 4/1 and 9/2 to 6/1) edged into profit from a decent sample size. You could argue that, if there is any value, then this is the price bracket which might offer some.

The 25/1 to 33/1 group looks to me to be an anomaly, especially considering the strike rate exceeds the 16/1 to 22/1 group’s strike rate. My guess is that the significant profit seen for the 25/1 to 33/1 bracket is unlikely to be replicated in the years to come. As a writer/researcher it is all well and good quoting profit figures, but if they are unlikely to be sustainable, for whatever reason, it is important to make readers aware of one’s thoughts and the likely bigger picture. Before moving on, I wanted to try and test whether my theory that the recent results for 25/1 to 33/1 runners was likely to be an anomaly. To do that I crossed checked data from 2009 to 2015 and, during that period, 25/1 to 33/1 shots won less than 2% of the time losing 44p in the £.

 

Gender of horse

This is an area I always look at when researching racing data because there are occasions when the sex of the horse makes a real difference in terms of results and returns. It is also a factor that not many punters worry about, so I feel there is a potential edge to be had in certain circumstances. Let’s see whether that is the case here. Firstly, a look at the win strike rates:

 

 

As we can see there is a big variance in terms of win strike rate. Male horses comfortably outperform female runners when making their chase debut. Now it is important to note that male runners do make up 84% of all runners. However, when we look at losses to BSP female runners have actually lost more in absolute terms than males: females produced a loss of £361.51 to £1 level stakes compare with -£344.48 for males.

When we compare the return on investment, there is a chasm between the two groups. Colts and geldings lost just 6% (6p in the £), while fillies and mares lost over 34% (34p in the £). These stats are powerful and can help give is an edge.

Age of horse

A look at what difference the age of the horse makes. Here are the splits:

 

 

4yo chasing debutants are relatively rare but from this modest sample they have performed well. The main takeaway from this table, though, is that horses aged 9 or older are to be avoided. They win far less often than younger runners, and the returns have been dreadful: nigh on 50p in the £. Mares aged 9 or older making the switch from hurdles to chases for the first time have been rare; but of the 71 qualifiers just 2 won!

The 8-year-old group also perform well below the norm and proved very poor value.

Last time out finishing position

The next area to come under the microscope is LTO performance in terms of finishing position. Let us look at the win strike rates first:

 

 

Last time out winners have the highest strike rates followed by LTO runners up, so a better LTO performance seems to be significant from a win probability perspective. It will come as no surprise that horses that were pulled up last time are a cohort to avoid – they have produced a low strike rate at 9% with losses of over 20 pence in the £ from 749 qualifiers.

The anomaly here is the group of horses that fell or unseated LTO. Their strike rate of 16.1% is higher than I had expected. Not only that, but these runners would have secured a profit of £117.10 to £1 level stakes (ROI +99.2%). At just 118 qualifiers, the sample size is quite small, so I think there is a case for remaining sceptical.

Looking at these results in more detail I realised that they were skewed somewhat by three big priced winners. That helps explain the profit figure. I did back check 2009 to 2015 data for LTO fallers/unseated riders to give more context: the strike rate in that period was 16% as well, but in this time frame they made losses more in line with my pre-research expectations of 16p in the £.

Country of Breeding

A quick look at breeding in terms of the origin of the horse. For this I want to compare the record of British-, Irish- and French-bred chase debutants. Here are the strike rates for each:

 

 

There is a big advantage to French-bred chase debutants in terms of their win chance. Remarkably, backing all French-breds blind would have yielded a profit of £70.55 (ROI +6.2%). French-bred chase debutants have shown good consistency, too, having hit a strike rate more than 18% in six of the seven years under review. Four of the seven years turned a blind profit, two years made a loss and one year broke even. Chasing debutants who are French bred demand close scrutiny.

Trainers

The final area for research is usually a popular one, namely trainers. Below is a table of trainers who have had at least 50 runners switching from hurdles to make their chase debut. I have ordered them by strike rate:

 



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There is a huge difference in strike rate between Henderson at the top (31.82%) and Hawke at the bottom (5.66%). 13 of the 30 trainers have made a BSP profit with 17 in the negative.

It will come as no surprise to see Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls occupy the top two spots, but despite excellent strike rates neither have made a profit. This is simply due to the fact punters and bookmakers know these two trainers inside out and finding any value for either is relatively rare regardless of ‘angle’. However, there is one Nicky Henderson positive to share and that is with his odds-on runners. They have won a remarkable 24 times from 30 runners (SR 80%). A profit of £6.19 (ROI +20.6%) would have been achieved if backing all of them.

However, the trainer that catches my eye is Dan Skelton. A strike rate of just over one win in every four and decent profits to boot. Let’s dig deeper into his stats. Firstly, a year-by-year breakdown:

 

 

2016 was the one losing year and the only year where his strike rate dipped below 20%. The 2017 to 2022 results were very consistent, and impressive, showing that his bottom line has not been skewed by a few big priced winners.

Harry Skelton has ridden the vast majority of these runners, and this combination has been responsible for profits of £75.76. Backing this duo would have seen you earn over 44p for every £1 bet during the seven-year period (from 169 qualifiers). Here are three more positive Skelton angles:

  1. He has bucked the female horse trend, scoring with 28% of this cohort (10 wins from 35).
  2. His 5yo runners have done particularly well, winning 15 of their 42 starts (SR 35.7%) for a profit of £38.51 (ROI +93.9%).
  3. Skelton has an outstanding record when his chasing debutants tackle shorter distances. In races of 2m 1f or less he has recorded 25 successes from 67 (SR 37.3%) showing a profit of £46.40 (ROI +70.3%).

Dan Skelton looks a trainer to be on the right side of with chasing debutants.

Summary: bullet points

Before I wind this piece up let me share what I think are the strongest stats both positive and negative from my research on chase debutants making the switch from hurdling.

  1. Horses priced 5/2 to 6/1 (Industry SP) seem to be the range to concentrate on.
  2. Avoid horses priced 40/1 or bigger.
  3. Female horses have a very poor record in terms of both strike rate and returns.
  4. Four-year-olds do well albeit from a modest sample. Avoid chase debut runners aged 9 and up, and it is probably also worth swerving 8yo’s.
  5. Avoid horses that were pulled up LTO.
  6. French-bred horses comfortably outperform British- and Irish-bred runners.
  7. Dan Skelton is a trainer to keep a close eye on as his runners have a very good overall record.

With the National Hunt season clicking into gear now, horses making their chase debuts will be appearing more and more regularly. Hopefully, this article will help to point you in the right direction.

 - DR

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4 replies
  1. waywardlad
    waywardlad says:

    I always like these statistical assessments by Dave Renham, and looking at the list of trainers there’s much to recommend Olly Murphy, Ben Pauling, and Gary Moore joining Dan Skelton on the “trainers to Follow” list. Quick question: is the initial stat – 905 wins from 6621 runs just relating to debutants in novice chase races? There’s one trainer I know of that doesn’t school horses over fences at all, the first time they jump a fence is at the races. Is it possible to run a “2nd start novice winners” assessment, to see which trainers novice chasers improve most for their debut?

  2. Joe Healy
    Joe Healy says:

    Hi Dave, love these these articles always a great & interesting read.
    In the above article it states at the beginning the sample includes “all first-time chasers that qualify having run last (sic) time out (LTO) over hurdles”
    Is it correct to assume this differs from ‘first run over Fences’? i.e. it will include runners that had previously gone chasing had a hurdle run and returned to a chase?

    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Joe,

      Matt here. No, it includes only horses making their debut in a chase. In the first para, it says:

      In this article I will look at horses making their debut in a chase having switched from hurdling last time out
      let’s review the breakdown for all first-time chasers that qualify having run las time out (LTO) over hurdles
      These chase debutants have won around one race in every seven

      Hope that clarifies,
      Matt

  3. Dave Renham
    Dave Renham says:

    Thanks waywardlad for the comments. The initial stat (905/6621) is relating to debutants in chases that raced over hurdles LTO. So most of the races in that sample are novice chases. The initial stat does not include horses that when straight to chasing, or switched from bumpers to chasing or flat racing. to chasing. Having said that well over 90% of chase debutants raced in hurdle race in their last race. It would be possible to look at second starters in a novice chase and compare that with novice chase debutants. This does not mean however, that for the second chase starters the initial chase was a novice chase as well. That is too fiddley to do! In good news though (hopefully), my next article that will appear on Geegeez is a collection of answers addressing some of the questions I have been asked in the past couple of years when it comes to racing. Now that article was finished a couple of weeks ago, but I am going to extend the article and tag on your question on the end of it and share the number crunching there. Best wishes Dave

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