Buveur D’Air – The Arguments Against

This year’s Champion Hurdle market has been dominated by quite some time by one horse – the reigning Champion Hurdler, Buveur D’Air. With Faugheen failing to show his brilliant best in his last two starts and last year’s juvenile form not working out as well as one might have hoped, Buveur D’Air (currently 4/7 at best) looks like festival banker material.

So, why would we take on the favourite?

The easiest argument that’s been floating around is that it’s hard to retain a Champion Hurdle – Hurricane Fly was well fancied to do so and failed. Really, I can’t take this argument because this year’s Champion Hurdle isn’t just a weak Champion Hurdle, it’s a weak grade 1. The argument that it’s difficult to retain a Champion Hurdle isn’t based on the fact that it’s a gruelling race that takes a lot out of the horse (as could be the case for a Grand National or an Albert Bartlett), but on the fact that the race is generally full of class, with one of last year’s novices coming to challenge or something else emerging. Looking at the list of 11 above, it’s hard to see where that major threat is.

The second argument is that the only defeat of his career since he switched from bumpers to hurdles came at Cheltenham, in the 2016 Supreme. However, that argument can’t really be entertained at all. He was beaten only by Altior and Min in the Supreme (who will be the top two in the market in the Champion Chase the day after this content and both of whom have subsequently proven their class – it was one of the best novice contests in recent memory). That was at the time a career-best performance, probably not bettered until he returned to Cheltenham last March to win this in a stunning fashion. There is no doubt about his ability in terms of the track.

My only real concern (and it is minor) is that Henderson has been quoted more than once as saying that he takes a bit of work. Speaking on February 20th about wishing to take BD for a racecourse gallop, he said: “Buveur D’Air takes an awful lot of work, but he did work this morning. He has not really had a race yet (this season) and he didn’t have a race at Sandown. I would like to work him before racing on Saturday just to get him revved up”. Essentially, the suggestion here is that the lack of competition thus far this season may be a bad thing when it comes to the day itself (this wasn’t enough of a concern for Henderson to take him to Leopardstown for a real race instead of Sandown, of course).

Again, this argument can be countered. Firstly, thinking back to last season, Buveur D’Air was gifted a similarly easy campaign, going off at SP’s of 10/11, 30/100 and 1/4 in his three starts that season. This certainly didn’t have any detrimental effect come the day of the Champion Hurdle. If this was of any concern, Henderson will do whatever he feels is necessary in a racecourse gallop to wind him up a bit more ahead of the day itself. For me, this isn’t anything to lose sleep over.

While his starts this season may not have taken too much effort to win, Buveur D’Air was impressive nonetheless. His hurdling is slick and efficient, and based on what we’ve seen so far he has improved significantly from last season in terms of his jumping. In short, should he run to form, it will take something outstanding to beat him.

Ascot Chase Trends Analysis

This year’s Ascot Chase is a fascinating renewal, with old favourite Cue Card, Gold Cup contender Coney Island and Ryanair Chase hopes Top Notch and Waiting Patiently among the field of 7. I’ve picked out 10 key trends for the race and ran this year’s runners past them to see which horses fit the ideal profile for an Ascot Chase winner.

Key Trends

  1. 10 of the last 10 winners had an official rating of 162 or more.
    These horses filled 74% of the total places (including 100% of the winners) from just 34% of the total field.
  2. 10 of the last 10 winners had at least placed in a grade 1.
    These horses filled 83% of the total places from 61% of the total field.
  3. 9 of the last 10 winners had previously won a grade 1.
    This narrows down the field well, as these horses filled 61% of the total places from 37% of the total field.
  4. 9 of the last 10 winners had won at least once in their last 3 starts.
    These horses filled 91% of the total places from just 69% of the total field.
  5. 9 of the last 10 winners finished in the top 6 last time out.
    These horses filled 87% of the total places (including 90% of the winners) from 78% of the total field.
  6. 8 of the last 10 winners had won 4 or more chases.
    These horses filled 83% of the total places from 64% of the total field.
  7. 8 of the last 10 winners had run between 2 and 4 times that season.
    These horses filled 83% of the total places from 67% of the total field.
  8. 8 of the last 10 winners had previously run in between 6 and 19 chases.
    These horses filled 91% of the total places from 81% of the total field.
  9. 7 of the last 10 winners had previously won at Ascot.
    These horses filled 52% of the total places (incluing 70% of the total winners) from 43% of the total field.
  10. 6 of the last 10 winners ran in the King George last time out.
    These horses filled 39% of the total places (including 60% of the winners) from just 16% of the total field.

This Year’s Runners

Horse 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Total
Coney Island Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No No No Yes No 6
Cue Card Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes No Yes No 7
Frodon Yes No No Yes Yes Yes No Yes No No 5
Speredek No Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No No 6
Top Notch Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No 9
Traffic Fluide No Yes No No No No Yes Yes No Yes 4
Waiting Patiently Yes No No Yes Yes Yes Yes No No No 5

So, the trends shortlist looks like this:

  1. Top Notch – 9
  2. Cue Card – 7

Top Notch

A quick look at Top Notch’s profile confirms that he’s a leading contender:

  • Overall Record: 19 runs – 10 wins – 3 places
  • 3-3-0 at Ascot
    Won a class 3 hurdle over 2 miles in January 2015
    Won a class 2 2m 5f chase in December 2016
    Won c grade 2 2m 5f chase here last November
  • He runs well with some sort of cut in the ground – 5-4-0 on good to soft and 9-5-2 on soft, compared to 3-0-1 on good ground. 2-1-0 on heavy.
  • The majority of his starts have been in small fields, but he has been fairly consistent in them (14-9-1 in fields of 7 or less, 5-1-2 in bigger fields).
  • He has a strong record in November (6-3-1), December (3-3-0), January (2-1-0) and February (3-3-0). This drops slightly in March (3-0-2) and April (1-0-0). 1-0-0 in October.
  • He has a particularly strong record at right-handed tracks (5-5-0), compared to 14-5-3 going left-handed.
  • He has a strong record on tracks described as having slight undulations (such as Ascot), with a record of 10-8-1. 4-1-0 on flat tracks and 5-1-2 at more undulating tracks.

Betfair Hurdle Review – The Stand-Out Stat

Kalashnikov put in a good performance to win the Betfair Hurdle on Saturday in tough conditions. It was undoubtedly one of the best renewals in recent memory in terms of the overall standard of the race. Interestingly, Kalashnikov was one of the horses to come out on top in our trends analysis ahead of the race. However, more interesting than his overall good performance on trends is one particular stat which was backed up by his win. This is most certainly worth noting ahead of next year’s race.

Trend number 9 in our analysis last Saturday concerned horses making their handicap debuts:

5 of the last 10 winners had never run in a handicap.
These 5 winners all came in the last 6 years. This is a significant over-performance, considering these horses made up just 13% of the total field in the last 10 years, but managed to fill 23% of the total places. In the last 5 years, they have over-performed even more significantly – 35% of the total places from 20% of the total field.”

Just 4 of the 24 horses to go to post in Saturday’s race fitted this trend – these were Kalashnikov (won), Moon Racer (11th), Lalor (13th) and Waterlord (pulled up). This means that 6 of the last 7 winners have fit this trend (as have 2 placed horses), despite only 28 runners in the last 7 years having fit the trend, from a total of 146 runners in the race.

In the last 7 years, 19% of the total field have fit this trend. However, these horses have managed to fill 32% of the total places, including 86% of the winners. 

In short, it’s definitely worth looking out for handicap debutantes in this race next February.

In-Form Trainers: February 12th

After some top quality action in Newbury this weekend (and a few Cheltenham festival clues), it’s back to the midweek racing with only 29 days to go until the highlight of the season.

As ever, here’s our update on the trainers operating at high strike rates over the past couple of weeks:

John Gosden has had 3 winners and 2 placed horses from 5 runners in the last 14 days, with form of 21211. He runs one horse today at Wolverhampton:
5:40 Wolverhampton – Orchid Lily

Mrs R Dobbin has had 4 winners from  7 runners in the last 2 weeks, although her good form stretches back slightly further than that, with form of 1211141F51 since January 26th. She has two runners today:
2:00 Catterick – Jack Devine
3:35 Catterick – Monfass

Ed Walker has had 3 winners from 6 runners in the last 14 days. He runs one horse today:
8:10 Wolverhampton – Bold Prediction

Rebecca Bastiman has had 3 winners and 2 placed horses from 7 runners in the last 2 weeks. She runs two today:
7:40 Wolverhampton – See Vermont
8:40 Wolverhampton – Gone With The Wind

J Scott has had 4 wins and a place from 10 runners in the last 2 weeks (in fact, he has had 4 wins and a place from 7 runners in the last 7 days). His form in the last 7 days reads 11118P2, with the horse than finished 8th having had a starting price of 50/1 and the horse than pulled up having had a starting price of 100/1. He has two runners today:
3:50 Plumpton – Two Hoots
4:20 Plumpton – Shoofly Milly

Dr Richard Newland has had 2 wins and a place from 4 runners in the last 7 days (2 wins and a place from 5 runners in the last 14 days). His form over the last 7 days reads 4211. He has one runners today:
2:35 Catterick – Aaron Lad

Betfair Hurdle Trends Analysis

I’ve singled out a number of key trends for the Betfair Hurdle and looked at which of this year’s runners fit the trends:

Key Trends

  1. 10 of the last 10 winners were aged between 4 and 6.
    These horses filled 77% of the total places from 63% of the total field.
  2. 10 of the last 10 winners carried 11-2 or less.
    These horses filled 85% of the total places (including 100% of the winners) from 80% of the total field.
  3. 5 of the last 10 winners were officially rated between 134 and 137.
    These horses filled 36% of the total places (including 50% of the total winners) from 23% of the total field. 3 of the last 5 winners have fit this trend, and if we focus on the last 5 years, these horses filled 40% of the total places from 26% of the total field.
  4. 9 of the last 10 winners finished in the top 3 on their last start.
    These horses filled 74% of the total places from 51% of the total field.
  5. 4 of the last 10 winners were dropping down in class.
    These horses filled 36% of the total places from 25% of the total field. This includes 3 of the last 4 winners and both of the last 2. If we focus on the last 5 years, we see that these horses filled 35% of the total places from 17% of the total field.
  6. 8 of the last 10 winners were bred in Ireland or the UK.
    These horses filled 64% of the total places from 61% of the total field.
  7. 10 of the last 10 winners had run in 16 or less National Hunt races.
    These horses filled 95% of the total places from 87% of the total field.
  8. 10 of the last 10 winners had run in 10 or less hurdles races.
    These horses filled 85% of the total places from 73% of the total field.
  9. 5 of the last 10 winners had never run in a handicap.
    These 5 winners all came in the last 6 years. This is a significant over-performance, considering these horses made up just 13% of the total field in the last 10 years, but managed to fill 23% of the total places. In the last 5 years, they have over-performed even more significantly – 35% of the total places from 20% of the total field.

This Year’s Runners

Horse 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Total
High Bridge No No No Yes No Yes Yes Yes No 4
Jenkins Yes No No Yes No Yes Yes Yes No 5
Bleu Et Rouge No No No No No No Yes Yes No 2
Verdana Blue Yes No No Yes No Yes Yes Yes No 5
Charli Parcs Yes No No No No No Yes Yes No 3
Divin Bere Yes No No No No No Yes Yes No 3
Remiluc No No No Yes No No No No No 1
Moon Racer No No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes 5
Misterton No No No Yes No Yes Yes Yes No 4
Kalashnikov Yes No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes 7
Project Bluebook Yes No No No No No No Yes No 2
Kayf Grace No No No Yes No Yes Yes Yes No 4
Spiritofthegames Yes No No Yes No Yes Yes Yes No 5
Lough Derg Spirit Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No 7
Poppy Kay No Yes No Yes No Yes Yes Yes No 5
Lalor Yes Yes Yes Yes No No Yes Yes Yes 7
Knocknanuss No Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes No 6
Waterlord No Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes 7
William H Bonney No Yes Yes No No Yes Yes No No 4
Irish Roe No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No 7
Silver Streak Yes Yes No Yes No Yes Yes Yes No 6
Nietzsche Yes Yes No No No Yes No Yes No 4
Coeur Blimey No Yes No No No Yes Yes Yes No 4
Zalvados Yes Yes No Yes No No No Yes No 4
Magic Dancer Yes Yes No No No Yes No No No 3
Maquisard Yes Yes No No No No No Yes No 3

So, the trends shortlist:

  1. Kalashnikov, Lough Derg Spirit, Lalor, Waterlord, Irish Roe – 7
  2. Knocknanuss, Silver Streak – 6

In-Form Trainers: February 5th

As we recover from an incredible weekend at Leopardstown, it’s time to settle back into midweek racing, so, as usual, here’s our update on the trainers who have been in hot form over the last two weeks.

Robin Dickin has had 4 wins and 3 places from his 8 runners in the last 14 days, with form of 111342131. He runs two horses on Monday:
2:30 Southwell – Myroundorurs
4:35 Southwell – Tara Well

Rose Dobbin has had 6 wins and 3 places from her 13 runners in the last 14 days. Her more recent record is even more impressive, with form of 1211141 since the 26th of January, and 3 wins from 4 runners in the last 7 days. She runs two horses on Monday:
3:50 Newcastle – Log On
4:20 Newcastle – Le Gavroche

Kevin Ryan has had 3 wins and a place from 8 runners in the last 14 days (including 2 wins and a place from 6 runners in the last 7 days). His two runners so far this month have won. He runs one horse on Monday:
5:45 Wolverhampton – Al Khan

Anthony Honeyball has had 3 wins and 2 places from 8 runners in the last 14 days (all in the last 7 days) with form of 11288621 (the two horses to finish 8th had starting prices of 33/1 and 25/1). He runs one horse on Monday:
3:00 Southwell – Don Lami

John Gosden has had 3 wins and 3 places from 9 runners in the last 14 days (with his two runners in the last 7 days finishing 2nd and 1st at 17/2 and 5/1 respectively). He runs one horse on Monday:
7:15 Wolverhampton – Natch

Cheltenham: 3 Golden Rules

Readers of our mailing list are often the first people to receive our content ahead of major events such as the Cheltenham Festival, and they received the following email last week – if you’d like access to our analysis and content before anyone else, you can sign up for free on the left hand side of the page.

The Countdown is On!

As racing fans, only one thing occupies our thoughts at this time of year – the Cheltenham Festival. While we suffer through cold, miserable January days we can dream ahead to Prestbury Park in March and the famous roar as the tapes go up ahead of the Supreme Novices Hurdle, the first race of the festival.

To begin our mission of finding winners over these four fantastic days in the middle of March, I’ve found three golden rules which should be followed at the festival.

1) Grade 1 Winners Win the Gold Cup

It’s generally excepted that the Gold Cup, National Hunt racing’s blue riband event, is the highlight of the week at Cheltenham. One of the most useful and strongest statistics that you will come across is that it is practically a necessity to be a grade 1 winner in order to be competitive in a Gold Cup.

In the last 10 years, 57 horses which had not won a grade 1 ran in the Gold Cup. None of them won and just 4 managed to make the frame. The 69 grade 1 winners, on the other hand, accounted for all 10 winners and the other 26 placed horses – that’s 87% of the total places on offer from just 55% of the total field in the last 10 years.

2) Handicaps Are Not Good Preparation for Festival Grade 1’s

It has been the case for a number of years that horses which had their final prep run in a handicap tend to underperform in the grade 1 races at the Cheltenham Festival. The stats back up this common observation – 9% of runners in grade 1’s in the last 10 years had their last start in a handicap, but these horses won just 2 of those 127 races.

This record remained as poor as ever last year, with just one placed horse from 19. Well-fancied horses such as Ballyandy and Brain Power had their final prep runs in handicaps and failed to make the frame.

3) Older Horses Should Be Avoided

Cheltenham has always been a chance for rising stars to shine and it pays to side with these younger contenders against the veterans of the game. The classic stat is that horses aged 11 or older do not win at the festival – this held strong last year with no wins and 4 places from 26 runners. There were exceptions in each of the 2 years before that, but overall horses aged 11 or older have performed very poorly, with just 4 wins from 305 horses in the last 10 years.

While horses aged 11 and older are probably best left alone, we should be wary around 10-year-olds too – the only 10yo winners last year were Pacha Du Polder in the Foxhunters and Special Tiara, who was probably gifted a Champion Chase due to Douvan’s injury.