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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.