National Hunt Chase – An Overview

Class

It’s obvious that in a 4-mile novice chase, you’re going to need a tough horse with plenty of stamina. My angle on this race is a bit different, but even simpler – it’s all about class. In the last number of years, the class of horse competing in this race has improved significantly. 7 of the last 8 winners (including the last 4) were rated 143 or higher. The 5 winners before that were rated 127/129/130/123/120. Looking at last year’s race, 8 of the 16 runners were rated 143 or higher and their form read 1236FFU. The other 8 were rated 142 or lower and their form read 45PPPPPRU. The previous year, the first 5 home were all rated 143+, and these horses accounted for two thirds of the field.

It’s not really good practice to base this trend around the number 143 just because that was 2016 winner Minella Rocco’s rating. For this reason, I’m going to focus on horses rated 140 or higher. This has accounted for between one and two thirds of the field for the last few years:

Year % of Field Rated 140+
2018 50%
2017 67%
2016 65%
2015 35%
2014 20%
2013 25%
2012 16%
2011 19%
2010 6%
2009 11%

It would seem that the number of higher-rated horses competing has increased in the last 5 years, so I’m going to focus on those renewals now:

OR Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
0-139 44 1 2.27 4 9.09 -34.58 0.71
140+ 42 4 9.52 11 26.19 12.56 0.85
145+ 27 3 11.11 10 37.04 15.53 0.92
150+ 6 2 33.33 3 50 25.82 2.38

It would appear that it’s a case of the higher the rating, the better. Rathvinden (last year’s winner) and Mossback (around 4th position when he fell 7 out) were the only two horses rated 150 or higher last year (both were rated 150). In 2017, it was just Tiger Roll (winner) and Edwulf (looked sure to finish 2nd until something went wrong after the last and he subsequently collapsed). In 2016, it was just Vicente (14/1 5th of 20) and in 2014, runner-up Shotgun Paddy.

Playing with the figures a bit will always change the results (if you include horses rated 149 it only adds two more runners but one was 2016 runner-up Native River) but the point is clear – the best-rated, classiest horses perform well in this race.

Experience

However, it’s hard to ignore the fact that this is a 4-mile chase at one of the most testing tracks in National Hunt racing. The percentage of horses which fail to complete the race each year is testament to this – in 2016, only 8 of the 20 runners completed, in 2017 10 of the 18 runners completed, and in 2018 (a particularly tough year considering the going) just 6 of the 16 runners managed to complete the race.

While we’ve already seen the importance of class, experience should in theory be vital too. This is backed up by the numbers – 5 of the last 10 winners had at least 8 starts over fences, despite these horses accounting for just 17% of the total field. They notably exceeded the expectations of the market and could have been backed blindly:

Chase Starts Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
7 or less 144 5 3.47 22 15.28 -100.23 0.49
8 or more 30 5 16.67 8 26.67 36.69 2.82

It’s worth looking at this for just the last 5 years too, as we’ve seen already that the composition of the race and the type of horse that it attracts have changed in recent years. 3 of the last 5 winners had run at least 8 times over fences, despite the fact that just 13 such horses ran in that period:

Chase Starts Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
7 or less 73 2 2.74 10 13.7 -51.55 0.37
8 or more 13 3 23.08 5 38.46 29.53 4.23

The W/P rates are fairly impressive too (bear in mind that although there are technically only 3 places in this race as it’s not a handicap, many bookies are likely to offer 4 on the day if there’s a big field).

So, we’ve got two clear angles here – we’re going to be looking for a horse who has proven class (we tested this by looking at those with higher official ratings) and plenty of chasing experience (we tested this by looking at those with 8 or more previous starts over fences).

The Ideal Candidate

When there’s a particularly strong angle into a race, as ever, I’m making out a “profile” for the ideal candidate for the race. As ever, it’s rare to find a horse that ticks all of the boxes, and strong past results aren’t too reliable as we’re basing the profile itself on the success of these horses. However, if we went with the following criteria:

  • OR 145+
  • 8+ chase starts

There would have been just 4 horses in the last 5 renewals which fit the bill – 2015 winner Cause Of Causes (8/1), 2017 winner Tiger Roll (16/1), 2018 winner Rathvinden (9/2) and 2018 runner-up Sizing Tennessee (8/1). The reason that I’ve focused on just 5 renewals is the fact that there have been more runners with higher ratings in recent years, and the race seems to be changing into more of a top-class affair. However, if we were to extend it back to the last 10 renewals, there would be two more qualifiers: 2011 winner Chicago Grey (5/1) and 2011 4th Alfa Beat (11/2).

Looking at this year’s market, ante post favourite Ok Corral is rated 153 but has only run twice over fences. Delta Work is likely to run in the RSA (and only has 3 chase starts anyway), Cubomania has run 10 times over fences but is rated just 142, Mortal is rated 148 but has only run twice over fences, Ballyward has run just twice over fences, and Santini is likely to run in the RSA (and has only run twice over fences). If Cubomania was to put in a good run at the Dublin Racing Festival, he would likely be of interest. However, we could end up with no “ideal candidate” this year (there were none in 2012, 2013, 2014 or 2016) or with something at a big price.

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