The Cheltenham Prep Run – Leopardstown

Cheltenham prep runs are scrutinised annually in order to determine which horses have had the “perfect preparation” for what is generally the main target of the season. Whilst there are a number of different angles, many of them race-specific, I wanted to begin by taking a look at which tracks tend to produce Cheltenham winners.

I’m going to begin by focusing on the tracks with the best win strike rates in the last 10 years. Other important information is included, because a good win rate could be a result of luck (especially from a smaller sample) if not backed up by a good W/P strike rate, or if the track also has a low A/E suggesting that although a few runners won, they actually disappointed based on the market as a whole.

The best 10 in terms of win strike rates are as follows:

Tracks Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
Leopardstown 477 57 11.95 155 32.49 175.82 1.16
Navan 99 10 10.1 22 22.22 68.32 1.52
Punchestown 173 17 9.83 42 24.28 -50.2 0.88
Thurles 54 5 9.26 11 20.37 26.74 1.43
Fairyhouse 109 10 9.17 28 25.69 13.86 1.13
Naas 92 7 7.61 25 27.17 88.89 0.84
Exeter 79 6 7.59 15 18.99 22.28 1.27
Kempton 342 25 7.31 69 20.18 54.41 0.99
Cheltenham 535 34 6.36 106 19.81 -188.93 0.82
Warwick 133 8 6.02 27 20.3 10.27 1.04

There’s just one other with a positive A/E:

Track Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
Ffos Las 39 2 5.13 6 15.38 14.23 1.21

And one more with a high W/P%:

Tracks Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
Clonmel 31 1 3.23 9 29.03 -16.41 0.54

(Remember, A/E doesn’t take places into account).

All of this analysis is interesting in its own right, and there are probably angles which could be exploited for every single track – however, we’re inevitably brought back to one particular track which tends to churn out festival winners on an annual basis – Leopardstown.

Leopardstown

Leopardstown is the second most popular prep track after Cheltenham itself. This is hardly surprising, with the Dublin track hosting the bulk of the quality racing in Ireland between Christmas and the Festival. The Slaney Novice Hurdle in Naas in January is the only Irish grade one outside of Leopardstown from January to March. Since 2018, the quality National Hunt racing between Cheltenham and Christmas has almost all been squeezed into one weekend at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival, leaving few other options for Irish trainers looking for a prep-run for a top-level horse before the festival.

Handicaps?

First, I want to break this down to look at handicaps and non-handicaps at the festival:

Festival Race Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
Handicap 160 11 6.88 44 27.5 63.21 0.96
Non Handicap 317 46 14.51 111 35.02 112.61 1.22

So, runners in non-handicap races (of which there have been about twice as many as in handicap races) performed notably better in terms of wins and places, and have a positive A/E.

Trainers

Predictably, Mullins and Elliott are among the trainers with the best strike rates coming from Leopardstown. Unsurprisingly Jessica Harrington is another top performer, but her win rate (admittedly from a small sample of just 15) is superior theirs, and the market seems to underestimate her runners more:

Trainer Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
Jessica Harrington 15 3 20 6 40 25.18 1.95
Gordon Elliott 42 7 16.67 21 50 39.2 1.28
Willie Mullins 149 22 14.77 50 33.56 41.73 1.1

More notable is the lack of success from another top Irish trainer – Noel Meade hasn’t had a single festival winner coming from a Leopardstown prep run in the last 10 years, although his good W/P strike rate makes up for this, and the form of those with SP’s of 10/1 or less is fairly consistent (43343023):

Trainer Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
Noel Meade 17 0 0 6 35.29 -17 0
Chases v Hurdles

Looking at type of race, chasers outperform the others in terms of win strike rates, place strike rates and A/E:

Race Type Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
Chase 210 30 14.29 76 36.19 46.72 1.27
Hurdle 236 25 10.59 73 30.93 107.75 1.08
NH Flat 31 2 6.45 6 19.35 21.35 0.83
Leopardstown Profits

I haven’t paid much attention to P/L at BFSP so far as it’s a metric that can be skewed a lot by one or two shock winners. However, it is incredible that you can make a profit blindly backing horses which ran at Leopardstown last time out in chases, hurdles and the bumper, regardless of whether the races in question are handicaps and non-handicaps. This has been true in 7 of the last 10 years:

Year P/L(BF) ROI(BF)
2018 29.29 41.25%
2017 6.15 13.67%
2016 -14.61 -30.43%
2015 -6.45 -11.72%
2014 43.7 94.99%
2013 61.26 127.63%
2012 53.43 121.42%
2011 18.16 45.41%
2010 3.26 8.15%
2009 -18.37 -45.93%
Winners

Horses which won their prep race at Leopardstown have a particularly strong record, with almost 20% of them winning at the festival and almost half of them making the frame.

Leopardstown Winner Wins Win% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
146 29 19.86 68 46.58 93.4 1.25
The Dublin Racing Festival

Last year was the first year that horses came to Cheltenham from the Dublin Racing Festival, and the form of those horses which won at Leopardstown on their last start before the festival last year reads 1312251102025F84. That’s 4 wins and 4 2nd’s from 16 horses (note that not all of these came from the Dublin Racing Festival – Road To Respect, for example, won at Christmas and didn’t run again before Cheltenham). The full record from last year is below:

Arkle Chase Footpad 1st
Mares Hurdle Apples Jade 3rd
Ballymore Samcro 1st
RSA Chase Monalee 2nd
Champion Chase Min 2nd
Bumper Blackbow 5th
Bumper Relegate 1st
JLT Novices Chase Shattered Love 1st
Pertemps Mine Now 15th
Stayers Hurdle Supasundae 2nd
Festival Plate Last Goodbye 10th
Triumph Hurdle Mr Adjudicator 2nd
Albert Bartlett Tower Bridge 5th
Gold Cup Total Recall Fell
Gold Cup Edwulf 8th
Gold Cup Road To Respect 4th

Looking at the list itself probably makes the statistic even more impressive – Apples Jade was 3rd but turned out to be in season, Min and Monalee lost nothing in defeat to Altior and Presenting Percy respectively, and other than the Gold Cup horses the only ones not to finish in the top 3 were in the Bumper, Pertemps, Festival Plate and Albert Bartlett – races which last year had 23, 23, 22 and 20 runners respectively (the horses in question had starting prices of 5/1, 25/1, 8/1 and 33/1 respectively).

More Festival Content can be found in the Cheltenham 2019 Section.

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