Ballymore Novices Hurdle – An Overview

Class Beats Stamina

The second day of the festival doesn’t get off to the same ferocious start as day one. The Ballymore is run over 5f further than the Supreme and tends to be run at a much steadier pace. This creates a bit of an unusual paradox – while the Supreme is more of a test of stamina than you might expect over 2m, the Ballymore is more of a test of speed than you would expect of 2m 5f. They don’t go a mad gallop, so the key is settling, getting into a nice rhythm, staying in a good position and then having the speed, class, and turn of foot to win when the race heats up.

The evidence of the speed angle is in the role of honour – it was here that Aidan O’Brien ran Istabraq as a novice before he won three Champion Hurdles. Hardy Eustace ran in this as a novice before winning two Champion Hurdles. In more recent years, Simonsig won it before going back to 2m for the Arkle the following year, The New One won it before running in the next 4 Champion Hurdles, and Faugheen won it and then became the Champion Hurdler. In the same year that Faugheen won this, Vautour won the Supreme for the same trainer – it was Vautour who was campaigned over longer trips the following year, winning a JLT and almost winning a King George over 3 miles while Faugheen dominated the 2 mile hurdling division.

In other words, we won’t worry too much about stamina here, but will focus more on speed. This could explain one of the long-standing negatives for this race – the winner of the Challow Hurdle tends to perform poorly. The Challow is run at Newbury just before the New Year and is the natural trial for this race in the UK – it’s a grade one novice hurdle run over 2m 5f. No Challow winner this century has gone on to win the Ballymore (although a few have managed to make the frame). It might be better to focus on horses which ran over shorter trips last time out in order to find the classier, speedier contenders:

Distance of prep run Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
2m 2.5f or less 58 7 12.07 12 20.69 -22.41 1.36
2m 3f or further 75 3 4 18 24 -52.26 0.46

The theory holds up here. Horses which ran over a longer trip last time out (such as 2m 3f or further, which you would imagine would be beneficial) underperformed significantly in comparison with horses which ran in a shorter race last time out.

Good Recent Form

A relatively successful run last time out is something which is often considered essential coming into the Ballymore. The majority of runners tend to have finished in the top 2 last time out, and the importance of this stat is probably easier to see when looking at the awful performance of horses which didn’t finish in the top 2 last time out:

Finishing position LTO Runners Wins Win% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
1st or 2nd 97 10 10.31 29 29.9 -38.67 0.93
Not 1st or 2nd 36 0 0 1 2.78 -36 0

However, the vast majority of these horses which didn’t finish in the top two on their last outing ran at massive outsiders – only one of the 36 ran at a single-figure starting price, and 26 of them were priced 33/1 or longer. For that reason, I wouldn’t get too caught up on this.

More significantly, the Ballymore winner tends to have run in a good race last time out. The poor record of horses stepping up from handicaps to grade ones at the festival is covered elsewhere, and it’s as significant as ever here. I’ll start by comparing the record of horses which had their prep run in a graded race to those which didn’t:

Prep Run Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
Grade 1/2/3 62 9 14.52 24 38.71 -6.87 1.1
Other 71 1 1.41 6 8.45 -67.81 0.28

Again, we’re often dealing with big-priced outsiders here, but there have been plenty of high-profile horses at shorter prices which came into the race off the back of a run in a non-graded contest. The record of horses which ran in grade ones last time out is particularly noteworthy:

Prep Run Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
Grade One 18 4 22.22 8 44.44 2.43 1.37

Official Ratings

In a few races (notably the Mares Hurdle and National Hunt Chase so far) I’ve been pointing out the successful records of horses with higher official ratings. This might seem very simple, but it’s often underrated in what should in theory be very efficient festival markets. The Ballymore is another prime example. Last year, 5 of the 14 runners were rated 145 or higher. Their finishing positions were 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th. The year before, 4 of the 15 runners were rated 145 or higher. Their finishing positions were 1st, 2nd, 3rd and pulled up. In 2016 the record wasn’t quite as strong (whilst both the winner and the runner-up were rated 145+, so were the 7th and 8th-place horses and one which was pulled up), but 2015 is an excellent example – the 4 horses in the field of 10 rated 145 or higher finished 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th. The interesting thing is that these aren’t necessarily the top horses in the betting, although the main point to take from this stat is probably that the class horses tend to come to the fore here (remember, we have already pointed out that a good turn of foot and a bit of class is essential in this race).

OR Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
<145 95 1 1.05 7 7.37 -86.71 0.22
145+ 38 9 23.68 23 60.53 12.04 1.25

The key figure here is the A/E – the 1.25 for the horses rated 145 or higher shows that the market hasn’t caught on to the fact that these horses are better bets than the lower-rated contenders.

Not All About Experience

The final point that’s worth making is that here, contrary to in the Supreme, experience isn’t really paramount. In the Supreme, we were looking for hardened hurdlers who had run at least 4 times already over these obstacles. This isn’t the case in the Ballymore.

Hurdles Runs Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
0-3 72 7 9.72 19 26.39 -29.88 0.96
4+ 61 3 4.92 11 18.03 -44.8 0.67

The record of the less exposed hurdlers is actually far superior in this race to that of the toughened, experienced hurdlers. This doesn’t necessarily mean that having less experience is a plus, but the A/E’s might suggest that the market underestimates less experienced horses in the race. This makes sense – the idea could be that over a longer trip, you’re going to want a tougher, more experienced hurdler. In reality, the emphasis here is neither on stamina nor on jumping at speed, due to the fact that the race tends to be run at a fairly steady pace. For this reason, not writing off horses just because they’re less experienced over hurdles might help us to get an edge over the market.

The Ideal Candidate

  • Ran over a shorter trip last time out (we’ll say 2m 2½f or less)
  • Officially rated 145+

14 horses have fit the bill in the last 10 years, with 6 of them winning and another 2 making the frame. Blindly backing them at Betfair SP would have returned a profit of +13.3, and their A/E was 1.94.

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

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