Strong Favourites in Recent Years
In the last few years, the Arkle has become a difficult race to assess based on stats from past renewals. The race has generally been very predictable with the best horse winning, meaning that it’s hard to find a clever angle based on past results.
When looking at this year’s race, it has to be considered that the market at the time of writing looks very different than it has in the last couple of years. In 6 of the last 7 years, we’ve had an odds-on favourite (and all 6 of these have won). It’s unlikely that we’ll have a similarly short-priced contender this year, with the Arkle looking a relatively open race. Nothing has dominated the division in either the UK or Ireland as much as Sprinter Sacre, Simonsig, Un De Sceaux, Douvan, Altior or Footpad did in previous years. These odds-on favourites have also tended to scare away the opposition – the average number of runners in the last 7 renewals was just 7.7 – there were less than 8 runners in 4 of the last 7 years, meaning that this hasn’t really been a race for each-way bettors.
Of course, odds-on favourites aren’t the only reason for these decreasing field sizes. The JLT Chase over 2m 5f was introduced for horses which would likely be aimed at mid-distance chases such as the Ryanair the following season, meaning that we have less horses running in the Arkle which are suited to further than 2 miles but aren’t quite up to the test of the RSA. This has meant that Arkle winners aren’t generally horses which could stay further – it’s more about speed than stamina.
In the first grade one race covered, the Supreme Novices Hurdle, I looked at how an unbeaten record over hurdles isn’t necessarily a massive plus. The Arkle is a different story. Any horse which has been unbeaten in at least 3 starts over fences have performed excellently here:
|Unbeaten in 3+ chasing starts||9||5||55.56||6||66.67||4.74||1.36|
|100% W/P rate in 3+ chasing starts||21||6||28.57||9||42.86||-0.3||1.19|
However, although the A/E suggests that these horses have outperformed market expectations, they haven’t exactly been massive prices – 4 of the 5 winners were odds-on favourites (Footpad, Altior, Douvan and Sprinter Sacre) and the form of odds-against horses which fit this criteria reads 12454 (not massively impressive considering the small fields that we’re dealing with). It might be worth noting that only 2 horses have run here having been unbeaten in 4 or more starts over fences, and both have won (Altior and Sizing Europe, who was 6/1).
However, the key to this stat might be fallers. It’s not at all uncommon for a novice chaser to fall at some stage over fences as their jumping improves with every run. If we look at horses which finished in the top 2 on all completed chase starts, allowing for horses which fell, unseated, slipped up or were brought down, the number of runners increases to 59 (63% of the total field), the number of winners increases to 10 (100% of the total field) and the number of places (including wins) increases to 22 (85% of the total places). This would suggest a significant over-performance from horses which have run consistently well over fences with no shock defeats, with the exception of the occasional jumping error bringing them to a halt.
As this is a novice chase, there have been plenty of opportunities for horses to have had a run at the track in the past. In fact, over two thirds of the field in the last 10 years had done so. These accounted for 9 of the last 10 winners:
|Ran at Cheltenham?||Runners||Wins||W%||W/P||W/P%||P/L(BF)||A/E|
Like the last stat, this could just be indicative of the fact that the best horse tends to win. Those which were top-class hurdlers would probably been aimed at either a Supreme Novices Hurdle or Ballymore Novices Hurdle, or, if they had two seasons over hurdles, a Champion Hurdle in the past. This experience at the track seems to be a plus. The A/E isn’t particularly high, but we wouldn’t expect it to be considering the fact that these horses accounted for about 71% of the total field in the last 10 years. A simpler way of looking at the over-performance of these horses may be that they took up 71% of the total field and 81% of the total places (including 90% of the winners).
Won Last Time Out
|Won or placed||62||10||16.13||18||29.03||16.09||1.04|
We can see a bit of an over-performance here from the horses which won last time out. They made up 51% of the total field but filled 62% of the total places. Those which made the frame last time out did account for 100% of the winners, but the W/P stat is probably more telling – they only marginally over-performed in terms of wins and places, filling 69% of the total places from 67% of the total field. So, the focus should probably be on horses which come into the race off the back of a win.
Grade One Form
All of the stats thus far have shown that in recent Arkles, the cream has risen to the top. This can be seen clearly in the next stat, which shows the performance of grade one winners. However, I’ve included not just the winners of grade one chases, but of grade one hurdles and even bumpers too:
|Grade One Winners||28||7||25||13||46.43||-4.34||1.05|
The reason that this particular angle may be interesting is that it has not only covered the odds-on favourites which won in recent years, but also some over-performing outsiders. Sizing John was 2nd in 2016 at 9/1 and Gods Own was 2nd in 2015 at 33/1, for example. Narrowing it down to horses priced at 5/1 or higher, we see the win strike rate decreasing, but the win/place strike rates remaining relatively high:
|5/1+ Grade One Winners||16||2||13||6||37.5||-0.02||1.32|
Looking back at last year’s renewal, Footpad was a very impressive winner under an expert ride from Ruby Walsh. He was hardly a shock winner, having won a beginners’ chase in Ireland and then two grade one novice chases before coming to Cheltenham. The brilliance he was showing over fences was far greater than the ability that he had shown over hurdles, where he was a good enough horse to compete in grade ones but not quite good enough to win them – his form figures in graded contests over smaller obstacles read 313F4243. Altior and Douvan were different – both had won a Supreme Novice Hurdle and were by the far best 2 mile hurdlers the previous season.
Hurdling form is a very good indicator of which horses have the most class, and the market has undoubtedly caught on to this. However, every year we see horses which can increase by a stone when switching to fences and this may well be the case in this year’s market. Lalor and Kalashnikov head the market (the former won the grade one Top Novices Hurdle at Aintree’s Grand National meeting last year and the latter finished 2nd in the Supreme). Behind them in the betting are Le Richebourg (not a grade one winner over hurdles) and Dynamite Dollars (who won just twice over hurdles, in a class 3 and a class 4). It’s possible that horses such as these may be underrated by the market, which seems to be turning a blind eye to the fact that Lalor and Kalashnikov have both put in disappointing performances over fences. I’ve backed Le Richebourg (2.5pts at 7/1) purely on the basis that he arguably deserves to be a shorter price than the English contenders based on current evidence. I’m quite keen on the Drinmore form (which supports Delta Work’s claims for the RSA) and would think that Le Richebourg will benefit from a strongly run race and good ground at the festival.