Category Archives: Cheltenham

Can a 4-Year-Old Win the Supreme?

One pressing issue this year ahead of the first race of the festival is likely to be the presence of a four-year-old runner. This occurrence isn’t unheard of – there was one last year – but the increased significance this year is understandable, given the fact that Khudha went off at a price of 200/1 last year and finished down the field, as, with no disrespect to the horse or connections, would have been expected. Before that, the last 4yo to run was the admittedly smart Marsh Warbler who had won a grade one juvenile hurdle but went off at 22/1 and was out of his depth, finishing down the field in a Supreme featuring the likes of Sprinter Sacre, Cue Card and Al Ferof.

This year, however, Joseph O’Brien has dominated the Irish juvenile scene and with Sir Erec proving a worthy Triumph favourite in an impressive win at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival, it’s looking increasingly likely that stablemate Fakir D’Oudairies, who won the Triumph trial on Cheltenham Trials Day with ease, will be re-routed to the Supreme in order to keep O’Brien’s runners apart. So, the question arises again this year, can a four-year-old win the Supreme?

At first glance the record of juveniles in the Supreme looks poor – three horses have tried it in the last 10 years, finishing 13th, 11th and 9th. If we look back over the last 20 years, 15 4-year-olds have gone to the race and only one has won, with another one making the frame. The winner in question was Hors La Loi III in 1999, and the runner-up was Binocular in 2008. They went off at 9/2 and 8/1 respectively, making them two of just three four-year-olds to run in the Supreme at single-figure starting prices in the last two decades.

In short, the form of 4yo’s in the race in the last 20 years looks dire (01F009007002900) but this may be misleading – the form of 4yo’s at single-figure prices is 129.

Admittedly, we’re looking at a very small sample size here, and there may be some logic behind the idea that a 4yo isn’t ideally suited to this test. To my mind, the Supreme is a race for as an experienced horse. This is looked into in detail elsewhere, but to summarise, horses with at least 4 starts over hurdles (in the UK or Ireland) have outperformed those with 3 or less in the last 10 years:

Runs over Hurdles Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
1-3 92 2 2.17 14 15.22 -83.76 0.3
4+ 69 8 11.59 16 23.19 50.03 1.52

The two winners with 1-3 hurdles starts before running in the Supreme were Douvan and Vautour, each of whom had run twice in France over hurdles before arriving in Closutton. This seems to be a very strong stat, with the majority of runners in the Supreme in the last 10 years not having had as much hurdling experience as would be desired. To me this is a major negative for this year’s favourite Angels Breath who has run once over hurdles and missed his planned second start due to the influenza. At the time of writing it’s unclear whether he will get a prep run before the festival, but even if he does, he will only have run in two races over hurdles.

Compare this to horses in the field such as Aramon (6 races over hurdles including a win and a second place in a grade one hurdle), Klassical Dream (7 starts over hurdles including a grade one win) and Elixir De Nutz (6 starts over hurdles including a grade one win) and 4/1 seems a very short price for the favourite.

In short, I believe heavily in the idea that experience is a big advantage in a Supreme. With this in mind, I’d be probably be against a lot of four-year-olds running in the race. However, Fakir D’Oudairies has not only run in four races over hurdles (two since he arrived in Joseph O’Brien’s yard and two in France) but also in two chases in France. He’s not lacking in experience, and for this reason I wouldn’t necessarily discard him in a Supreme based solely on his age.

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

Cheltenham Handicaps – Spread of the Weights

With the popularity of the festival increasing, there’s extremely high demand to run horses not just in the graded races but also in the handicaps. This means that a lot of handicaps are contested by horses who are good enough to win at graded level, and the ratings can be fairly compressed, ultimately making the actual weights less significant than they are at other meetings. The market possibly hasn’t caught on to this yet, so horses in the top half of the weights can be under-bet as punters prefer something which is theoretically better treated. It’s worth looking at each handicap individually and seeing the spread of the weights. This allows you to determine the relative significance of the weight being carried by horses.

Although every year will be different, so we’ll only know for certain about the spread of the weights in this year’s handicaps when they’re released, it’s worth looking back on previous years to look at the patterns:

The Festival as a Whole

The method of looking at the spread of the weights is simple – just take the top OR in a race, compare it to the bottom OR and find the difference between the two. The average difference between top and bottom OR in last year’s 10 handicaps was 16.5, and this has been fairly steady over the last few years:

Average Difference by Year
Year Avg Dif
2018 16.5
2017 16.1
2016 14.7
2015 15.2
2014 16.7
Overall Average 15.84

It’s worth trying to put this into context, and to do so I’ve looked at the average difference between top OR and bottom OR in two top meetings this year either side of the Irish Sea, each of which hosted 5 handicaps – Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival and Kempton’s Christmas meeting.

Leopardstown DRF 2019
Race Bottom OR Top OR Difference
0-150 2m Hcp Hdl 120 148 28
0-150 2m1f Hcp Ch 113 141 28
2m2f Mares Hcp Hdl 112 133 21
0-150 3m Hcp Hdl 119 139 20
2m5f Hcp Ch 130 150 20
Average Difference 23.4
Kempton Christmas 2018
Race Bottom OR Top OR Difference
Nvc Hcp Ch 121 137 16
2m5f Hcp Hdl 122 142 20
3m Mares Hcp Hdl 120 142 22
3m Hcp Ch 120 144 24
2m Hcp Hdl 114 142 28
Average Difference 22

Both of these are notably higher, so the theory stands (not that we needed much proof, as it’s an easy observation to make) – as more and more horses are campaigned towards festival handicaps, the ratings tend to be more compressed and therefore so are the weights. This also acts as a good reference point – 3 of these 5 races had ratings spreads of 28, and the average difference of the 10 races was 22.7.

Race by Race

Cheltenham does host 10 handicaps over the week, though, and it’s not much use to evaluate them all as a whole. So, I’m going to look at which handicaps have the highest average differences and which have the lowest. In theory, this should show us which handicaps should be looked at as handicaps in the traditional sense (assessing a horse’s capability and comparing this to the mark given by the handicapper) and which should be analysed similarly to level-weights races.

Festival Plate
Year Bottom OR Top OR Difference
2018 137 155 18
2017 133 158 25
2016 135 157 22
2015 137 155 18
2014 131 157 26
Average Difference 21.8
Ultima
Year Bottom OR Top OR Difference
2018 137 155 18
2017 134 155 21
2016 131 153 22
2015 133 155 22
2014 129 151 22
Average Difference 21
Coral Cup
Year Bottom OR Top OR Difference
2018 135 153 18
2017 136 156 20
2016 139 158 19
2015 138 158 20
2014 135 154 19
Average Difference 19.2
County Hurdle
Year Bottom OR Top OR Difference
2018 133 154 21
2017 134 158 24
2016 138 152 14
2015 134 146 12
2014 132 154 22
Average Difference 18.6
Grand Annual
Year Bottom OR Top OR Difference
2018 139 154 15
2017 135 154 19
2016 137 152 15
2015 130 153 23
2014 136 154 18
Average Difference 18
Pertemps
Year Bottom OR Top OR Difference
2018 135 155 20
2017 137 147 10
2016 135 154 19
2015 135 152 17
2014 135 148 13
Average Difference 15.8
Kim Muir (Max 145)
Year Bottom OR Top OR Difference
2018 119 145 26
2017 133 145 12
2016 134 145 11
2015 130 145 15
2014 131 144 13
Average Difference 15.4
Fred Winter
Year Bottom OR Top OR Difference
2018 126 139 13
2017 124 139 15
2016 128 142 14
2015 129 139 10
2014 127 139 12
Average Difference 12.8
Martin Pipe (Max 145)
Year Bottom OR Top OR Difference
2018 136 144 8
2017 135 145 10
2016 135 142 7
2015 135 144 9
2014 133 146 13
Average Difference 9.4
Close Bros (Max 145)
Year Bottom OR Top OR Difference
2018 137 145 8
2017 137 142 5
2016 136 140 4
2015 134 140 6
2014 131 140 9
Average Difference 6.4

So, the Ultima, the Plate, the Coral Cup, the County Hurdle and the Grand Annual, although below the averages set by the Leopardstown and Kempton meetings, can probably still be described as true handicaps, for now anyway. The Pertemps and the Kim Muir are good examples of how much the ratings spread can change from year to year – last year they were 20 and 26 respectively, placing an emphasis on the ratings given to the horse by the handicapper, whereas in 2017 they were 10 and 12 respectively. The Fred Winter, the Martin Pipe and the Close Brothers Handicap Chase tend to have very low spreads, so really the handicap shouldn’t be the main priority when assessing those races.

Application

So how can this information actually be applied to our betting at the festival? Well, my theory would be that a large number of punters haven’t factored this into their analysis, and therefore the market hasn’t factored it in to the odds. Handicaps are viewed as handicaps, and the traditional method of assessing a horse’s chance of winning a handicap is to treat the weight it’s carrying as a key factor, if not the key factor. Punters love to latch on to the idea of a plot horse who has been overlooked by the handicapper – if the weights are less important in races like the Fred Winter, Close Brothers and Martin Pipe, then these horses should be over-bet and those at the top of the weights should be under-bet, therefore representing value.

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

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.

Mares Hurdle – An Overview

The Quevega Factor

When looking at the Mares’ Hurdle, I’m not going to use the same stats as I did when looking at other races. The reason for this is that Quevega won 6 of the last 10 races, so any win figures would be completely skewed by whether Quevega fit the criteria, as in turn would any win%, P/L(BF), and A/E figures. However, I still want to try to find an angle into the race, so I’m going to focus not only on the winners but also on the placed horses. So, my main way of taking on this race is by comparing the percentage of the total field which fit a stat to the percentage of the total places filled by these horses.

Stamina

This race is (interestingly) run over 2m 4f. There’s no grade one hurdle run over a middle distance at the festival open to all horses (there is this race, for mares, and the Ballymore for novices) and the argument is that if they were to introduce one, it would dilute the quality of both the Champion Hurdle and the Stayers Hurdle (the latter doesn’t tend to be a particularly exciting division anyway and doesn’t need its quality diluted any more). A few weeks later, there’s a grade one over this trip at Aintree’s Grand National meeting so any horse which isn’t quite suited to 2 miles or 3 miles gets their chance there.

The distance is often a forgotten factor in this race, though. People forget that at 2m 4f, it is a test of stamina, not just pure speed like the 2m Champion Hurdle that takes place before it. All of the last 10 winners had won over this exact distance. These horses accounted for 18 of the total places – that’s 60% of the total places from 38% of the total field. If we were to count Quevega as just one winner for a moment, forgetting about her other 5 wins, this would be 52% of the total places from 37% of the total field – still an over-performance. Looking at horses which had previously won over 2m 4f or further, these horses took up 28 of the 30 total places on offer.

Britain v Ireland

All of the last 10 winners were Irish-trained (in fact, 9 of them were trained by Willie Mullins and the other, Apples Jade, moved to Willie Mullins’ yard from Michael O’Leary’s following the Gigginstown split). Irish-trained horses accounted for 18 of the 30 horses which made the frame – that’s 60% of the total places on offer from 27% of the total field. It would appear that the Irish have taken notice of the lucrative rewards that are now on offer for having top-class mares in training a bit quicker than the British. The form of the top-placed English finisher in the last 10 renewals reads 2224232342 – there’s often a British horse there or thereabouts, but there has always been a better Irish contender.

Class

8 of the last 10 winners won last time out and these horses over-performed significantly, filling 60% of the total places from just 28% of the total field. This points back to some recurring themes in these top festival races – firstly, form, and secondly, class. The latter might be of even more interest. 9 of the last 10 winners were officially rated 150 or higher. These horses accounted for just 11% of the total field, but they managed to fill 50% of the total places. Just 19 horses have run in the race in the last 10 years were an official rating of 150 or higher, and their form reads 7213171111F21132173. Last year was actually the exception – the two contenders were Apples Jade (3rd) and La Bague Au Roi (7th). However, it is probably worth pointing out that Apples Jade clearly wasn’t at her best last year, and we were subsequently given the explanation that she was in season.

Arkle Chase – An Overview

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.

Unbeaten Record

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:

Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
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.

Course Form

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
Yes 66 9 13.64 21 31.82 10.36 0.96
No 27 1 3.7 5 18.52 -25.28 0.47

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

Last start Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
Won 47 9 19.15 16 34.04 22.64 1.07
Won or placed 62 10 16.13 18 29.03 16.09 1.04
Unplaced 31 0 0 8 25.81 -31 0

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:

Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
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:

Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
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

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.

The Supreme Novices Hurdle – An Overview

A Messy Race?

The Supreme has a bit of a reputation for being a big, unpredictable race but field sizes are actually decreasing. The average field size in the 10 years from 1998-2008 (no race in 2001) was 21.5 (including 30 runners in 1998). In the last 10 years, it has decreased to 16.1. Last year was a relatively large field of 19 runners, but in the 5 years before that, the field sizes were 12, 18, 12, 14 and 14. The smaller field can mean that it’s not a particularly messy race – there have only been 3 fallers in the last 10 years, whereas in the 10 years before that, there were 12.

Speed or Stamina?

The race is usually run at a serious pace so horses obviously need to have a high cruising speed in order to avoid being run off your feet in the first half of the race. However, the pace at which the race is run tends to turn it into a test of stamina and this is an interesting paradox. Throughout the season, there tends to be a lot of talk about whether a novice “has the speed for a Supreme” or “has the stamina for a Ballymore”. However, looking at past renewals, the longer race has often been won by horses which turned out to be 2 mile hurdlers, whilst plenty of Supreme runners have gone on to be successful stayers (even Gold Cup winners – Kicking King was 2nd in a Supreme and won the Gold Cup two years later).

Unexposed v’s Form in the Book

Most years, we’ll have hype horses or ones which are supposedly showing massive potential at home. These might be French imports who haven’t been run in top races in the UK or Ireland but have a lot of excitement surrounding them. However, there is a tendency to fall for this type of hype. This has been heightened by the fact that French imports Vautour and Douvan were extremely impressive winners for Mullins in 2014 and 2015 – however, we have to remember that both of them had won graded novice hurdles in Ireland before coming to Cheltenham. Two years later, Melon came to the Supreme having only won a maiden hurdle and was beaten (albeit in a bit of a shock result with Labaik winning the race).

So, graded form is very important. 19 horses have come into the race in the last 10 years having won a grade one hurdle in the UK or Ireland. 3 of them won (27% win strike rate) and another 4 made the frame (63.64% win/place rate). Grade one winning novice hurdlers don’t run every year – there were none in 2017 – but in last year’s race the two horses which fit the bill were Summerville Boy (won at 9/1) and Megli Khan (3rd at 14/1). In 2016, there was Bellshill (13th of 14 but his form in general would suggest that the track itself might be an excuse for this) and is 2015 the grade one winners were Sizing John (3rd at 25/1) and L’Ami Serge (4th at 7/2). This possibly shows that the market does underestimate these grade one winners who in theory have the best credentials.

Unbeaten Hurdlers

There are also runners each year who have been visually impressive and consistent, but with doubts over what they have beaten. Horses with a 100% record over hurdles (from at least 3 starts over hurdles in the UK or Ireland) have a record of 2 wins and a further 4 places from 13 runners – that’s a 15.38% win rate and a 46.15% win/place rate. Of the 13, 9 were single-figure prices, and the list includes 2 beaten favourites (as well as one winning favourite in Vautour, who was a grade one winner over hurdles). If we eliminate the grade one winning hurdlers from the list, we see that it’s down to 9 runners with 1 winner and 2 other places. In other words, grade one hurdling form is a massive plus, whereas an unbeaten record over hurdles isn’t quite as important.

Recent Form

So, 100% win records aren’t overly important, but what about recent form? The table below first shows the record of horses which won last time out, and then narrows this down to horses which won a graded hurdle last time out:

Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
Won last time out 72 8 11.11 23 31.94 -1.24 1.02
Won graded hurdle LTO 26 6 23.08 16 61.54 28.42 1.29

Horses which won last time out made up 8 of the last 10 winners and 23% of the total places (winners and placed horses) on offer. However, they did account for over 45% of the runners in the last 10 years. If we narrow this down to horses which won a graded hurdle last time out, we still find 6 of the last 10 winners, but from just 16% of the total field (these horses made up 53% of the total places). The horses which won a graded hurdle last time out exceeded the expectations placed upon them by the market (based on the last figure in the table, A/E).

The latter group could be broken down further, to look into the never-ending competition between the British and the Irish at the festival. So, is it better to have won that last graded hurdle in Ireland or in Britain?

Won a graded hurdle last time out…
Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
… in Ireland 11 4 36.36 9 81.82 20.05 1.6
… in GB 15 2 13.33 7 46.67 8.38 0.93

The Irish runners who meet this criteria perform significantly better than the English, not only based on win strike rates and place strike rates, but also based on profit/loss figures at BFSP and the degree to which they outperformed the expectations of the market.

Britain v’s Ireland

This is backed by a preference for all horses which had their prep run in Ireland, but the difference in performance in the two groups isn’t as strong when we compare all runners in the last 10 years based on which country their final run before the festival took place:

Location of Prep Run Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
Ireland 57 5 8.77 13 22.81 14 0.9
UK 104 5 4.81 17 16.35 -47.73 0.78

Hurdling Experience

Each year, we get a number of horses coming into the race with minimal experience over hurdles (just taking into account their runs over hurdles since they came to the UK or Ireland). These can often be quite high-profile horses. In 2017, Melon aimed to be the first horse since 1992 to win it after just one run over hurdles. Last year, Getabird came into the race after just two hurdles starts, as did Debuchet. The former went off a short favourite but both were beaten. Douvan, also from the Mullins yard, was an exception to this rule, having run just twice over hurdles (in Ireland at least) before winning the race in 2015. However, the record of horses with three or less starts over hurdles is far inferior to that of horses with 4 or more starts:

Runs over Hurdles Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
1-3 92 2 2.17 14 15.22 -83.76 0.3
4+ 69 8 11.59 16 23.19 50.03 1.52

On every single statistic, the more experienced horses outperform those with less experience. For anybody who may be wondering about the record of horses with exactly 3 hurdles starts (as this may seem a satisfactory number), I’ve added the record below:

Runs over Hurdles Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
3 41 1 2.44 7 17.07 -36.19 0.35

These horses made up about half of those with less than 4 starts over hurdles and performed no better than those with 1 or 2 previous starts over hurdles. The interesting thing is that these horses with just 1-3 starts over hurdles have included horses at short prices such as, to name just a few, Cue Card (7/4 favourite), Galileos Choice (6/1 favourite), Lami Serge (7/2), Min (15/8 favourite) and the aforementioned Melon (3/1 favourite) and Getabird (7/4 favourite). Of course, they do also include two winners – Vautour (7/2 favourite) and Douvan (2/1 favourite). There are exceptions to every rule, and both of these horses had run twice over hurdles in France before arriving in Willie Mullins’ yard. Overall, it looks like horses without the experience over hurdles are worth taking on.

Trainers

Willie Mullins has won the Supreme 3 times in the last 10 years and so is the obvious starting point when discussing trainers. He is also the trainer who has run the most horses (27 runners in the last 10 years – the next highest is Nicky Henderson with 18).

Trainer Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
Willie Mullins 27 3 11.11 6 22.22 -13.1 0.87

Along with his 3 winners, Mullins has also had another 3 horses placed in the race, including the runner-up in both 2016 and 2017. However, it is worth noting that both of these 2nd-placed horses were favourites (Melon and Min) and both did come up short.

Gordon Elliott has had just 4 Supreme runners in the last 10 years, but they included a winner (Labaik in 2017) and a runner-up (Mengli Khan in 2018). Tombstone also finished just outside the places in the famously competitive 2016 Supreme, making Elliott’s form in the race 7413.

Trainer Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
Nicky Henderson 18 1 5.56 9 50 -12.31 0.51

Nicky Henderson’s win strike rates may not be as impressive as Mullins’ (1 win from 18 runners) but his win/place rates are outstanding (9 from 18). His overall form in the last 10 years reads 8U4032928232431635. If we narrow this down to his top-string each year (based on SP’s), the form reads 8422234135 – in other words, his horses have been incredibly consistent and are almost always there or thereabouts. The market hasn’t necessarily caught on to this – his top string horses in the last 10 renewals are listed below, along with their starting prices:

No other trainer has had more than one placed finisher in the last 10 years. However, the other trainers who have had at least 5 runners in the last 10 years are listed below:

Trainer Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
David Pipe 6 0 0 0 0 -6 0
Phillip Hobbs 6 1 16.67 1 16.67 10.56 2.94
Paul Nicholls 5 1 20 1 20 5.64 2.13
Colin Tizzard 5 0 0 0 0 -5 0
Alan King 5 0 0 1 20 -5 0

The Ideal Candidate

Based on the findings above, we could in theory create a “profile” for the ideal candidate for the Supreme Novices Hurdle. Of course, it’s rare that we’d find a horse which ticks all of the boxes, but it is worth making out such a profile in order to keep an eye on Supreme contenders over the coming months and speculate over which horses might end up fitting the bill. Our ideal profile would look something like this:

  • Grade 1 winner over hurdles
  • Won a graded hurdle last time out
  • At least 4 starts over hurdles

There have only been 5 horses which met these 3 criteria over the last 10 years (considering we’re focusing on hurdles starts in just the UK and Ireland). These were Dunguib (3rd in 2010), Marsh Warbler (11th in 2011), Jezki (3rd in 2013), Champagne Fever (1st in 2013) and Summerville Boy (1st in 2018).

The main factor which narrows down the field here is the grade one win over hurdles. There are only a limited number of opportunities for a horse to pick up a grade one win over hurdles before the Supreme – the Challow Novices Hurdle over 2m 5f (won by Champ), the Tolworth Hurdle (won by Elixir De Nutz), the Royal Bond Novices Hurdle (won by Quick Grabim), Future Champions Novice Hurdle (won by Aramon) and the Slaney Novices Hurdle over 2m 4f (won by Battleoverdoyen). Still to be run at the Dublin Racing Festival are a 2m 6f novice hurdle and a 2m novice hurdle. It’s likely that only the latter will be of any significance to the Supreme, while the winners of the Challow and the Slaney Novices Hurdle are unlikely to run here.

So, so far this season our grade one-winning contenders are Elixir De Nutz, Quick Grabim and Aramon. Interestingly, all of these have run in at least 4 races over hurdles – 6, 6 and 5 respectively. Elixir De Nutz goes straight to Cheltenham so you would imagine that he will be our first definite contender. Quick Grabim has been ruled out with a setback. Aramon is currently 2/1 favourite for the grade 1 2m novice hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival and this would be an obvious stepping stone to the Supreme.

Cheltenham – Half-Way Observations

We’re half-way through the greatest four days of jumps racing on earth, and while there is never really time to sit back and reflect while the festival in ongoing, it might be worth making a few observations:

Irish Raiders Rule The Roost

This goes without saying – while we’re used to a few Irish bankers coming in on day one, their domination on Wednesday was incredible. Mullins has picked up 5 winners from 31 runners and has had another 5 runners make the frame. This is an over performance according the the market – his horses would have been expected (based on starting prices in the win and place markets on the exchanges) to win 3 times and place a further 6 times. It’s hard to believe, but Mullins runners could still be underestimated in the market this week.

Gordon Elliott has run less horses so far but has been similarly successful – 3 wins and 4 places from 17 runners. Again, this has been an over performance – his horses would have been expected to win twice (243% implied probability) and place another 4 times (572% implied probability). Odds-on favourite Apples Jade’s loss would have put a dent in these figures, so the performance of Elliott’s horses is most definitely worth noting.

While the Irish have been running Cheltenham, Nicky Henderson has won with both of his stable superstars so far, with Buveur D’Air and Altior getting the job done. He has had 16 runners, 2 winners and a further 5 places. This has actually been the most significant over performance of the 3 in therms of places – he would have been expected to have 2 winners (162%) and another 2 places (412%). He may not be firing in the same high-profile fashion as Ireland’s top two, but his horses are most definitely in top form.

Ruby Walsh

What can I say here – it’s absolutely sickening to see Ruby injured again. He had been riding fantastically, with two winners on the first day, and seemed to be back to his best.

His rides will essentially be taken over by Paul Townend for the remainder of the week. Townend is a very talented rider in his own right and this should be of no great concern, particularly in hurdles contests. However, in chases at Cheltenham he doesn’t have the strongest record ever. Townend has won just once and placed another 4 times from 43 rides over fences at the track. He obviously hasn’t ridden the same caliber of horse over fences at the track as Ruby has, but the odds would suggest that Townend should have done slightly better, with implied probability of 2 winners and a further 7 places.

This isn’t a definite negative, and Townend gave Min a good ride yesterday to finish 2nd, but if Invitation Only and Un De Sceaux were to be beaten today, the figures may look slightly more worrying.

Our Tipping Partner

As usual, if you’re looking for tips throughout the festival, A Racing First is highly recommended. Their results are on their website, and so far this festival include some very solid places at big prices such as Mengli Khan (advised each-way at 14/1), Rather Be (advised each-way at 12/1), Monalee (advised at 16/1), Topofthegame (advised at 20/1) and Min (advised at 20/1), as well as a couple of winners. Their members will be confident and in profit going into the last two days at the festival, and I would advise anybody to take a look at their website to find out more.