National Hunt Chase Analysis

The class of horse we see in this race has undoubtedly improved over the last few years. My angle into the race isn’t a particularly complicated one – if anything, it’s very simplistic. 6 of the last 7 winners (and 4 of the last 5) were officially rated 143 or higher. Horses rated 143 or higher have filled 75% of the total places from 38% of the total field in the last 5 renewals of this race.

Looking at last year’s race, the finishing positions of those rated 143 or higher were 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th, 9th (5 failed to finish). In contrast, those rated 142 or lower had finishing positions of 6th, 8th, 10th (3 failed to finish). The ratings are increasing, so we’re talking about two thirds of last year’s field. However, this still gives us an angle from which to take on the race. It seems that horses with a high official rating have the edge over those without – in other words, class has come to the fore here in the last few years.

For this reason, I’m going to focus on the following horses, all of which are rated at least 140 (based either on their UK or Irish ratings over fences).

  1. Barney Dwan – probably runs in the Close Brothers
  2. Dounikos – runs in the RSA
  3. Duel At Dawn
  4. Fagan
  5. Jury Duty
  6. Keeper Hill
  7. Mossback
  8. No Comment
  9. Rathvinden
  10. Sizing Tennessee – he has been left in the race, but it will be interesting to see whether he’s left in the RSA too
  11. Ms Parfois

With that as a starting point, I’m going to take a look at each of them individually. I’ll construct a profile for each horse, attempting to identify trends and patterns in their form which tell us the conditions under which they excel. I’ll also be trying to identify which of them will stay this trip – there aren’t many tests tougher than 4 miles at Cheltenham.

Duel At Dawn

  • Overall Record: 9 runs – 3 wins – 4 places
  • Cheltenham record: 1-0-0
    • 2nd of 4 in a class 2 3m 2f novices chase in December 2017
  • It’s hard to see a preference in terms of ground, with winners having come on good (2-1-1), good to soft (2-1-1) and soft (5-1-2). It could be argued that 4-2-2 on good to soft or better is better than 5-1-2 on soft, but it hasn’t been shown to be a major preference.
  • He’s 3-2-1 over 2m½f and his only start over further was when he finished 2nd at Cheltenham over 3m 2f.
  • K K Woods is usually on board (6-2-2). Leighton Aspell is 1-1-0 and H A A Bannister and Bryan Cooper are 1-0-1 each.
  • He probably runs better when back out relatively quickly after his last start – 4-2-1 when back out within 30 days and 6-3-2 when back out within 60 days. 2-0-1 after over 120 days off the track.
  • There isn’t a huge amount to go on here and it’s hard to find very many patterns in his form. Ground won’t be an issue and his last start was 59 days before this race.

Fagan

  • Overall Record: 11 runs – 4 wins – 2 places
  • Cheltenham record: 2-0-2
    • 2nd in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle in 2016
    • 2nd in a class 2 3m½f in October 2017
  • He has a preference for good ground – 6-2-2 on good and 1-1-0 on good to soft, compared to 4-1-0 on soft or worse.
  • He has won over 3m (4-1-1) and placed over 3m½f (1-0-1).
  • Richard Johnson is 6-3-0 on him, while Davy Russell is 3-1-2. G B Watters and K M Donoghue are 1-0-0 each.
  • The highest level he has won at is class 4 (5-4-0 at class 4 and below). He did place in an Albert Bartlett, however.
  • He may prefer larger fields (7-2-1 in fields of 7 or less, 4-2-1 in fields of 8 or more).
  • His best records are in the summer (4-2-0 from July to September) and across the first half of the season (3-2-1 from October to December). This drops in the New Year (4-0-1 from January to April).
  • He would want the ground to be decent on the first day. His Albert Bartlett run aside, he hasn’t necessarily shown himself to be up to this standard. He should get a decent-sized field here, but his form in the second half of the season is discouraging.

Jury Duty

  • Overall Record: 16 runs – 4 wins – 9 places
  • Cheltenham record: 1-0-1
    • 3rd in the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle in 2017
  • He’s very much proven on softer ground (12-4-6 on yielding to soft or worse). However, 4-0-3 on yielding or better is a strong place record.
  • The furthest he has actually won over is 2m 6½f (3-2-0). However, he has placed 6 times from 7 starts over further (7-0-6, all over 3 miles).
  • Jack Kennedy (5-2-2), Robbie Power (4-1-2) and Davy Russell (2-1-1) are the jockeys to have won on him. The others to have rode him were Nina Carberry (1-0-0), K M Donoghue (2-0-2), David Mullins (1-0-1) and K C Sexton (1-0-1).
  • He certainly runs well fresh (2-2-0 after over 120 days off the track). However, his two other wins both came when back out within 30 days of his previous start (8-2-5). 1-1-0 when back out within 2 weeks.
  • His wins have mostly come at the start of the season (6-3-3 in October/November). However, he’s 3-0-2 in December/January, 3-1-1 in February, 2-0-2 in March and 2-0-1 in April.
  • Could be some question marks over his ability on good ground, but he has run well on it. Hard to knock him, although he may peak in the first half of the season.

Keeper Hill

  • Overall Record: 12 runs – 6 wins – 1 place
  • Cheltenham record: 1-0-1
    • 7th in the Neptune Novices Hurdle in 2017
  • Hard to see any preferences in terms of ground – 4-2-1 on good, 5-2-0 on good to soft, 3-2-0 on soft.
  • He has won over 3 miles (1-1-0). Unplaced on his sole start over further (1-0-0).
  • Andrew Tinkler (1-1-0) and Wayne Hutchinson (1-1-0) have perfect records on him. Gavin Sheehan is 7-3-1 and Adrian Heskin is 3-1-0.
  • His best record is in the first half of the season – 7-5-1 from November to January, 2-1-0 in February and 3-0-0 in March/April.
  • He may prefer right-handed tracks (4-3-0 compared to 8-3-1 going left-handed).
  • He’s 2-0-0 at very undulating tracks such as Cheltenham – it’s a small sample, but may suggest that he prefers flatter tracks.
  • Hard to knock him on a lot of things and he has been a fairly consistent horse. However, he seems to run best in the first half of the season and may prefer right-handed tracks.

Mossback

  • Overall Record: 9 runs – 3 wins – 1 place
  • Never ran at Cheltenham
  • It looks like heavy ground is ideal – 2-2-0 on heavy, 4-1-0 on soft to heavy 3-0-1 on soft or better. However, he hasn’t been seen much on good ground.
  • The furthest distance he has won over is 2m 4f (2-1-0). 3-0-0 over further, including 2-0-0 over 3 miles.
  • E Dwan (1-1-0), Bryan Cooper (2-1-0) and Jack Kennedy (4-1-1) have been on board for his wins. The other jockeys to have rode him were Davy Russell and Sean Flanagan, who are 1-0-0 each.
  • He has come up short in graded contests (3-0-0).
  • He doesn’t seem to like small fields (3-0-0 in fields of 7 or less). 6-3-1 in fields of 8 or more.
  • Again, not much to go on. He might want it really heavy, but he hasn’t been seen very much on better ground. He hasn’t proven himself over this trip and has come up short at this level. He won’t be in a very small field here, which is a plus.

No Comment

  • Overall Record: 12 runs – 4 wins – 5 places
  • Cheltenham record: 1-0-0
    • 7th in the class 2 2m 4½f Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle at the 2017 festival
  • While he hasn’t won on proper good ground (4-0-2 on good), he seems fairly versatile – 3-3-0 on good to soft, 4-1-2 on soft or worse.
  • His furthest win was over 2m 5f, with a place over 3m (1-0-1) and 3m 1f (1-0-1).
  • Previous winners on him were Jamie Codd (1-1-0), Barry Geraghty (5-2-2) and Richard Johnson (3-1-2). T J O’Brien (2-0-1) and C Gethings (1-0-0) have also been on board.
  • He has come up short in races higher than class 3 (5-0-2), including 4-0-2 in graded contests.
  • He seems to run well when back out relatively quickly (6-3-3 when back out within 30 days of his last start). It may not need to be as short as 30 days – when we extend this to within 60 days, the stat barely changes (7-3-4). He’s 4-1-0 after a longer break.
  • Ground shouldn’t be an issue. Not proven at this level or over this trip. Needs a relatively recent run.

Rathvinden

  • Overall Record: 16 runs – 7 wins – 4 places
  • Cheltenham record: 2-0-2
    • 2nd in a grade 2 2m 4½f novices hurdle in January 2014
    • 3rd in the Neptune Novices Hurdle in 2014
  • He seems to be completely versatile in terms of going conditions, with wins ranging from good (4-1-2) and good to firm (1-1-0), to soft (3-1-1) and worse (5-3-1).
  • He has won over 3m 1f (1-1-0) and this is the longest distance he has run over.
  • Ruby Walsh (6-3-1) and Paul Townend (5-2-2) have good records on him. Maxine O’Sullivan (1-1-0) and Patrick Mullins (2-1-0) have also won on him. David Casey (1-0-0) and Barry Geraghty (1-0-1) haven’t.
  • He has come up short in grade 1 and 2 races but has managed to make the frame (4-0-2 in grade 1’s, 2-0-1 in grade 2’s) and has a good record in grade 3 races (2-2-0).
  • His record in larger fields (12 runners or more) is very strong (5-3-1). However, 11-4-3 in smaller fields is decent too.
  • He’s 7-6-0 from June to November. This drops from December (4-1-1) to January (2-0-1) and February (1-0-0). 1-0-1 in March and 1-0-1 in May.
  • He seems to have a preference for right-handed tracks (7-5-2 compared to 9-2-2 going left-handed).
  • He may prefer undulating tracks such as Cheltenham (4-2-2 compared to 12-5-2 on flatter tracks and those with slight undulations).
  • This is a decent profile overall. Preference for right-handed tracks a concern, and form in the second half of the season isn’t fantastic.

Sizing Tennessee

  • Overall Record: 20 runs – 5 wins – 3 places
  • Cheltenham record: 9-1-2
    • 21st in the Champion Bumper in 2013
    • 20th in the grade 3 2m 1f County Hurdle in 2016
    • 2nd in a class 2 2m 4½f novice chase in November 2016
    • 3rd in a class 2 2m 5f novice chase in December 2016
    • Pulled up in the Close Brothers Novice Handicap Chase at the 2017 festival
    • Fell in a class 2 3m½f novices chase in October 2017
    • Won 3m 2f class 2 novices chase in December 2017
    • 2nd in a grade 2 2m 5f novices chase in January 2018
    • 3rd in a class 2 2m 5f novices chase in January 2018
  • He seems to want a cut in the ground. 11-1-2 on good to soft or better compared to 9-4-1 on soft or worse.
  • He has won over 3m 2f (1-1-0).
  • Patrick Mullins (2-2-0), A E Lynch (2-1-0), Bryan Cooper (6-1-2) and J J Burke (3-1-0) are the jockeys with the best records on him.
  • He has come up short in graded and listed races (6-0-1).
  • He seems to prefer smaller fields – 13-4-2 in fields of 8 or less compared to 7-1-0 in fields of 9 or more.
  • He runs particularly well after a lay-off – 4-2-2 after over 120 days off the track.
  • He definitely seems to peak in December (6-3-0) and January (4-2-1). 4-0-2 in October/November and 6-0-0 from February to April.
  • His place record would suggest a preference for left-handed tracks (13-3-3 compared to 7-2-0 going right-handed).
  • He would prefer the ground to come up soft or worse. He isn’t proven at this level. Prefers smaller fields. His form in the second half of the season is poor. A longer layoff would be ideal.

Ms Parfois

  • Overall Record: 12 runs – 6 wins – 0 places
  • Cheltenham record: 2-1-0
    • 7th in a listed 2m½f bumper in November 2016
    • Won a class 3 2m 5f handicap chase in December 2017
  • She seems versatile in terms of ground, having won on good to soft (3-1-0). However, 9-5-0 on soft or worse is slightly better.
  • She has won over 3m (4-2-0).
  • Noel Fehily has a perfect record on her (2-2-0). Daryl Jacob and Sean Bowen are 2-1-0 each, Harry Cobden is 1-1-0, Aidan Coleman is 4-1-0 and D G Noonan is 1-0-0.
  • The season gets off to a slow start (3-0-0 in November) but picks up quickly (3-2-0 in December, 2-2-0 in January). This drops to 2-0-0 in February but she’s 2-2-0 in March/April.
  • She has only had two runs at right-handed tracks but has finished outside the places on both occasions (2-0-0, compared to 10-6-0 going left-handed).
  • Everything here is positive, it’s hard to knock her based on her profile. Soft ground would be beneficial to her.

While these profiles are here in order to assist you in your own analysis, my view on the race is that Jury Duty looks to have the best chance from this shortlist. He has been running to a very high standard in decent races in Ireland this season. The only real concern in his profile was his record in the second half of the season, but his 3rd place finish in the Pertemps was probably a career best effort at the time. Jamie Codd being booked to ride is an obvious plus – his last five rides in this race have finished 4th at 7/1, 5th at 33/1, 1st at 8/1, fell at 15/2 and 5th at 4/1. In other words, they seem to always be there or thereabouts.

Codd being booked to ride this horse is probably an indication of Elliott’s view on the horse too. Elliott’s record itself is of great interest – the form of his runners in the race to date reads 1P1F1. This will be the first year that he has had more than one runner, with Fagan, Mossback and Jury Duty all due to run.

As ever, the evening before the race the bookmakers are offering good prices to draw in punters, and Jury Duty is 9/2 with William Hill at the time of writing, having been shorter during the week. If you open an account with William Hill using this link, you’ll receive €30/£30 of free bets once you place your first bet of €10/£10 or more. If you’re interested, take a look at our Free Bets page to find out how you could win some cash prizes from The Parade Ring as well as picking up your free bets. 

Enda Bolger’s Cross-Country Runners

Enda Bolger was the cross-country genius when the race was first introduced to the Cheltenham Festival. His horses came into this better prepared than any others. While he still has a reputation for being the man to follow in this race, his record has not been as strong in recent years – in fact, he hasn’t trained the winner on the day since 2009, despite having had 24 runners in that period of time (I say on the day as Josies Orders was eventually named the winner after Any Currency was disqualified after winning in 2016). Interestingly, he trained the favourite in 2010, 2013, 2016 and 2017. My theory would be that despite his record in the race having deteriorated significantly, his reputation is factored into the price of his horses in the race – they tend not to represent value for this reason.

The reason for this may be the growing trend of trainers bringing their horses to Cheltenham before the festival in order to school them over the cross-country course. This could mean that Bolger’s edge is decreasing. It could also mean that proven cross-country specialists are no longer the horses to follow in the race, as they might not have the advantage that the form book suggests.

Auvergnat

Auvergnat is one such cross-country specialist from Bolger’s yard. Since arriving from Jonjo O’Neill in 2016, 6 of his 11 starts for Bolger have come over banks either at Cheltenham or Punchestown. His form in such races reads 3U14F1 – Punchestown may well be the preference (311 compared to U4F at Cheltenham). Having said that, he finished a creditable 4th in this race last year in what was a respectable effort. That piece of form gives him over 11 lengths to find with Cause Of Causes, however.

  • Overall Record: 20 runs – 3 wins – 5 places
  • Cheltenham record: 3-0-0
    • Unseated in a 3m 6f Cross Country Chase in January 2017
    • 4th in this race in 2017
    • Fell in a 3m 6f Cross Country Chase in November 2017
  • He probably prefers a cut in the ground – 12-3-4 on yielding to soft or worse, 8-0-1 on yielding or better
  • The majority of jockeys have only rode him once so there’s no point in giving a full list. The one worth noting is Mark Walsh (3-1-1).
  • He has a strong record in February (4-2-1) and while it drops in March (2-0-0) it’s 2-1-0 in May. He may be seen at his best at the end of the season.
  • His record is far better at right-handed tracks – 11-2-5 compared to 9-1-0 going left-handed.

Cantlow

The second Bolger horse in the field is Cantlow. He also arrived in Bolger’s yard in 2016 and began to be campaigned in cross-country races. Like Auvergnat, he might prefer Punchestown, where his form reads 2212, compared to 012342 at Cheltenham – however, the latter record is more than respectable. He was only 11th in this race in 2016 but, having found form the following winter and putting in a good run to finish 2nd over course and distance in January 2017, he went off favourite last year and finished 3rd. Like Auvergnat, this leaves him with form to reverse with Cause Of Causes, who finished 10 lengths ahead of him that day.

  • Overall Record: 46 runs – 7 wins – 12 places
  • Cheltenham record: 11-1-5
    • 10th in a handicap hurdle in November 2011
    • 3rd in the Pertemps Final in March 2012
    • 2nd in a grade 3 2m 5f handicap chase in December 2013
    • Fell in the Festival Plate in March 2014
    • 13th in the Paddy Power Gold Cup in November 2014
    • 10th in this race in 2016
    • Won over course and distance in December 2016
    • 2nd over course and distance in January 2017
    • 3rd in this race in March 2017
    • 4th over course and distance in November 2017
    • 2nd over course and distance in December 2017
  • Completely versatile in terms of ground – records range from 3-1-2 on good to firm, to 6-2-2 on heavy.
  • A few noteworthy jockey’s records include Mark Walsh (8-3-1), Adrian Heskin (2-0-2) and Nina Carberry (2-0-2).
  • He seems to love small fields (5-3-2) in fields of 7 or less. Even in moderately sized fields he has a decent record (27-7-8 in fields of 15 runners or less) but large fields seem to be a disadvantage (19-0-4 in fields of 16 or more).
  • All of his wins have come when back out within 30 days of his last start (21-7-5). However, he’s just 7-0-2 when back out within 15 days of his last start. 24-0-7 when back after a break of over 30 days (10-0-1 when back out after over 60 days).

Josies Orders

The most fancied of Bolger’s 4 runners at the time of writing, Josies Orders technically won this race in 2016 despite having passed the post in 2nd, with winner Any Currency later being disqualified, having tested positive for a banned substance. Another recruit from Jonjo O’Neill’s yard, Josie’s Orders seems to love the Cheltenham cross-country course, with form of 1113 there including his win in this race. His form over the banks at Punchestown reads U122. This season he finished 3rd over course and distance in December before putting in an awful run in a handicap hurdle in Cork at the beginning of January, before coming back to form last month over the banks at Punchestown, finishing 2nd behind Auvergnat.

  • Overall Record: 30 runs – 7 wins – 5 places
  • Cheltenham record: 5-3-1
    • 22nd in the Pertemps Final in March 2014
    • Won over course and distance in November 2015
    • Won over course and distance in December 2015
    • Won this race in 2016 (after first past the post was disqualified)
    • 3rd over course and distance in December 2017
  • Good ground would probably be the preference – 16-5-3 on good to soft or better, 14-2-2 on soft or worse.
  • Nina Carberry is the main jockey worth noting – 5-4-0 is an outstanding record. Mark Walsh is 5-0-3 and M J Linehan is 3-1-0.
  • His win record suggests a preference for larger fields (16-5-1 in fields of 12 runners or more, 14-2-4 in fields of 11 or less). However, these are fairly similar place records.
  • 7-0-0 after a break of over 60 days. 22-7-4 after a shorter break.
  • He seems to really shine during the first half of the season – 19-5-4 from October to December, 10-2-1 from January to May.

My Hometown

My Hometown would be considered the outside of the Bolger quartet, with 29 lengths to find with Auvergnat from Punchestown last month. That was only his third start in cross-country races, with a respectable 4th over the banks at Punchestown last November and a 6th place finish over this course and distance in December.

  • Overall Record: 15 runs – 1 win – 0 places
  • Cheltenham record: 1-0-0
    • 6th over course and distance in December
  • His sole success came on heavy ground at Limerick in a maiden hurdle.
  • Obviously it’s more or less impossible for us to create a profile for this horse on the same basis as the others, as he has just one win to his name and no places.

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Apples Jade – Does She Need The Run?

Every year, we hear the same rumours that certain horses are “festival bankers”. This year is no different, with 4 favourites on the Tuesday all supposedly “banker material”. However, it has paid in the past to try to pick holes in these favourites and identify reasons that it may be better to oppose them.

Apples Jade is a difficult one. Since winning this race last year, she has looked fairly bulletproof with 4 wins from 4 subsequent starts (3 of them in grade one company). However, the only real question mark over her is that she will go into the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham after a break of 75 days.

Apples Jade has won 10 times from 14 starts over hurdles. Three of her four losses do have something in common. The first came at Cheltenham in the 2016 Triumph Hurdle when she came 2nd behind Ivanovich Gorbatov. Interestingly, this came after a break of 83 days (she hadn’t run since Leopardstown over Christmas). After this, she went on to win two successive races at the end of the season at Aintree and Punchestown. In hindsight, one would wonder whether she needed the run at Cheltenham to shake off the cobwebs.

In the 2015/16 season, she made her seasonal debut at Down Royal following a break of 188 days. She was beaten into 2nd that day behind Rashaan in what was probably the most disappointing performance of her career. She ran again just 3 weeks later in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, finishing 2nd behind Irving. Again, she was the beaten favourite, but after this shorter break her performance was far better than on her seasonal debut. Yet again, one would wonder whether she needed the break to shake off the cobwebs.

After another quick turnaround, she ran in the Hattons Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in early December and won (narrowly beating Vroum Vroum Mag). This was to be her last start for 80 days, until she ran at Punchestown in late February. Again, she was beaten after a break, finishing 2 lengths behind Limini. However, just a couple of weeks later she would go on to reverse this form at the Cheltenham Festival, and finished off the season with another win at Punchestown.

This season has been slightly different. Her first start of the season came at Navan in November and she did win despite the break of 197 days. She probably still improved from that start to the next, winning the Hattons Grace for a second consecutive year before winning at Leopardstown over Christmas.

Despite having been beaten following a break after Christmas in each of the last two years, the decision has been made to run fresh at Cheltenham. However, her form after a break of over 50 days now reads 12221, compared to 11211111 after a shorter period off the track.

The Opposition

While opposition looked scarce, Willie Mullins announced last week that 2016 winner Vroum Vroum Mag will in fact return to the race this year, hoping to reverse the form with Apples Jade from last year’s race.

Vroum Vroum Mag has won 7 times from 11 starts over hurdles – however, she has also won once from 4 starts in bumpers and has a perfect record of 6 wins from 6 chase starts. We’ll ignore 6 of these starts (her first 6 runs in bumpers and over hurdles in France) and focus on her career since moving to Willie Mullins’ yard.

She was unbeaten in her first two seasons with Mullins, the second of which culminated in a victory in the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Punchestown Champion Hurdle a few weeks later in April 2016. She then faced a long break and wasn’t seen for 219 days before running in the Hattons Grace at Fairyhouse. She was beaten that day by Apples Jade but ran more or less to form. She went on to win the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown and the grade 2 Mares’ Hurdle at Doncaster at the end of January before heading to the 2017 Cheltenham Festival to be beaten by Apples Jade again. After that, she was 6/4 favourite for the Punchestown Champion Hurdle but was well beaten in 7th – her first ever real underperformance. It later emerged that she had been injured.

Throughout this season, it has been unclear whether Vroum Vroum Mag would stay in training or go to be covered. The decision has been made to run her at Cheltenham, but having her covered is still considered a strong option later on in the season. Mullins’ comments were simply, “She’s in great shape. I didn’t think we’d get her back. She hasn’t been covered yet, but we have plenty of time and she could well be later in the year.”

Of course, if Apples Jade is expected to need the run then the same should be said for Vroum Vroum Mag. However, a look through her past form wouldn’t suggest that there’s any real history of needing a run – she seems to perform to the same standard when fresh as she does when she has run recently. Coming here without having run this season may seem like a negative, but Mullins is more than capable of getting a horse fit and ready for the big day without running them that season. Quevega won this race in 2011, 2013 and 2014 without having run earlier in the season, while Arctic Fire won the County Hurdle without having seen a racecourse last season. Overall at the Cheltenham festival, Mullins has had 4 wins and a place from 11 runners which had yet to run that season.

Buveur D’Air – The Arguments Against

This year’s Champion Hurdle market has been dominated by quite some time by one horse – the reigning Champion Hurdler, Buveur D’Air. With Faugheen failing to show his brilliant best in his last two starts and last year’s juvenile form not working out as well as one might have hoped, Buveur D’Air (currently 4/7 at best) looks like festival banker material.

So, why would we take on the favourite?

The easiest argument that’s been floating around is that it’s hard to retain a Champion Hurdle – Hurricane Fly was well fancied to do so and failed. Really, I can’t take this argument because this year’s Champion Hurdle isn’t just a weak Champion Hurdle, it’s a weak grade 1. The argument that it’s difficult to retain a Champion Hurdle isn’t based on the fact that it’s a gruelling race that takes a lot out of the horse (as could be the case for a Grand National or an Albert Bartlett), but on the fact that the race is generally full of class, with one of last year’s novices coming to challenge or something else emerging. Looking at the list of 11 above, it’s hard to see where that major threat is.

The second argument is that the only defeat of his career since he switched from bumpers to hurdles came at Cheltenham, in the 2016 Supreme. However, that argument can’t really be entertained at all. He was beaten only by Altior and Min in the Supreme (who will be the top two in the market in the Champion Chase the day after this content and both of whom have subsequently proven their class – it was one of the best novice contests in recent memory). That was at the time a career-best performance, probably not bettered until he returned to Cheltenham last March to win this in a stunning fashion. There is no doubt about his ability in terms of the track.

My only real concern (and it is minor) is that Henderson has been quoted more than once as saying that he takes a bit of work. Speaking on February 20th about wishing to take BD for a racecourse gallop, he said: “Buveur D’Air takes an awful lot of work, but he did work this morning. He has not really had a race yet (this season) and he didn’t have a race at Sandown. I would like to work him before racing on Saturday just to get him revved up”. Essentially, the suggestion here is that the lack of competition thus far this season may be a bad thing when it comes to the day itself (this wasn’t enough of a concern for Henderson to take him to Leopardstown for a real race instead of Sandown, of course).

Again, this argument can be countered. Firstly, thinking back to last season, Buveur D’Air was gifted a similarly easy campaign, going off at SP’s of 10/11, 30/100 and 1/4 in his three starts that season. This certainly didn’t have any detrimental effect come the day of the Champion Hurdle. If this was of any concern, Henderson will do whatever he feels is necessary in a racecourse gallop to wind him up a bit more ahead of the day itself. For me, this isn’t anything to lose sleep over.

While his starts this season may not have taken too much effort to win, Buveur D’Air was impressive nonetheless. His hurdling is slick and efficient, and based on what we’ve seen so far he has improved significantly from last season in terms of his jumping. In short, should he run to form, it will take something outstanding to beat him.

Ascot Chase Trends Analysis

This year’s Ascot Chase is a fascinating renewal, with old favourite Cue Card, Gold Cup contender Coney Island and Ryanair Chase hopes Top Notch and Waiting Patiently among the field of 7. I’ve picked out 10 key trends for the race and ran this year’s runners past them to see which horses fit the ideal profile for an Ascot Chase winner.

Key Trends

  1. 10 of the last 10 winners had an official rating of 162 or more.
    These horses filled 74% of the total places (including 100% of the winners) from just 34% of the total field.
  2. 10 of the last 10 winners had at least placed in a grade 1.
    These horses filled 83% of the total places from 61% of the total field.
  3. 9 of the last 10 winners had previously won a grade 1.
    This narrows down the field well, as these horses filled 61% of the total places from 37% of the total field.
  4. 9 of the last 10 winners had won at least once in their last 3 starts.
    These horses filled 91% of the total places from just 69% of the total field.
  5. 9 of the last 10 winners finished in the top 6 last time out.
    These horses filled 87% of the total places (including 90% of the winners) from 78% of the total field.
  6. 8 of the last 10 winners had won 4 or more chases.
    These horses filled 83% of the total places from 64% of the total field.
  7. 8 of the last 10 winners had run between 2 and 4 times that season.
    These horses filled 83% of the total places from 67% of the total field.
  8. 8 of the last 10 winners had previously run in between 6 and 19 chases.
    These horses filled 91% of the total places from 81% of the total field.
  9. 7 of the last 10 winners had previously won at Ascot.
    These horses filled 52% of the total places (incluing 70% of the total winners) from 43% of the total field.
  10. 6 of the last 10 winners ran in the King George last time out.
    These horses filled 39% of the total places (including 60% of the winners) from just 16% of the total field.

This Year’s Runners

Horse 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Total
Coney Island Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No No No Yes No 6
Cue Card Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes No Yes No 7
Frodon Yes No No Yes Yes Yes No Yes No No 5
Speredek No Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No No 6
Top Notch Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No 9
Traffic Fluide No Yes No No No No Yes Yes No Yes 4
Waiting Patiently Yes No No Yes Yes Yes Yes No No No 5

So, the trends shortlist looks like this:

  1. Top Notch – 9
  2. Cue Card – 7

Top Notch

A quick look at Top Notch’s profile confirms that he’s a leading contender:

  • Overall Record: 19 runs – 10 wins – 3 places
  • 3-3-0 at Ascot
    Won a class 3 hurdle over 2 miles in January 2015
    Won a class 2 2m 5f chase in December 2016
    Won c grade 2 2m 5f chase here last November
  • He runs well with some sort of cut in the ground – 5-4-0 on good to soft and 9-5-2 on soft, compared to 3-0-1 on good ground. 2-1-0 on heavy.
  • The majority of his starts have been in small fields, but he has been fairly consistent in them (14-9-1 in fields of 7 or less, 5-1-2 in bigger fields).
  • He has a strong record in November (6-3-1), December (3-3-0), January (2-1-0) and February (3-3-0). This drops slightly in March (3-0-2) and April (1-0-0). 1-0-0 in October.
  • He has a particularly strong record at right-handed tracks (5-5-0), compared to 14-5-3 going left-handed.
  • He has a strong record on tracks described as having slight undulations (such as Ascot), with a record of 10-8-1. 4-1-0 on flat tracks and 5-1-2 at more undulating tracks.

Betfair Hurdle Review – The Stand-Out Stat

Kalashnikov put in a good performance to win the Betfair Hurdle on Saturday in tough conditions. It was undoubtedly one of the best renewals in recent memory in terms of the overall standard of the race. Interestingly, Kalashnikov was one of the horses to come out on top in our trends analysis ahead of the race. However, more interesting than his overall good performance on trends is one particular stat which was backed up by his win. This is most certainly worth noting ahead of next year’s race.

Trend number 9 in our analysis last Saturday concerned horses making their handicap debuts:

5 of the last 10 winners had never run in a handicap.
These 5 winners all came in the last 6 years. This is a significant over-performance, considering these horses made up just 13% of the total field in the last 10 years, but managed to fill 23% of the total places. In the last 5 years, they have over-performed even more significantly – 35% of the total places from 20% of the total field.”

Just 4 of the 24 horses to go to post in Saturday’s race fitted this trend – these were Kalashnikov (won), Moon Racer (11th), Lalor (13th) and Waterlord (pulled up). This means that 6 of the last 7 winners have fit this trend (as have 2 placed horses), despite only 28 runners in the last 7 years having fit the trend, from a total of 146 runners in the race.

In the last 7 years, 19% of the total field have fit this trend. However, these horses have managed to fill 32% of the total places, including 86% of the winners. 

In short, it’s definitely worth looking out for handicap debutantes in this race next February.