Tag Archives: Cheltenham

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.

Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle – An Overview

One for the Outsiders

The Albert Bartlett is a race in which I tend to like to find a horse at a big price. The form of the favourite in the last 10 renewals is 2P121F7PU3. Compare this with the Ballymore (1331313221) and you can see that there can be shocks here. In the Ballymore, only one of the last 10 winners had a double-figure starting price. In this race, 6 did, including all of the last 5, at prices of 33/1, 14/1, 11/1, 16/1 and 33/1.

The reason for this in my view is that the favourite in a grade one novice hurdle at the festival is likely to be a horse who has shown a lot of class, talent and potential in just a few starts – an exciting unknown quantity. However, it’s no secret that this is a seriously tough race and even when not run on ground as testing as in last year’s renewal it can be an absolute slog.

Hurdling Experience

This brings experience, rather than pure talent, to the fore. My starting point, therefore, is experience over hurdles:

Hurdles Starts Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E A/E(W/P)
0-3 79 2 2.53 11 13.92 -67.26 0.34 0.78
4-5 61 3 4.92 9 14.75 51.81 0.8 0.91
6+ 38 5 13.16 10 26.32 60 2.02 1.52

Given that this is a grade one novice hurdle at the festival, it’s no surprise that over 44% of the runners had previously run 3 times or less over hurdles. However, it seems to be a major disadvantage. Only 2 of these 79 horses won, and they underperformed significantly based on market expectations. The real noteworthy record is that of horses with 6 or more previous hurdles starts to their name – around 21% of the field fit this profile, but these have accounted for half of the winners, and this group over-performed based on market expectations in terms of both wins and places. This implies that these horses were underrated and under-bet, with punters tending to favour those with more interesting, attractive profiles.

Age Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E A/E(W/P)
5 37 1 2.7 4 10.81 21.75 0.65 0.96
6 94 5 5.32 17 18.09 -53.32 0.62 0.87
7 33 3 9.09 5 15.15 78.26 1.44 0.91
8+ 14 1 7.14 4 28.57 -2.15 2.17 2.81

If experience is a plus, then the same logic would suggest that we would prefer older horses in this race, and the results back this up. Yes, 6 of the last 10 winners were aged 5 or 6, but these horses accounted for around 74% of the total field. In fact, the horses which significantly punched above their weight were horses aged 7 and older. If we combine the record of all horses aged 7 and older, we see the following stats:

Age Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E A/E(W/P)
7+ 47 4 8.51 9 19.15 76.11 1.57 1.3

Stamina

The main reason that this is considered such a tough race is obviously the trip. 3 miles around Cheltenham is a tough ask for a hardened staying chaser, never mind a novice hurdler. With this in mind, it would make sense that experience over staying trips is an advantage:

Ran over 3m+? Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E A/E(W/P)
No 85 2 2.35 12 14.12 -23.11 0.34 0.85
Yes 93 8 8.6 18 19.35 67.66 1.28 1.09

Only around half of the runners in the last 10 years had actually run over 3m or further previously, yet these horses accounted for 8 of the last 10 winners. The over-performance based on the market is significant, as is the underperformance of those unexposed over staying trips. The disparity decreases when we factor in places as well, but is still noteworthy.

Won over 3m+? Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E A/E(W/P)
No 111 3 2.7 17 15.32 -0.61 0.44 1
Yes 65 7 10.77 13 20 47.16 1.32 0.96

In theory, you would assume that if experience over longer trips is a plus, then success over longer trips is even better. However, when we narrow down the criteria to just those with a win over 3m or further, the A/E of those which don’t fit the trend improves, and the A/E taking places into account improves to the extent that they perform exactly as they would have been expected to, while those horses which do fit the trend actually marginally underperform based on places. For this reason, I’m going to leave it with those horses which have run over longer trips.

Grading Form not as Important?

Ran in a graded race Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E A/E(W/P)
No 56 0 0 7 12.5 -56 0 1.23
Yes 122 10 8.2 23 18.85 100.54 0.98 0.92

When looking at the other grade one novice hurdles at the festival, I tend to emphasise the importance of graded form. It doesn’t seem to as vital in this race. Obviously form has to be taken into account, but the focus shouldn’t necessarily be solely on the winners of graded hurdles. Having said that, 56 horses have run in the race having never run in a graded race in the past, and all have been beaten. However, they actually over-performed based on market expectations when taking places into account.

The Ideal Profile

I’m not overly fussed about graded form or about wins over longer trips. For this reason, the ideal profile here is:

  • 7yo or older
  • 6+ starts over hurdles
  • Ran over 3m+

As I’ve said, my aim in this race tends to be to find something at a big price. With this in mind, the idea would be that these angles would count out those at shorter prices and find a few which are going unnoticed in the market. Indeed, these horses with more experience and proven over the trip tend to be those with the less exciting, less interesting profiles and can go unnoticed by the betting public. There have been 12 runners fitting all 3 criteria in the last 10 renewals, with 3 wins and another 2 places, and overall form of PPP73103P115. This might not seem overly impressive, but there prices were as follows: 15/2, 66/1, 25/1, 14/1, 66/1 (3rd), 33/1 (won), 9/1, 13/2 (3rd), 50/1, 14/1 (won), 11/1 (won) and 33/1. Their A/E was 4.23 and their A/E(W/P) was 2.18.

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

Coral Cup – An Overview

Unexposed in Handicap Company

The Coral Cup is still a handicap in the sense that the average spread in the ratings over the last 5 years has been 19.2. However, with no grade one hurdle run over the same distance, it can be contested by some high class horses. My angle into the race generally focuses on relatively unexposed horses as opposed to seasoned handicappers.

Hcp Runs Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E A/E(W/P)
0-6 164 9 5.49 29 17.68 22.94 0.94 1.03
7+ 99 1 1.01 11 11.11 -79.99 0.27 0.89

A huge amount of experience in handicaps doesn’t seem to be a plus. 9 of the last 10 winners had run 6 or less handicaps in their careers, despite the fact that these horses took up 62% of the total field. Horses with more handicap starts to their names have massively underperformed in terms of the expectations placed on them by the market, with an A/E of 0.27.

Hcp Wins Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E A/E(W/P)
0 105 5 4.76 14 13.33 -8.75 0.87 0.84
1 62 4 6.45 15 24.19 28.7 1.16 1.44
2+ 96 1 1.04 11 11.46 -76.99 0.24 0.82

It’s a similar story when we look at previous success in handicaps. Interestingly, horses with exactly one past handicap win have performed very well based on every metric and have been very profitable to follow in the past. However, the logical explanation here is that horses with less previous handicap success outperform those with more. This tells us much the same as the previous stat – those horses with less handicap experience and less handicap success outperform those with more.

Unexposed over Hurdles

Hurdles Starts Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E A/E(W/P)
0-9 160 9 5.63 30 18.75 26.94 0.95 1.09
10+ 103 1 0.97 10 9.71 -83.99 0.25 0.78

The theory extends to general experience outside of handicaps. 9 of the last 10 winners had run in less than 10 races over hurdles, and again these horses appear to be the ones that we want to be with.

Last run was in a novice hurdle that season
Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E A/E(W/P)
28 0 0 3 10.71 -28 0 0.52

In theory this should bode well for novices, but that hasn’t been the case. 28 horses have run in the race in the last 10 years having had their prep run in a novice hurdle in the same season. 3 of these made the frame, which is significantly less than the market would have suggested. The 2017 renewal was a good example of these horses underperforming (Tin Soldier went off at 5/1 but finished 8th and Peregrine Run went off at 7/1 but finished 11th) but there have been numerous others; Pendra was 6/1 favourite in 2013 but finished 17th and For Non Stop was 5/1 in 2011 but fell, for example. Politologue went on to prove himself to be an extremely talented horses, but finished well down the field in this race as a novice at 9/1 in 2016.

Recent Success

Placing LTO Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E A/E(W/P)
1st or 2nd 96 5 5.21 19 19.79 10.32 0.8 1.03
3rd or worse 165 4 2.42 20 12.12 -76.81 0.6 0.92

Less than 37% of the runners in the last 10 years had finished in the top 2 on their previous start, but these accounted for half of the winners in that time (note that there are only 9 winners in the table – this is because it only includes past runs in the UK and Ireland, and Aux Ptits Soins hadn’t run since arriving from France before winning this race).

Official Rating

The final stat appears to be a strong one, despite the fact that we’ve already noted that the race remains a true handicap: 3 of the last 5 winners were officially rated above 145, despite these horses accounting for 37% of the total field. The higher-rated horses significantly outperform those with lower ratings on all metrics, adding strength to the theory that this is a race for classy horses more than handicap veterans:

OR Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E A/E(W/P)
<145 82 2 2.44 10 12.2 -39.26 0.49 0.8
145+ 48 3 6.25 10 20.83 3.82 1.16 1.35

The Ideal Profile

It’s clear that we’re looking for something with relatively low experience both in handicaps and in hurdles in general – it’s not good practice to use strict numbers to rule out horses, but if we go with 0-6 handicap starts, 0-1 handicap wins, and 0-9 hurdles starts, we should find a sample of horses which are relatively unexperienced. A high rating seems like a big bonus and we’ll use 145 as the benchmark. Horses which finished in the top 2 last time out are also preferred.

8 horses in the last 5 years have fit these criteria, and 2 of them won (Whisper in 2014 and Diamond King in 2016). The overall form is 01010642 – both of last year’s candidates placed (Topofthegame was 2nd at 9/1 and William Henry was 4th at 8/1). I’ve narrowed this down to 5 years as it’s in more recent years that the high official ratings are likely to be more relevant – however, there were 2 runners which fit the criteria in 2013, both at 33/1, one of which was winner Medinas.

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

Kim Muir Challenge Cup – An Overview

Experienced Jockeys

The Kim Muir is an unusual race in terms of the angles I take into it. The first is not original and has been well known for a while, but it still appears to have an edge on the market – jockeys claiming weight have a poor record in the race.

Claiming Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E A/E(W/P)
No 144 9 6.25 35 24.31 -3.9 0.92 1.22
Yes 88 1 1.14 5 5.68 -70.65 0.29 0.44

The theory here is clear – it’s an amateur race at the festival, and the best jockeys tend to take part. Jamie Codd is the obvious example, with form of 1P10P11U3 in the last 10 years. It can pay to stick with a top jockey here, and the less experienced jockeys who can claim tend to suffer as a result. Last year 11 of the 20 jockeys in the race weren’t claiming, and they filled the top 6 finishing positions. The theory is backed up both by the A/E and A/E taking places into account – although one would assume that the public latch on to the rides of top amateurs in the race, these horses still appear to outperform the expectations of the market in comparison to those who receive the benefit of carrying a few pounds less but the disadvantage of an inexperienced rider.

Headgear

Headgear Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E A/E(W/P)
Yes 88 7 7.95 20 22.73 30.02 1.44 1.32
No 144 3 2.08 20 13.89 -104.57 0.36 0.8

Another key angle which I don’t delve into often is headgear, and again it seems to be significant in this race. Around 38% of the horses to run in this race in the last 10 years wore some sort of headgear, yet these horses accounted for 70% of the winners and 50% of the horses to make the frame (including winners). They vastly outperformed market expectations and those without headgear underperformed significantly.

These two angles alone can narrow the field significantly – only 27% of the total field in the last 10 years fit both criteria, but these included 6 of the last 10 winners, with an A/E of 1.57. Whilst these appear to be the two strongest angles into the race, there are a few others which are worth noting:

Career Starts Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E A/E(W/P)
0-11 39 0 0 3 7.69 -39 0 0.4
12+ 193 10 5.18 37 19.17 -35.55 0.94 1.13

Experience

Not a huge number of inexperienced horses tend to run in this race, but when they have, they’ve been unsuccessful. Horses with 11 or less previous starts under rules have failed to win the race from 39 attempts, despite a number of high profile, well-fancied horses attempting it (Indian Castle at 7/2 in 2014 and Champagne James at 4/1 in 2015 are a couple of examples). If we wanted to break this down further, it would seem that a huge number of starts isn’t a massive plus either:

Career Starts Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E A/E(W/P)
0-11 39 0 0 3 7.69 -39 0 0.4
12-18 78 6 7.69 18 23.08 47.2 1.16 1.19
19+ 115 4 3.48 19 16.52 -82.75 0.73 1.09

A high number of veterans have run in the race, with 19 or more starts to their names, and these horses haven’t run as well as those with 12-18 previous starts. In fact, they’ve underperformed based on their odds.

Prep Runs – Staying Handicaps

The prep run is often a key factor and there are two criteria which stand out in that regard:

Last Run Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E A/E(W/P)
Level Weights 40 1 2.5 7 17.5 -34.58 0.34 0.86
Handicap 192 9 4.69 33 17.19 -39.97 0.87 1.03

Those horses which had their last start in a level-weights contest underperformed, with just one win from 40 runners. The majority of horses do tend to prep for this in a handicap, but it’s still worth noting.

Last Run Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E A/E(W/P)
>3m 76 2 2.63 10 13.16 -16.76 0.45 0.8
3m+ 156 8 5.13 30 19.23 -57.79 0.91 1.08

The majority of winners also tend to have their warmup in a race over 3 miles or further, which makes sense considering the fact that this is a tough test over the same trip as the Gold Cup.

Hcp 3m+ LTO
Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E A/E(W/P)
137 8 5.84 27 19.71 -38.79 1.05 1.12

When combining these two factors we see a group of horses which has won 8 of the last 10 renewals (admittedly making up the majority of the field) but still manage to punch above their weight in terms of wins and in terms of wins and places.

Going Unnoticed in a Hurdles Prep

Hurdles LTO
Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E A/E(W/P)
26 2 7.69 6 23.08 -11.81 1.4 1.44

As a quick side note when looking at prep runs, a prep run over hurdles is hardly a new concept when coming into a big handicap chase, but it has been useful in this race. The horses to do it in the last 3 years may have had finishing positions of PFP, but their odds were 25/1, 50/1 and 100/1. Back in 2011 it was more common (10000P) and 2012 (12900) it was more common, and these horses weren’t without success in recent years (the one horse to do it in 2015 was 5th and one of the three to do it in 2013 was 3rd). A lot of horses to take this route in the past have been big-priced outsiders, but if we look just at those with starting prices of 20/1 or shorter, we see a stronger record:

Hurldes LTO (SP 20/1 or shorter)
Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E A/E(W/P)
12 2 16.67 6 50 2.19 1.79 1.96

These 12 horses had form of 52P0012153F3.

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

Willie Mullins – An Off Season?

Willie Mullins has led the Irish charge to Cheltenham for a number of years. He was the leading trainer every year from 2013 to 2016 and is largely responsible for the recent Irish dominance at the festival. However, this year there his Cheltenham raiders aren’t surrounded by the usual excitement and hype. There is a general feeling that his yard never quite hit form this season, and as a result he sits third in the betting for leading trainer at the festival.

Previous Festivals – Where do the Winners Come From?

Mullins has trained 32 winners at the last 5 festivals, so it’s worthwhile to break them down in order to identify his areas of strength. I’ve divided the festival races into 7 categories:

  • Non-Handicap Novices Hurdles – the Supreme, Ballymore, Albert Bartlett, Mares Novices Hurdle and Triumph Hurdle
  • Non-Handicap Novices Chases – the Arkle, JLT, RSA and National Hunt Chase
  • Open Grade 1 Hurdles – the Champion Hurdle, Mares Hurdle and Stayers Hurdle
  • Open Grade 1 Chases – the Champion Chase, Ryanair Chase and Gold Cup
  • Handicap Chases – the Ultima, Close Brothers, Festival Plate, Kim Muir, Grand Annual
  • Handicap Hurdles – Coral Cup, Fred Winter, Pertemps, County Hurdle, Martin Pipe
  • Other – Bumper, Cross Country, Foxhunters
Non-Hcp Novices Hurdle Non-Hcp Novices Chase Grade 1 Open Hurdle Grade 1 Open Chase Handicap Hurdle Handicap Chase Other
2018 wins 1 2 2 0 1 0 1
2017 wins 2 1 1 1 1 0 0
2016 wins 3 1 2 1 0 0 0
2015 wins 1 3 2 0 2 0 0
2014 wins 2 0 1 0 1 0 0
Total wins 9 7 8 2 5 0 1

So, a few points worth noting:

  • Mullins has had 16 wins in the non-handicap novice races over the last 5 years – in other words, he has trained 16 of the 43 winners of these races in the last 5 years.
  • He has had just 5 wins in handicaps, and no wins in handicap chases.
  • He has had 10 wins in open grade one hurdles and chases, and his other win came in last year’s Bumper.

Novices

It would seem that Mullins’ key strong point is, unsurprisingly, the level-weight novice contests. In the Supreme, Arkle, National Hunt Chase, Ballymore, RSA, JLT, Mares Novices Hurdle, Triumph and Albert Bartlett, he has trained 18.4% of the total field in the last 5 years. His horses accounted for 37.2% of the total winners in that period of time. Mullins trained 27.6% of the horses to make the frame in the last 5 years (including winners).

However, the general consensus seems to be that these wins followed seasons of domination in Ireland, and that the horses were well fancied and in good form when Cheltenham came around. I want to weigh up how Mullins’ novices are performing this season compared to past seasons, so I’m going to look at how his novice hurdlers and chasers performed in graded level-weight contests in past seasons before the month of March. Firstly, his novice hurdlers (note that this doesn’t include juvenile hurdles):

Mullins Novice Hurdlers (Graded Non-Handicaps) Before March

Season Runners Wins W% W/P W/P%
2013-14 25 9 36 14 56
2014-15 31 10 32 16 52
2015-16 27 14 52 18 67
2016-17 30 8 27 14 47
2017-18 31 8 26 11 35
2018-19 31 8 26 12 39

The 2015-16 season was a standout one in terms of novice hurdlers – Mullins won 14 graded events in Ireland before heading to Cheltenham, with over half of his runners in these races winning. However, the following 2 seasons were slightly lower with 8 winners each year before Cheltenham. This season has actually seen the same number of winners to date.

Looking at novice chasers next:

Mullins Novice Chasers (Graded Non-Handicaps) Before March

Season Runners Wins W% W/P W/P%
2013-14 16 5 31 8 50
2014-15 26 10 38 17 65
2015-16 16 8 50 8 50
2016-17 22 6 27 9 41
2017-18 25 6 24 11 44
2018-19 20 6 30 10 50

It’s the 2014-15 season that was the standout this time, but again Mullins has trained the same number of winners in these races as he did in the previous two years. In fact, he has done so with slightly fewer horses, so his win rates (and win/place rates) are actually slightly superior this year to anything else we’ve seen since the 2015-16 season.

These numbers alone tell us that Mullins isn’t having that much of an “off season”. However, a closer look at this year’s winners to date might. I’ve listed the winners in the 2018-19 season below in all cases where they appear towards the top of the festival markets:

  • Cadmium – 20/1 Grand Annual
  • Voix Du Reve – 25/1 Arkle
  • Camelia De Cotte – 33/1 Arkle, 25/1 JLT
  • Ballyward – 6/1 National Hunt Chase
  • Sancta Simona – 12/1 Mares Novices Hurdle
  • Aramon – 12/1 Supreme, 25/1 Ballymore
  • Klassical Dream – 8/1 Supreme

Some of these horses accounted for more than one of the wins in the tables, and some other winners are out for the season and won’t be heading to Cheltenham. This list tells a fairly different story to the tables – Mullins’ horses may be winning races, but they’re certainly not well fancied for festival races. The fact that Ballyward (second favourite for the four-miler at 6/1) is Mullins’ leading hope in the novice contests according to current prices is fairly damning considering the fact that he trained the Supreme favourite or joint favourite in each of the last 4 renewals, and that all of them were shorter than 4/1. He also trained the Arkle favourite in 4 of the last 5 renewals, and 3 of these were odds-on. This year, his leading Supreme contenders sit 3rd and 5th in the market at 8/1 and 12/1, and his leading contender in the Arkle is fourth in the betting at 13/2.

These are just two examples of races in which Mullins doesn’t seem to have the same strength as in past years. Another is the Mares Novices Hurdle – he has trained all 3 winners of the race, each of them the favourite at odds of 4/7, 11/8 and 8/11. This year, his top contender is probably Sancta Simona who can be backed at 16/1, putting her around 10th in the market (although she is as short as 8/1 with one firm).

In short, I’m not sure that it’s fair to say that Mullins is having an “off season” as a whole – we’ve seen that his success in big novice races has been on a par with the last few seasons, and his win strike rate in all Irish races so far this season (25.08%) is more or less on a par with where he finished up last season (26.6%), even if they are below the 3 seasons before last (33.75, 33.21 and 31.52). However, it seems unlikely that his success at the Cheltenham festival (with novices at least) will match that of previous seasons.

The Positives – Handicap Hurdles

So, are there any positives to be taken from this? Well, there is one area which isn’t necessarily associated with Mullins, but in which he has excelled over the years – handicap hurdles. He hasn’t always aimed a large number of runners at these races (from 2007 to 2012 he had an average of just over 3 runners per year, including none in 2008 and 1 in 2009). However, he was nevertheless successful, with 3 winners and another 2 places from his 20 runners in that period. In recent years he has aimed more runners at the handicap hurdles – he has had 55 runners in these races in the last 5 years. His win rate has been relatively low by his own high Cheltenham standards, with 9 winners from these 55 runners (a 9% strike rate with 1.27 A/E) and a further 7 places (a 22% W/P strike rate). The 1.27 A/E is the more interesting point – despite Mullins’ high profile, his horses in these races don’t tend to be as heavily backed as in grade one contests – Bleu Berry was 20/1 when winning the Coral Cup last year, and Arctic Fire was the same price when he won the County Hurdle the previous year off top weight.

An interesting angle is that all of these winners and placed horses ran in a graded race last time out – if we focus just on horses which ran in graded hurdles last time out, it makes the record even more impressive:

Mullins Hcp Hurdlers (Ran in Graded Hurdle LTO)

Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
36 5 14 12 33 71.53 1.81

I’ve broken this down a bit more with a few other angles, which can be seen below:

Location of Prep Run

Track Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
Leopardstown 15 3 20 5 33 50.87 2.56
Clonmel 3 1 33 2 67 11.59 1.96
Other 18 1 6 5 28 9.07 0.93

As ever, a Leopardstown prep run is proven to be valuable experience heading towards the festival. Interestingly, Clonmel has also produced a winner and a runner-up from 3 runners. Both of these (Don Poli when he won the Martin Pipe in 2014 and Roi Des Francs when finishing 3rd in the same race the following year) ran in the Surehaul Mercedes Benz Novices Hurdle, a grade 3 3m novices hurdle run at Clonmel in February. Battleford took the same route to the Martin Pipe in 2017 but only managed 8th.

Graded or Listed Winner?

Won at Listed Level or Above?

Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
Yes 19 4 21 7 37 79.36 2.9
No 15 1 7 5 33 -5.83 0.82

4 of Mullins’ 5 handicap hurdle winners had previously won a graded or listed contest, as had another 3 placed horses.

Which Race?

Race Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
Coral Cup 18 1 6 3 17 13.29 0.89
Fred Winter 5 0 0 0 0 -5 0
Pertemps 1 0 0 0 0 -1 0
County Hurdle 18 2 11 6 33 34.48 1.71
Martin Pipe 13 2 15 3 23 10.76 1.57

An obvious question to ask is which handicap hurdles Mullins’ horses are being aimed at and are winning – it’s clear that he doesn’t tend to run many horses in the Fred Winter or Pertemps, but does run them in the Coral Cup, Martin Pipe and County Hurdle.

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

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.

Willie Mullins’ Chasers at the Cheltenham Festival

One interesting note to come from last year’s festival was that Willie Mullins didn’t school Douvan over fences before he went to the Champion Chase. Not only this, but he didn’t school Rathvinden for the four-miler either. Mullins’ priority seems to be getting them to the race safely as opposed to having them jump flawlessly. However, Mullins’ record with chasers at the festival hasn’t really been magnificent through the years.

His record at the festival as a whole doesn’t need to be explained – he has been the undisputed King of Cheltenham for a number of years now. However, if we compare his runners in hurdles and chases, there’s a stark contrast.

Race Runners Wins W% W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
Hurdle 245 33 13% 30% 25.14 1.1
Chase 118 13 11% 31% -77.94 0.79

The hurdles record is outstanding – you actually could have made a profit by blindly backing his hurdlers, and this has been the case in 6 of the last 10 years. For 8 of the last 10 years, his hurdlers’ A/E has been over 1, suggesting that they’re still performing better than the market expects. His chasers, on the other hand, have only been profitable in 1 of the last 10 years to level stakes, and only had an A/E of over 1 twice in that decade.

This obviously isn’t all due to their jumping. After last year’s festival, however, there was a lot of attention given to the fact that he has had 19 fallers (including horses which unseated and one which was brought down) in chases over the last 10 years at the meeting. 6 of these were last year, making this a more pressing “issue” than ever. 19 fallers from 118 runners is a total of 16%.

Before adding to the narrative that Mullins’ horses aren’t good jumpers, I want to compare his faller rates to those of other trainers. I’ve included the only other trainers to have had over 100 chasers at the festival in the last 10 years (Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls and David Pipe) as well as Gordon Elliott, as Mullins’ main current rival and the trainer to whom he is most often compared at the moment.

Trainer Chasers Fallers Fall%
Willie Mullins 118 19 16%
Nicky Henderson 153 9 6%
Paul Nicholls 154 20 13%
David Pipe 101 9 9%
Gordon Elliott 48 6 13%

Firstly, Nicholls and Elliott have very similar rates to Mullins, if slightly lower. If we eliminate last year’s fallers (this is hardly unreasonable as there’s a distinct possibility that last year’s high faller rate was an anomaly), Mullins’ rate drops to 12.87%, which is on a par with Elliott, the trainer currently closest to Mullins in terms of success at the top level, and Paul Nicholls, still often referred to as the best trainer of chasers in the game, despite a lack of recent success at the top level.

Looking away from fallers, though, Mullins’ record with chasers compared to hurdlers should still be noted. We can break it down by looking at the record of different jockeys when riding for Mullins – three jockeys have been seen in chases over 10 times for Mullins at the festival in the last 10 years, and these are Ruby Walsh, Paul Townend and Patrick Mullins:

Jockey Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
Ruby Walsh 35 9 25.71 14 40 -11.27 1.06
Paul Townend 28 0 0 5 17.86 -28 0
Patrick Mullins 23 2 8.7 7 30.43 -13.9 0.87

Ruby’s record is impressive. He has won on over a quarter of his rides in chases for Mullins and has (just about) outperformed the expectations of the market. Patrick Mullins’ record isn’t bad and he has been on plenty at massive prices – if we narrow it down to those at 10/1 or less, his record is 2 wins and another 3 places from 12 runners (A/E 1.12).

Paul Townend’s record isn’t as impressive, although one would suspect that he has played second fiddle to Ruby over the years, riding second-strings. For this reason, I want to look at his in the same way as I looked at Patrick Mullins’ – narrow them down to horses priced 10/1 or shorter. This narrows the amount of runners down to 8, confirming the theory that he’s regularly on stable second-strings and relative outsiders. His form reads 56F2P2P – the last four were at last year’s festival when Walsh was injured.

He has managed to place twice – however, the prices on the exchange would have suggested 3.2 places from these 8 runners, as well as 1.5 wins. This is admittedly a small sample size and it’s possible that we’re being harsh on Townend (especially considering the fact that one of his second-place finishes was a very respectable one on Min behind Altior in last year’s Champion Chase) but his inferior chase record to Ruby’s may be worth bearing in mind.

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