Back in the 1980s the Jumps season ended in May and the new one resumed in late July or early August, effectively creating a break between the seasons because, quite simply, there was little interest in running jumpers on unsuitable going at a time of year when the flat season was in full swing.
However, there were some jumps races during the Summer months, especially August, and a few trainers and jockeys made a point of targeting these events. Therefore, finding winners in those days was a simple matter: back any horse ridden by John Francome. The former Champion jockey would hoover up the minor jumps races in the West Country, many of which were small-field affairs, often recording four wins in an afternoon.
Things are very different now. Moving the meetings to tracks which have better watering facilities has increased the average field size, the break between seasons is now a matter of a couple of days, and there seems to be more interest in Summer Jumping amongst punters.
One other change, which is not so good for bettors, is the increase in handicaps. From May to September 2016 almost 60% of jumps races were handicaps up from 47% in 2002. With these changes in mind I thought it may be interesting to analyse this time of the year (i.e. May to September) in isolation and try to discern a few trends which can help race analysts hoping to find a few summer jumping winners.
In order to preserve a reasonable sample size, I have divided the race grades into four categories: non-handicap hurdle races, non-handicap chases, handicap hurdles, and handicap chases. The two non-handicap groups cover all races for which the word “handicap” does not feature in the race title, so this would include beginners’ chases, novices’ chases, claiming hurdles and selling hurdles. National Hunt Flat races have not been analysed.
Starting with the non-handicap hurdle category we find that, during the period of analysis, there were over 21,000 performances, and that the average loss to Bookmakers’ starting price was a staggering 38p/£. Using exchange prices recorded at off time, before commission, does reduce this loss to 16p/£, but that is still relatively high and reflects the dominance of the shorter-priced runners.
Horses priced at up to 10/1, for example, lost 10p/£ on average to Bookmakers’ starting price and broke even at equivalent exchange prices. In fact, analysing this smaller group of runners produces the first glimmer of positive returns.
Taking all non-handicap hurdle runners priced at 10/1 or lower which were switching from handicap hurdle races we find a level stake profit at Bookmakers’ starting price of 2p/£ from about 1,600 bets which converts to 12p/£ profit at exchange prices.
For horses competing at up to 10/1, after running in a non-handicap chase, the profit figures are 5p and 10p for the two betting mediums, but the sample size is too small to be reliable.
Lifting the starting price restriction we find that over half of these races were won by horses aged five- or six-years-old, and although the majority were running after a break of no more than two months, the win rate is relatively consistent at around 13% with respect to course absences up to 60 days.
Over half of the winners had at least made the frame on their latest start, but even these lost 5p/£ at exchange prices. The favourite recorded a 46% win rate and made a slight profit at exchange prices (4p/£ loss at Bookmakers’ starting price), whist course winners, distance winners, and going winners all made reasonable profits on the exchanges before commission but have erratic profiles when analysed by season.
As is often the case, a reasonable guide to the chance of success is the price the horse started on its last run. Those racing after running at odds-on broke even with the Bookmakers from almost 500 runs, but made a 6p/£ profit on the exchanges.
Extending the analysis to all runners which started at 6/1 or lower last time out increases the sample size to over 5,000 and whilst they produced a loss of 9p/£ at Bookmakers’ starting price they did make a 5p/£ profit on the exchanges.
Analysis of the handicap hurdle category produced very little of interest. Apart from the fact that over 60% of these races in recent years were won by horses carrying 11-00 or more, and two-thirds of winners were aged five- to seven-years-old, it is difficult to find any worthwhile trend.
The value seems to be completely removed form these races due to the normalising of the handicapping process and the accuracy of pricing, and the best advice I can offer is to simply ignore them. The possible exception is novices’ handicap hurdle races where the favourite has had a good record recently making a 12p/£ profit at exchange prices before commission, but the seasonal analysis is patchy and there’s a strong likelihood that this erstwhile profitable trend has had its day.
The average loss for non-handicap chasers was 33p/£ at Bookmakers’ starting price which was equivalent to a loss of 22p/£ at exchange prices. More importantly, though, is the sample size. Unlike the equivalent hurdle division which featured over 21,000 performances the sample for this race category is under 4,500. This is due, in part, to the reduction in the frequency of these races over time.
During the period of analysis the number of these contests has dropped from around 70 to just over 50 per Summer, and there’s no sign it will ever return to the higher levels.
Analysing by age shows that over 60% were won by horses aged six- or seven-years-old, and 54% made the frame on their latest start. Again, the price bias is apparent with the 1600 runners priced at up to 4/1 losing just 3p/£ at Bookmakers’ starting price which is equivalent to a 2p/£ profit when backed on the exchanges.
Taking this subset of runners and analysing it in more detail we see that backing the BHA clear top-rated runner made a profit of 8p/£ at exchange prices from over 400 bets. In fact, removing the price restriction and analysing by BHA ratings it is clear that those to focus on are rated 120 or higher.
The 650 qualifiers made 11p/£ profit, though with five negative years from the last ten this is not a system to put the mortgage on. Reducing the number of bets to just those rated 120 or higher and clear top-rated would have increased the profit to 20p/£ at exchange prices before commission, and produced eight winning years from the last ten.
Although the number of non-handicap chases run from May to September has reduced in recent years, the number of handicap chases is rapidly increasing, by 64% in fact over the last ten years. The average loss for the 21,000 race performances is 16p/£ at Bookmakers’ starting price, an equivalent loss of 1p/£ at exchange prices.
The win rate distribution is pretty uniform by age, previous race grade, and course absence, although those chasers returning after a break of no more than seven days did better by losing just 8p/£ with the Bookmakers and making a profit on the exchanges of 3p/£.
Seven day winners have a good record with a 12p/£ profit on the exchanges though the sample is too small to be considered reliable. Whilst the favourites lost on both sets of prices, the odds-on shots made a good profit on the exchanges though there are few bets.
Summer Jumping makes for a good diversion from flat racing, especially on days when its sister code is dominated by handicaps, but making a profit from it is not as straightforward as the smaller fields may suggest. Possibly the best advice is to ignore the handicaps and focus on non-handicap hurdle races and those rated highly by the BHA in non-handicap chases.