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Festival Trendspotting: Final Pointers

Trials and Final Pointers

February is often viewed as the key month in which several Cheltenham trials take place, and while that theory rings true, plenty more key races occur earlier on in the season that have pointed up many Festival winners.

Below is a list of races that historically produced the most subsequent winners at the Festival since 1996/97.

Race Record of first three at the Festival This season’s first three
King George VI Ch Winners: 5/13; Seconds & thirds: 2/18 1.Kauto Star 2.Long Run 3.Captain Chris
Adonis Juv Nv Hd Winners: 5/11; Seconds and thirds: 0/13 1.BabyMix 2.Sadlers Risk 3.Dark And Dangerous
Festival Hurdle Winners: 5/13; Seconds and thirds: 0/6 1.Unaccompanied 2.Thousand Stars 3.Oscars Well
Irish Champion Hd Winners: 5/12; Seconds & thirds: 0/24 1.Hurricane Fly 2.Oscars Well 3.Thousand Stars
Tingle Creek Chse Winners: 4/14; Seconds & thirds: 2/17 1.Sizing Europe 2.Kauto Stone 3.Comas
Long Walk Hurdle Winners: 4/12; Seconds & thirds: 1/14 1.Big Buck’s 2.Five Dream 3.Restless Harry
Long Distance Hd Winners: 4/9; Seconds & thirds: 0/9 1.Big Buck’s 2.Five Dream 3.Pettifour
Peterborough Chse Winners:3/12; Seconds & thirds: 2/9 1.Gauvain 2.Somersby 3.Mr Moonshine
Moriarty Nov Chse Winners: 3/11; Seconds & thirds: 2/9 1.Last Instalment 2.Call The Police 3.Lambro
Rendlesham Hdle Winners: 3/12; Seconds & thirds: 2/11 1.Restless Harry 2.Cross Kennon 3.Featherbed Lane
Deloitte Nov Hdle Winners: 3/12; Seconds & thirds: 1/8 1.Benefficient 2.Sous Les Cieux 3.Il Fenomeno
Royal Bond Nv Hd Winners: 3/9; Seconds & thirds: 1/10 1.Sous Les Cieux 2.GalileosChoice 3.Miss Nomer
Hatton’sGrace Hd Winners: 3/9; Seconds & thirds: 0/13 1.VolerLa Vedette 2.Mourad 3.The Real Article
Cleeve Hurdle Winners: 2/12; Seconds & thirds: 3/17 1.Big Bucks 2.Dynaste 3.Mourad
Betfair Hurdle Winners: 2/9; Seconds & thirds: 3/22 1.Zarkandar 2.Get Me Out Of Here 3.Raya Star
Future Ch’ Nv Hd Winners: 2/12; Seconds & thirds: 2/11 1.Cash And Go 2.Dylan Ross 3.Sous Les Cieux
V Chandler Chase Winners: 2/10; Seconds & thirds: 2/15 1.Somersby 2.Finians Rainbow 3.Al Ferof
Winter Novices’ Hd Winners: 2/9; Seconds & thirds: 1/7 1.FingalBay 2.Simonsig 3.Barbatos
Game Spirit Chse Winners: 2/13; Seconds & thirds: 1/11 1.Sprinter Sacre 2.French Opera 3.Im So Lucky
Lexus Chase Winners: 2/11; Seconds & thirds: 1/8 1.Synchronised 2.Rubi Light 3.Quito De La Rogue
Altcar Nov Chse Winners: 2/7; Seconds & thirds: 0/1 1.Our Mick 2.State Benefit 3.Majala
Denman Chase Winners: 2/7; Seconds & thirds: 0/11 1.LongRun 2.Burton Port 3.What A Friend
Bristol Novices Hd Winners: 2/10; Seconds & thirds: 0/10 1.Deireadh Re 2.Rev It Up 3.American Spin
Imperial Cup Hd Winners: 2/10; Seconds & thirds: 0/5 1.Paintball 2.Nampour 3.Sire De Grugy
Ascot Hurdle Winners: 2/10; Seconds & thirds: 0/10 1.Overturn 2.For Non Stop 3.Katchit
Finesse Juv Hd Winners: 2/10; Seconds & thirds: 0/10 1.Grumeti 2.Pearl Swan 3.Hollow Tree
Prestbury Jv Nv Hd Winners: 2/10; Seconds & thirds: 0/19 1.Hinterland 2.Hollow Tree 3.Secret Edge
November Nov Ch Winners: 1/12; Seconds & thirds: 3/10 1.Al Ferof 2.Astracad 3.Maggio
Racing Plus Chse Winners: 1/7; Seconds & thirds: 2/13 1.Nacarat 2.Hectors Choice 3.Consigliere
International Hd Winners: 1/10; Seconds & thirds: 2/15 1.Grandouet 2.Overturn 3.Brampour
Fighting Fifth Hd Winners: 1/13; Seconds & thirds: 2/13 1.Overturn 2.Binocular 3.Celestial Halo
Greatwood Hcp Hd Winners: 1/12; Seconds & thirds: 1/20 1.Brampour 2.Olofi 3.Abergavenny
Boyles’ Gold Cup Winners: 0/10; Seconds & thirds: 3/18 1.Quantitativeeasing 2.Medermit 3.Roudoudou Ville

The King George VI Chase sits proudly at the top of the above for the leading Cheltenham Festival trial race for good reason as the winner has now gone on to lift the Gold Cup in five of the last eight years. To put that feat into context, only three horses achieved the King George/Gold Cup double from 1960 to 2001, but Kauto Star will this week be bidding to make it six victories in nine years for Kempton victors, who have a superior record to those that could finish only second Boxing Day, giving Paul Nicholls star the statistical edge over Kempton runner-up, Long Run.

Another Kempton event to have found the Cheltenham bullseye with regularity recently is the Adonis Juvenile Novice Hurdle in which the last two winners – Soldatino & Zarkandar – both followed-up in Triumph Hurdle, boding well for Tom George’s Baby Mix, who has already proven himself around Prestbury Park when winning his hurdle debut in December.

Leopardstown's Istabraq Festival Hurdle run over the Festive period also has a good pedigree for Cheltenham, courtesy of Istabraq himself who went on to several victories around Prestbury Park, and Unaccompanied will be hoping to keep this Leopardstown event’s crisp record in tact by landing the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle.

Defending Festival champions, Big Buck’s and Hurricane Fly, have taken familiar paths to this year’s four-day meeting that have proven successful in the past. The former has already won both the Long Distance and Long Walk Hurdles that have pointed the way here before, while Hurricane Fly took the reliable Irish Champion Hurdle back in January – the exact race he used as a prep last year.

The Betfair Hurdle (formerly the Totesport Gold Trophy Hurdle) has always been a reliable signpost for the Festival courtesy of five victors to have made the top three at Newbury – a fact that bodes well for this year’s key protagonists, Zarkandar, Get Me Out Of Here and Raya Star.

While the winner of the Boylesports Gold Cup at Cheltenham in December has yet to head back for the double, it’s worth noting that both the runner-up and third from that event in Medermit and Roudoudou Ville.

On a similar theme to which trials provided the most winners at the Festival, the table below highlights which tracks were the most successful in providing a final springboard for Cheltenham since 2003.

Track W-R % £1 stake
Leopardstown 25-305 8% -79
Newbury 22-346 6% -35
Kempton 18-290 6% -103
Cheltenham 17-371 5% -236
Punchestown 16-141 11% +31
Haydock 14-258 5% -121
Sandown 12-327 4% -167
Ascot 8-193 4% -107
Wincanton 8-137 6% -57
Warwick 7-78 9% +13
Navan 7-92 8% +23
Fontwell 5-84 6% +9
Doncaster 5-138 4% -74
GowranPk 4-78 5% -23
Uttoxeter 4-35 11% +46
Fairyhouse 4-99 4% -52
Naas 4-81 5% -3

Punchestown obviously stands out as a track to have served the Festival well over the years as a final springboard courtesy of an 11% strike-rate and a tidy profit, while the likes of Warwick and Uttoxeter should not be underestimated in supplying a well-priced Festival winner.

Which jockeys and trainers approach this year’s Festival in good form?

Trainer Last 32 days Last 10 days
N Henderson 24-98 (-34) 3-25 (-16)
D McCain Jnr 20-85 (+24) 7-28 (-1)
Miss V Williams 15-84 (-8) 6-33 (-16)
A King 16-87 (-17) 6-27 (+1)
D Pipe 13-74 (-9) 3-21 (-7)
W Mullins 14-63 (-28) 2-11 (-16)
C Tizzard 12-52 (+9) 4-18 (+7)
P Nicholls 12-74 (-34) 6-25 (-5)
E Williams 11-74 (-8) 2-18 (-12)
T George 9-33 (+23) 2-8 (-2)
Jonjo O’Neill 8-73 (-29) 0-16 (-16)
P Hobbs 7-74 (-41) 3-22 (-14)
G L Moore 7-56 (-17) 2-19 (-5)
J Scott 6-26 (+5) 3-11 (+5)
Miss L Russell 6-56 (-27) 4-24 (-3)
A Honeyball 6-20 (+16) 0-3 (-3)
     
Selected others    
     
C Longsdon 6-42 (+14) 3-13 (+23)
Mrs J Harrington 5-37 (-21) 2-13 (-6)
N Twiston-Davies 6-69 (-23) 3-16 (+5)
F Murphy 4-43 (-3) 2-16 (+11)
K Reveley 4-43 (-26) 2-14 (-7)
D Hughes 4-60 (-16) 2-18 (+10)
G Elliott 3-36 (-28) 2-15 (-11)
I Williams 3-32 (-18) 0-6 (-6)
Mrs S Smith 3-47 (-20) 2-19 (-2)

The above two columns are very revealing. While the first provides a useful guide as to how each trainer’s runners have performed in the last 31 days (including Sunday 11 March), the second column highlights whether there has been a recent increase or decline. For instance, Nigel Twiston-Davies hasn’t enjoyed the best month, but has certainly shaped as though hitting form at the weekend via several winners, including on Sunday.

While a lot has been made of Paul Nicholls’ runners misfiring in recent weeks, it’s worth noting that the champion trainer has actually sent out half of his winning tally for the last 32 days during the last 10 days – a notable 8% increase in strike-rate. Elsehwere, Donald McCain Junior approaches the Festival in fine fettle, along with the likes of Venetia Williams and Charlie Longsdon, who were among the weekend winners.

At the other end of the scale, there are some very distinguished names slightly below par at present, including Nicky Henderson, David Pipe and Phillip Hobbs, while followers of Jonjo O’Neill have yet to see a winner this month – he also had three fancied runners turned over on Sunday. It may therefore prove wise to see how the aforementioned trainers perform in the early races on day one before considering any bets.

Jockey Last 31 days Last 10 days
J Maguire 21-80 (+10) 9-23 (+5)
R Walsh 16-66 (-24) 4-18 (-7)
A McCoy 14-54 (-7) 3-19 (-12)
B Geraghty 13-60 (-35) 2-19 (-15)
P Brennan 14-61 (+32) 3-17 (-2)
A Coleman 13-62 (+1) 7-26 (-8)
R Johnson 11-91 (-40) 5-31 (-11)
R Thornton 10-49 (-5) 4-18 (+3)
N Fehily 10-56 (-4) 2-20 (+3)
N Scholfield 9-62 (-24) 4-17 (+2)
J Tizzard 8-34 (+4) 4-12 (+13)
D O’Regan 7-64 (+4) 1-19 (-4)
Miss L Alexander 7-60 (-22) 3-29 (-14)
B Hughes 8-67 (-26) 5-23 (-4)
H Brooke 7-42 (+22) 4-26 (+1)
F De Giles 7-42 (+30) 2-11 (0)

Big guns Ruby Walsh, Tony McCoy and Barry Geraghty have all been ticking along nicely as to be expected, but there could be some real value in following some of the less glamorous pilots like Jason Maguire, who rode a timely Sunday double and is experiencing a real purple patch. Aidan Coleman, Joe Tizzard and Brian Hughes also all arrive in top order.

If there is one in-form jockey to keep really close tabs on, however, then step forward Robert Thornton, who has returned from injury in sparkling form and will be hungry to make up for lost time and has a superb pedigree at this meeting.

Form ahead of Cheltenham

Of the 216 Festival winners since 2003, a whopping 156 finished first or second last time out. Such runners did represent a large slice of the pie, however, from 1939 bets (8%). But compare this to the remainder of runners that finished third or worse last time, which stands at 60 winners from 2119 bets (3%) – those that fell last time, for instance, struck just once from 101 bets.

If we take a closer look at the 156 Festival winners that made the top two last time, some interesting angles emerge. The first concerns their odds, as 127 of them returned 12-1 or shorter for a loss of -£19 (15%) – the remaining 29 winners at 14-1 or bigger had a strike-rate of just 3%, for a huge level stakes loss of -£370.

The next vital angle is the horse’s age. Sticking to just 5-7yo’s that made the first two last time and went off 12-1 or shorter at the Festival, returned 82 wins from 532 bets (+56). Keep a sharp eye out for Alan King’s runners in this sphere, as he struck 7 times from 24 runs (+37), while Willie Mullins was 10-42 (+15).

Sticking to the above method alone is a decent way of finding winners at Cheltenham, but applying a few more filters increases both strike-rate and profit. If a horse ran well to finish in the top two last time under conditions that may not have been ideal – soft ground and a slow pace (small field) – they could improve under more favourable conditions at Cheltenham; better ground and a stronger pace (bigger field).

Therefore, by concentrating on the aforementioned 5-7yo’s that made the top two last time in 5-8 runner fields on ground with soft/heavy in the description – stay with me on this – and went off 12-1 or shorter at the Festival, you would have struck 43 winners from 202 bets (21%) for a tidy profit of +£110 to levels since 2003. This method worked in seven of the last nine years.

Headgear

It is possible to triumph wearing blinkers, visors, cheekpieces or a tongue strap at the Festival, though the strike-rate is low, as can be seen in the table below. Should your bet be supporting first-time headgear then it will need to be a decent animal as two of the only three winners to overcome this in 140 attempts were the high-class Detroit City and Hardy Eustace.

Tongue straps were a touch kinder, however, and shouldn’t be viewed as a negative, as the likes of Kauto Star, Star De Mohaison, Sublimity and Taranis all coped with the attachment.

Cheltenham Festival 2003-2011

Blinkers: 13-311 (4%) -£113
Cheekpieces: 6-211 (3%) -£54
Visor: 2-99 (2%) -£82
Tongue-tie: 18-382 (5%) -£121

First time blink, cheek or visor: 3-140 (2%) -£94
First time tongue-tie: 4-78 (5%)

Penalties in handicaps

It proved difficult to lump extra weight to glory at the Festival as only four triumphed from the 44 that attempted the feat, and all four carried 4lb or 5lb penalties, including Holmwood Legend last season.

3lb 0-6
4lb 2-14
5lb 2-17
6lb 0-4
7lb 0-3

Handicap weights

The final word punters should take note of is in giving extra consideration to runners in the 10st10lb to 10st13lb weight band in handicaps as they struck most with 22 wins in 332 runs (7%) for a nice profit of +£57 level points. That profit was extended if concentrating on 5-9yo’s, as all bar one winner came from this age bracket for a return of 20 wins from 240 runs (+110).