Handicappers' Blog

Phil Smith analyses the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup and looks at the success of Irish-trained horses in handicaps at the festival.

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There were only three seven year olds that ran in this year’s Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup and they finished first, second and third, writes Phil Smith. That is encouraging for the future as there is every chance that SIZING JOHN, Minella Rocco and Native River are all still progressing.

The hard thing for trainers is keeping these top horses sound. The first four in the betting on 1st November last year, Coneygree, Don Cossack, Vautour and Thistlecrack never made it to the start line this year. I had Djakadam performing to 165 at Punchestown last April, when winning the John Durkan in early December and when beaten just over 2.25 lengths at Christmas in the Lexus. He is so consistent so assuming that he has run to 165 again, it brings Native River and Minella Rocco to 166 at Cheltenham and Sizing John to 170 as I believe he was three lengths up most of the way up the run in and won a shade comfortably.

A figure of 170 puts him at the same level as Best Mate was as a seven year old when winning the first of his three Gold Cups. Good company; and hopefully young enough to go higher in time. His performances this season have been 161, 165, 167 and now 170 so he is clearly moving in the right direction.

The most dramatic winner of the week was undoubtedly MIGHT BITE (161) in the RSA. He had looked capable of a performance in the 160s when falling at Kempton over Christmas and so it proved despite a tendency to run down the path back to the stables. However given what happened in the race what do you call the winning margin? I called it 6lb. deciding that if he had to give that weight to Whisper (155) at Newbury in the autumn in the new Ladbrokes Trophy (formerly Hennesy), I would not know who would win.

It puts him on the same figure as Denman was after his RSA victory over a much weaker field in 2007. He subsequently won the Hennessy off 161 the following autumn. I am now asking Might Bite to do the same. Bobs Worth from the same stable won the RSA and then the Hennessy off 160 in 2012. I believe Might Bite is in that league BUT will his temperament get the better of him?

TIGER ROLL (155) won the Grade 2 JT McNamara National Hunt Chase. Very unusually for a novice chaser winning at the Festival Tiger Roll was having his fourteenth run in the last year including eleven chases, two over hurdles and one run on the flat. Already a winner of the Munster National, this horse is clearly tough and is sure to be running in another National over the next year or so. He has gone somewhat under the radar but now he has stepped up in distance I am sure he will become a more well-known name.

It is important to realise that the BHA Handicappers are a team who work together so the personal criticism that I received in the run up to Cheltenham was disappointing. We have been keeping Irish performance figures now for 12 years. We have regularly monitored their success rates which enabled us to tweak our methodology and ensure they are competitive. The reality is that we want close exciting finishes and we want to set handicap puzzles that people find intriguing to solve.

Below are the seven Irish-trained winners and what they were rated in Ireland when we compiled the handicaps:

Tully East won off 138 (133 in Ireland)

Supasundae won off 148 (145 in Ireland)

Presenting Percy won off 146 (140 in Ireland)

Road To Respect won off 145 (143 in Ireland)

Arctic Fire won off 158 (no rating in Ireland)

Champagne Classic won off 138 (137 in Ireland)

Rock The World won off 147 (147 in Ireland)

You can see a real mixture of differences and one figure the same. This is because, just like with Timeform and Racing Post Ratings, different form students place different interpretations on the same pieces of form. What is clear is that higher does not necessarily mean badly handicapped.

The results showed that Irish trained horses won 70% of the handicaps from 30% of the runners. However that is quite a small statistical sample and I much prefer to look at the placed horses (first four) over the twelve years.

British-Trained Placed horses 2006-2017: 356 from 2246 runners at 15.9%

Irish-Trained Placed horses 2006-2017: 150 from 609 runners at 24.6%

As a result my team will be adopting the same policy next year.

What was fascinating this year is the weight carried by the 10 handicap winners

11-12, 11-08, 11-04, 11-05, 11-1, 10-13, 11-04, 11-12, 11-03 and 11-05

Although we work as a team we are very competitive and want our individual races to have the closest finishes. There is no doubt that Dave Dickinson won our internal competition this year. He is responsible for;

The Fred Winter – The winning distances were a neck and a neck

The County Hurdle – The winning distances were also a neck and a neck

You would be happy if these were the winning distances in a 2m handicap on the flat but remember there were eight flights of hurdles in the way in these races. Hats off to Dave.

Please send any questions or concerns about handicapping to: handicapping@britishhorseracing.com

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