The Cheltenham Festival must be the most eagerly awaited sporting event, with the possible exception of the football World Cup, and the reason it has become so prestigious and keenly anticipated by horseracing fans is, in a word, quality. In recent years, top quality jumps racing has become a rare commodity outside of a couple of meetings each season primarily due to the increase of the number of modest handicaps in the race programme in order to satisfy Bookmakers’ requirements regarding prices and field sizes. However the Festival is a timely reminder that horseracing is first and foremost a sport not just a mechanism to inflate Bookmakers’ revenue. Racing has evolved over the years but was initially intended to determine the quickest horses from point A to point B, not which runner has been under-assessed by the handicapper. Fortunately this crucial value, found in all sports, is clearly not forgotten at the Festival which is the only meeting where non-handicaps outnumber handicaps and brings together the best of Europe to compete on level terms.
Though this emphasis on quality racing is most welcome, it does not necessarily make finding winners any simpler. The large fields and intense competition set difficult puzzles for enthusiasts to solve, but one tool that I have found helpful over the years to meet this challenge is a race profile. Before the meeting there will be analyses covering the last 10-year-trends and these are helpful, however they are based on a very small sample. A race profile takes the key characteristics of a race and then uses them to create an analysis based on all similar contests, hence the sample size is much larger and the resulting trends should be more reliable. In this article I have looked at race profiles for the Festival based on ten years’ data from all races. Profit and loss figures are quoted at Bookmakers’ starting price and exchange prices recorded just before the official off time for each race.
The Gold Cup is a conditions chase, so too is the Queen Mother Champion Chase and a few other contests at Cheltenham. The key factors are that they are run at level weights, open to horses of all ages, and are assessed as Class 1 races. Using these factors we can find approximately 200 similar races staged over the last ten years, it would be nice if there were more, not just for this analysis but for racing in general, but 200 is still a reasonably sized sample to work with.
On average these races have lost about 26p/£ to level stakes punters taking Bookmakers’ starting price which is a significant barrier to overcome. Course absence is usually a good starting point when breaking down races, but it is interesting to note that only 5% of winners were making a quick return to action and racing with 14 days, and they made a huge loss. Normally these are runners worth noting but the fact that we are dealing with high quality contests eliminates this often positive factor. It is no surprise that over a third of winners were following on from a success and that two-thirds had made the first three on their latest run; those unplaced most recently picked up 11% of races but returned a 37p/£ loss to SP. Slightly more surprising is that the 21 winners running after failing to complete lost only 13p/£ at Bookmakers’ SP which translated to a slight profit at exchange prices before commission.
In terms of price, 90% of winners started at 10/1 or lower, and 85% started at 10/1 or lower on their latest start. Age plays its part with only one in eight winners aged over nine-years-old. Finally, with respect to ratings, 85% of winners were rated 150 or higher by the BHA, not surprising given the quality of these races, but the fact that backing the top-rated runner, based on BHA handicap ratings, returned a profit of 12p/£ at Bookmakers’ starting price (equivalent to 22p/£ at exchange prices before commission) was unexpected. Clearly these are runners to note.
The Champion and World Hurdle races are both class 1 non-handicap races open to all ages. Using these attributes, specifically conditions hurdle races rated class 1, and excluding all age-specific contests, produces a sample of 225 races spread over the last ten complete seasons. The average loss to Bookmakers’ starting price is a staggering 34p/£ and amazingly this increases to a loss of 55p/£ for runners which have failed to win from their last three runs. But conversely all runners which started odds on made a small profit; it is the long shots (18/1 or higher) that have produced the heaviest losses despite a few notable winners. Given the highly positive results regarding the BHA top-rated runners found for conditions chases it would be reasonable to expect similar returns for conditions hurdles races however over the last ten years these horses have made a loss of 18p/£ at SP which is a similar figure to that achieved by simply backing all horses which had previously won on similar going.
There are some similarities between the two profiles including that approximately 85% of winners were priced at 10/1 or less, and only 8% won after racing within 14 days of the last start returning a huge loss to punters.
Overall six-year-olds have the best record winning at a rate of one in six and making a loss of 10p/£ at Bookmakers’ SP which coverts to a profit at exchange prices of about 6p/£ before commission. One totally unexpected result from these analyses was that horses which won their last race by a wide margin (ten lengths or more) actually made a profit of 17p/£ at Bookmakers’ starting price. Given the fact that these horses have such obvious credentials I would have expected them to produce a loss, but I suspect the high level of competition and the fact that maybe such easy wins could be overlooked when competing at this level have made them value bets in the past. The sample size is small though at 58 bets, but they are worth monitoring.