With Cheltenham just around the corner, we’re keeping tabs on a number of festival previews. Paul Jones comes with a good reputation and we’ll be previewing his antepost service and Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide in our February edition.
Paul has kindly sent us an extract from his Cheltenham Festival guide, focusing on the Fred Winter Novices’ handicap. The full book is available at www.bettrends.co.uk and costs £12.95 + £2 post and packaging. We hope to preview the full book in the February edition. Here’s the excerpt with analysis of the Fred Winter taking place on Wednesday the 16th.
FRED WINTER JUVENILE HANDICAP HURDLE
Although the ‘Fred Winter’ is developing a number of very strong patterns so early in its existence (remarkably I’ve found as many as 12 worthy of being listed in the Trends Summary), I am aware that this may come across as a blatantly obvious statement but, trying to finding the handicap blot is key here and, boy, was there one last season as Sanctuaire left his rivals stone motherless dead. Paul Nicholls knew it beforehand. All he would say when discussing the race at the Sandown Preview Evening was: “He’ll win” and not a word more. French-bred hurdlers have really come to the fore in this race but take note of the top-rated horses from the Flat too as they have won or finished second in three of the six runnings. No new trends to add this season, only a strengthening of existing ones which is what I like for winner-finding purposes and Sanctuaire ticked virtually every main box 12 months ago hitting the crucial ones square on the head.
THE LAST 5 WINNERS WON LAST TIME OUT
Yet another 1-2 for last-time-out winners in last year’s race so that is three years in succession now, and the fifth consecutive year that the winner had also won its previous outing. In fact, the only ‘Fred Winter’ winner not to have been successful on its previous start was Dabiroun in the inaugural running (and he was beaten in a Grade 2 hurdle) but the race has now found its feet. On average, one-third of the field come into this race off the back of a win so it is not like the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, for example, where most contenders are coming off the back of a victory so I will be making this my number-one priority before I start looking at other factors. The success rate of last-time-out winners is also very much in-keeping with the Festival handicap hurdles in general since 1993 where almost half of such races (27-55) were won by last-time-out winners from under 20% representation.
ALL 6 WINNERS WERE BEATEN ON THEIR FIRST TWO STARTS OVER HURDLES
Sanctuaire fitted the profile on so many factors last season, another being the curious stat that every ‘Fred Winter’ winner had been beaten on its first two starts over hurdles. In fact, the first three horses home last season had been beaten on their first two juvenile hurdle races. That’s some stat when we consider that five of those six winners then won on their final start before the Festival which is remarkably similar to the chasing equivalent race at this meeting, the Cententary Novices’ Handicap Chase (formerly the ‘Jewson’). Perhaps it is not so curious a stat given that well-handicapped horses tend to win most handicaps and getting beaten on your first two starts over timber for a race where contenders must have run three times to qualify isn’t going to do its handicap mark too much harm. The inescapable fact of the matter is that all 12 winners of the novice handicaps at the Festival have now been won by horses that were beaten on their first two starts in their new discipline.
4 OF THE LAST 5 WINNERS WERE FRENCH BREDS OR FRENCH IMPORTS
A 1-2-4-5 for French-breds last season from less than one-third of the 24-strong field tells a story which further enhanced their strong record in the ‘Fred Winter’ winning four of the last five runnings. Coincidence? Surely not, especially as they were also responsible for the 1-2-3-4 in 2008. At last year’s excellent Chipping Campden Festival Forum, Richard Hoiles was eloquently making the case that many French-bred juvenile hurdlers seem to get in well over here in terms of their handicap rating and, judging on their dominance of last year’s result, his comments were certainly vindicated. His argument was that their combination of maturity (they start schooling so much earlier in France where they even have Grade 1 races for 3yos) and the Handicapper not having an easy task in coming up with a mark from French form means many are let in lightly.
4 OF THE 6 WINNERS EMERGED FROM THE TOP THIRD OF THE HANDICAP (AND 5 FROM THE TOP HALF)
I am not 100% bought on following this stat as the only two winners that did not emerge from the top third of the handicap were the latest two winners which sets alarm bells ringing but Sanctuaire could be found in the top half of the weights meaning that only Silk Affair of the six winners to date ran from the bottom half of the handicap and, in her year, the five juveniles to follow her home emerged from the top third of the weights. Class outs in nurseries on the Flat far more often than not and juvenile handicap hurdling is the equivalent of such races over timber and is following suit. The 2008 renewal when Crack Away Jack beat Ashkazar being a good case in point as they were saddled with top weight and joint-second top weight respectively and pulled emphatically clear of their rivals.
4 OF THE 6 WINNERS HAD RUN EXACTLY THREE TIMES TO ACQUIRE A HANDICAP MARK
This was the stat that I had principally zoned in on following the first two runnings of the ‘Fred Winter’ given that both winners had run the bare minimum of three times to qualify and it brought me a tasty winner when Crack Away Jack won at 14/1 three years ago. However, it then let me down for the following two seasons before bouncing back in glorious style 12 months ago when backing and advising a bet at 12/1 on Sanctuaire in the ante-post market to those who would listen who had also entered the race off the back of just three hurdle runs so I was relieved I stuck to my guns. It makes sense not to show the Handicapper anymore of your hand than is necessary, hence the three-run strategy for many trainers and also look out for top yards running at a small track like Taunton or Plumpton (featured last season’s 1-2 for their final start) for example which all helps in the handicapping process.
DAVID PIPE HAS SADDLED THE WINNER, TWO SECONDS AND A THIRD IN THE LAST 4 YEARS
In his first year holding a licence, David Pipe completed the Imperial Cup-Fred Winter double with Gaspara, whilst his other runner, Laustra Bad, finished third so this is always likely to be a race he will target especially given the stable’s propensity to find tough, French-breds down the years and we’ve already established what a terrific record they have in this handicap. Since then, his Ashkazar only found one too good in attempting the same Sandown-Cheltenham double as Gaspara the following season and Notus De La Tour only found Sanctuaire better handicapped 12 months ago. The Pipe yard did a great job in getting Notus De La Tour to the race a well-handicapped horse running off 134 when the horse he beat on his previous start by an easy six lengths had since improved to be a 136-rated individual but, on this occasion, the Pipe yard were simply out-Piped as Steve Mellish put it so well on Festival Radio by their west-country rivals.
3 OF THE LAST 4 WINNERS HAD BEATEN OLDER HORSES LAST TIME OUT
It is often argued that novice chasers benefit greatly from when taking on experienced handicappers when reverting back to taking on fellow novices again and similar arguments can be drawn to horses reverting back to taking on rivals of their own age in another sphere such as juvenile hurdling. Take Sanctuaire, Silk Affair and Gaspara, for example, as all three won this prize against fellow four-year-olds having beaten older horses on their last start. The last two had won at Sandown as did Crack Away Jack so 4yo winners at the Esher track should also be respected.
THE IRISH CHALLENGE
Before we start listening to closely to Irish connections complaining about their handicap mark, I refer you back to the inaugural winner, Dabiroun, who bolted up by ten lengths off a 17lbs higher mark than this Irish rating. His is the only Irish victory to date so maybe there is an argument the Handicapper has taken too dim a view of that runaway success for future years but I tend to put it down to the fact the Irish have just been generally weak in the juvenile hurdle division for a few years now and it has been nine years since they supplied the Triumph Hurdle winner.
FILLIES HAVE WON 2 OF THE 6 RUNNINGS
No fillies turned up for the gig last season so they did not have the opportunity to build on their two winners from the first five runnings. I have noticed in the novice hurdles at the Festival down the years that fillies and mares that are outsiders rarely cause surprises but those that turn up with a leading chance have an excellent winning strike rate. Take the ‘Fred Winter’, for example, where fillies have only been responsible for 14 of the 150 runners to date but if we purely concentrate on their fancied runners (their only three contenders to start at up to 12/1 for the purposes of this argument) their form figures for this race reads: 2101. In short, give every respect to a well-fancied filly but gloss over those at bigger prices.
JUST 6 HORSES PRICED AT UNDER 10/1 HAVE FINISHED IN THE FIRST SEVEN PLACES
Six years down and only six horses to start at a single-figure price have managed to fill not just any of the win-and-place positions but the first seven places home. Therefore, don’t be afraid to chance a long shot or two or play them to over-perform on the spreads. That said, two favourites have won, and they didn’t just win either as Gaspara and Sanctuaire justified favouritism with considerable ease.
Concentrate on last-time-out winners
Take note of horses beaten on their first two hurdling starts
French-breds/imports must be respected (especially on soft ground)
Horses in the top half of the handicap have won all but one running
The top-rated horse on the Flat has a tremendous record
Winning Sandown form is worth a second look
Three of the last four winners beat older horses on their latest start
Respect well-fancied fillies
David Pipe and Gary Moore’s contenders are worth a second look
Respect horses that ran the bare minimum of three times over hurdles to qualify
The Aga Khan breeding line has shown up exceptionally well from very few runners
Do not be afraid of big prices