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One punter tries to pick a winner.
One punter tries to pick a winner.
Image: PA wire.

Winning at Cheltenham: Lies, damned lies and statistics

We study the trends to try to narrow the field ahead of the start of the festival tomorrow. And then just pick the one with the pretty silks.
Mar 12th 2012, 10:54 AM 731 0

EVERYONE HAS THEIR own method at Cheltenham.

Some punters go by the name, some pick the prettiest silks, others opt for the dart in the race card approach — but the smart ones use stats.

To whet your appetite ahead of the greatest equine show on earth, here are some trends and statistics for the four main championship races that might make bashing the bookies that little bit easier.

The Champion Hurdle

The Champion Hurdle is a race with a very reliable trio of pointers; namely that 24 of the last 28 winners had won their previous start, the last 17 victors had raced in the same calendar year and only one five-year-old has triumphed since 1985. Already, these three simple trends rule out half of the 10  remaining entries.

In the past decade, previous form in the race has proved vital, with horses like Brave Inca, Punjabi and Binocular all going on to score a season after placing in the race.

Unusually, only Hurricane Fly returns from last year’s top three. Half of the last 10 renewals have gone to Irish-trained horses, while only three of the previous 10 favourites have obliged. Surprise victories have been reasonably commonplace in recent times; since 2004 Hardy Eustace, Sublimity and Punjabi all won at a price of 16/1 or bigger.

Verdict Hurricane Fly ticks all the right boxes, but is a short price to record back-to-back wins. For those reluctant to get involved at odds-on, stable mate Zaidpour may represent value at 33/1. In truth he is an unlikely winner, but the French-bred six-year-old comes into this in good form after recording four consecutive victories over a variety of trips. While his optimum trip is more than the two-miles he’ll be racing over tomorrow, a strongly-run race would give him a reasonable chance of making the frame.

Queen Mother Champion Chase

A worrying omen for fans of market leader Sizing Europe is that 10 of the last 11 defending champions have been turned over, and that in the past decade only one horse aged 10 or older has won.

However, course form has proven to be of serious benefit – 20 of the last 27 winners had already won or placed at a race in previous Cheltenham festivals. The Arkle has been a very good trial, in the last 10 years every Arkle winner that went on to contest the Champion Chase placed at worst. While Captain Chris won’t be turning out, last year’s runner-up in that race Finian Rainbow is set to run.

Nine of the last 10 winners had previously triumphed in a Grade One, while the Tingle Creek has been the best trial for this race – eight of the last 11 winners had ran in the Sandown showpiece.

Verdict The stats don’t appear to single out any of the runners in what is a somewhat below-par looking Champion Chase. Sizing Europe is a selection almost by default, even if recent trends suggest that the 10-year-old may find it difficult to hold onto his crown.

Big Bucks and Ruby Walsh trot out. Pic: David Davies/PA Wire

World Hurdle

In the last decade repeat winners of this staying hurdle race have been the norm; Big Bucks is now bidding for a fourth consecutive victory while Inglis Drever also won the prize three times, and Baracouda recorded a double.

Six of the last 12 winners have been French breds, with another three filling the runner-up berth the times they weren’t successful in that period.

Irish-trained horses have a poor record, and are now looking for a first victory in 18 years. The race tends to go the way of a fancied horse, in the past decade the longest priced winner was 8/1 and five favourites have obliged. Horses that have previously run in the Champion Hurdle have a poor record in the race, and are without a winner since 1992.

Verdict All of the major trends for the race point to a record breaking fourth victory in the race for Big Bucks. While Oscar Whisky and Thousand Stars represent the highest rated horses that Paul Nicholls’ charge has ever faced, the duo fall short on the stats front. It is worth noting that they are a higher calibre of horse than what normally runs in the race, so the stats must be interpreted with that caveat in mind.

Gold Cup

The past 12 winners have all already won at Grade One level before proving successful here, and nine of those took in the King George VI Chase en route to victory at Prestbury Park. Age has been a significant factor in finding the winner, 10-year-olds have only one victory to their name in the past 18 runnings and the last horse aged older than that to triumph was in 1969.

A novice hasn’t won since 1974, while the last horse to win with less than six starts to their name was Dawn Run in 1986. Nine of the last 11 champions had come in the first two in a race at the festival in past years, while only one of the last 13 winners was opening their account for the season in the race.

The longest priced winner in the past 10 years was priced at 15/2, while six favourites have scored in the same time period.

Verdict The trends overwhelmingly point to Long Run as the most likely winner, Nicky Henderson’s charge passes all the major tests. As brilliant as Kauto Star has been this term his age is a huge negative and hard to ignore – adding a third Gold Cup to an already glittering CV would require something incredibly special. Grand Crus seems to far too inexperienced to win such a race, even in what looks like far from a vintage renewal. Captain Chris is an interesting contender if he was to emerge unscathed from the problems that marred his run in the Argento over course and distance in January.

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Mark Hobbs


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