I’m indebted, as ever, to my friends at Racenews for sending me this comprehensive round-up of festival statistics on trainers, jockeys and owners for the 2013 festival. It might prove useful to stats fans and festival fiends.
It’s in the form of a PDF, and you can read/download it by clicking the link below
I know nothing about the science of statistics. The first time I took a serious interest in them was when I fancied Captain Cee Bee to win the 2008 Supreme Novices and all the stats gurus told me to ‘discard 7-y-olds’ as they had a dire record in the race.
I didn’t want to discard the Captain because he looked to have a great chance and he was 10/1, so, like many of us, I tried to make my fancy fit the facts rather than the other way round. Stats were still king at that point.
I dug back through the previous 10 years of Supreme results and found that little more than a handful of 7-y-olds had run in the race. Even a non-statistician like me, who failed basic maths at school, could work out that the reason the age group had a poor record was that the sample size was tiny.
Happily, the stats guys helped push out the price of captain Cee Bee who beat 21 others home in the Supreme.
In the UK, the doyen of stats is Nick Mordin. His signature style is utter conviction. His systems are announced in Eureka fashion. A Mordin theory disproved is one where some outside agency must have spannered the works. I don’t read him much these days but his piece in the most recent Weekender suggests his discoveries are still revelatory, to Nick at least.
Still, if his word is the Bible, he has plenty of apostles.
His Betting for a Living book garners an average of 4 stars from 11 Amazon.co.uk reviewers. Just one 1- star review:
“I only bothered to read the first chapter in which he sets out the extremely complicated form study methods requiring access to numerous expensive form manuals. He also states that about 24 people per annum make a living out of gambling on horses. So it was a waste of money.”
Nick gets six 5-star reviews, the most recent (May 2009):
“With a fast moving betting scene and technology evolving to facilitate new strategies, books can become outdated relatively quickly. There are sections of this book that are now slightly outdated (keeping file cards, references to Sporting Life, no references to internet etc), but the majority is still pertinent for today’s serious gambler and therefore is still worth buying. Chapters structured into usual subjects, distance, class, going etc, with some interesting ideas and thought.
In summary a worthwhile addition to any serious horseracing book collection.”
My experience of Nick’s systems and theories has been confined to reading his Weekender column. I find much of his reasoning so convoluted it feels as though I’ve been led through a maze to a resounding ‘Voila!’ at the exit.
Here’s a sample from what I read in his column today which sums up Mr Mordin’s style beautifully – the words in italics are mine
“I’ve touched on this subject once or twice before in this column. It’s something I call ‘seasonality’. This is a broad term which covers a range of factors that appear to affect horses differently according to the time of year.
“One of these factors is fitness level which clearly changes through the course of a season.
“You can see this from the percentage of horses in British Flat races on turf who have earned the comment ‘looked well’ from Raceform’s paddock watchers over the last 15 years according to a test I ran on Raceform Interactive (at this point he refers to a table displayed on the page with percentages monthly from March to November inclusive as follows 6.4:6.9:8.5:8.8:9.1:10.1:10.4:8.4:7.0)
“As you can see, the results suggest that average fitness levels of horses in Britain start out at a relatively low percentage, rise with successive months to peak in September, then taper off as horses start to feel the effects of a long season. (looking well will be nothing to do with summer coats, grooming, nutrition and general wellbeing?)
“I looked at these stats just after I’d been studying a bunch of smart horses who have already run in France this year so it’s not surprising it struck me just how much the French Flat season is out of sync with those in Britain and Ireland.
“In France their top horses start running about six or eight weeks before those in Britain and Ireland.
“This is surely (a typical assertion) why most of them get rested for six to eight weeks over the summer as they need that break to be fresh enough for the big French autumn races like the Arc.
“Having got to this point I started thinking about which particular group of top French horses would hold the biggest fitness edge over their British and Irish counterparts this early in the season.
“I figured the sprinters weren’t the right answer because horses frequently win big sprints after long layoffs . Fillies weren’t the right answer because they’re much easier to get fit than colts according to my research. Two-year-olds were the wrong group because the good French two-year-olds don’t start running till much later in the year. And horses aged four and above looked wrong because they have the chance to run in big races before the start of the British Flat season, notably in Dubai
(I resisted peppering the previous paragraph with italics simply to preserve the wondrous rambling , hypnotic, Alice In Wonderland madness of it)
“By a process of elimination (!) I arrived at the answer that the British and Irish horses which have the biggest fitness disadvantage against French ones early in the season are three-year-old colts and geldings running beyond sprint distances.
“This being so, a system to exploit the situation almost wrote itself. Look for any British or Irish three-year-old colt or gelding who runs well on his seasonal debut in a French race over 1m or more before June, earning a racing post rating of at least 100.
“If you’d adopted my normal strategy of backing the qualifiers in their next three starts, you would have won 16 bets from 74 over the past 15 years and made a profit of £113.67 to a £1 level stake.
“At this stage there are no qualifiers on the system because the races in which they run . . . take place over the next four weeks. There are plenty of British and Irish horses entered for those races so I’d keep a close eye on the results because the profits this system has produced in the past have been remarkably high” (With system results bringing one winner a year, I think I’d rather pan for gold in the Scottish hills Nick)
Nick’s other theory this week, the one which initially caught my eye was that Denman was over the top in the Totesport Bowl – “I saw Punchestowns as a cert (It was Nick’s best bet of the season) because Denman looked likely to be over the top according to some other stats I uncovered (note the revelatory ‘uncovered’) before the race.
“Those stats were certainly powerful (Oh yes?). They stem from the fact that the Totesport Bowl comes at the end of the season (surely not!) when many of the top jumpers are in need of a break. This is especially true for the top 3m chasers as big 3m chases are very taxing. Most often the runners sustain a 2m pace for 3m (some animals!) and this takes a lot out of them. It makes sense therefore that the race has been a graveyard for horses who ran really well last time out.
“The one big run late in the season frequently puts them over the top and they run below form in the Totesport Bowl”.
Nick offers a table of evidence featuring Kauto Star, Denman, Imperial Commander, Desert Orchid etc adding “If Long Run hadn’t sidestepped this year’s race, I daresay the top five (highest rated) would have been beaten” (A natural Nick assumption despite Long Run’s three-race season – 7 runs and 8 runs respectively in his previous two seasons)
Nary a mention of the unsuitability of the Mildmay course for the likes of Denman and Imperial Commander. Not a whisper of Kauto Star’s demolition of the second-last fence in his nose defeat. Zero information on Denman’s comparatively quiet season for a horse claimed to be over-the-top.
The Weekender’s audience will, I suspect, (only suspect, mind, I have no stats) have its fair share of wide-eyed optimists who take Mr Mordin’s caveat-free style as the word of a man who not only knows his business but has been generous enough to share his professorial certainty with them. For a cover-price of £2.50
Mr Mordin’s pitch mirrors that of snake-oil salesmen in the old wild west. The difference being he really believes in his magic potions. And he never leaves town in the dead of night.
12 favs out of 20 finished in first 4 (5 winners) in last 20 runnings of John Smith’s Grand National: full stats here #GN2011
The last 20 years have seen five market leaders succeed, while seven have finished second, third or fourth.
Year Favourite/price/place Winner if not favourite
Don’t Push It 10/1 WON
Big Fella Thanks 10/1 4th
Butler’s Cabin 7/1 7th Winner: Mon Mome 100/1
Comply Or Die 7/1 WON
Cloudy Lane 7/1 6th
Point Barrow 8/1 fell1st Winner: Silver Birch 33/1
Monkerhostin 8/1 ref7th
Joes Edge 8/1 pu20th
Hedgehunter 5/1 2nd Winner: Numbersixvalverde 11/1
Clan Royal 5/1 3rd
Hedgehunter 7/1 WON
Clan Royal 10/1 2nd Winner: Amberleigh House 16/1
Jurancon 10/1 fell4th
Bindaree 10/1 ur6th
Joss Naylor 10/1 pu19th
Shotgun Willy 7/1 pu22nd Winner: Monty’s Pass 16/1
Blowing Wind 8/1 3rd Winner: Bindaree 20/1
Inis Cara 10/1 fell4th Winner: Red Marauder 33/1
Moral Support 10/1 bd8th
Edmond 10/1 fell15th
Dark Stranger 9/1 ur3rd Winner: Papillon 10/1
Fiddling The Facts 6/1 fell22nd Winner: Bobbyjo 10/1
Earth Summit 7/1 WON
Go Ballistic 7/1 pu28th Winner: Lord Gyllene 14/1
Rough Quest 7/1 WON
Master Oats 5/1 7th Winner: Royal Athlete 40/1
Moorcroft Boy 5/1 3rd Winner: Miinnehoma 16/1
Docklands Express 15/2 4th Winner: Party Politics 14/1
Bonanza Boy 13/2 5th Winner: Seagram 12/1
Brown Windsor 7/1 4th Winner: Mr Frisk 16/1
In the 2011 John Smith’s Grand National, the late stallion Old Vic, who died in February at the age of 25, will bid to join a club so exclusive it has only five current members.
That is the number of horses who have sired the winners of more than two of the 163 Grand Nationals run so far.
Heading the roll of honour on four is My Prince, with Gregalach (1929), Reynoldstown (1935-
36) and Royal Mail (1937). Ascetic is responsible for three individual winners – Cloister (1893), Drumcree (1903) and Ascetic’s Silver – as are Cottage, with Workman (1939), Lovely Cottage (1946) and Sheila’s Cottage (1948), and Vulgan, with Team Spirit (1964), Foinavon (1967) and Gay Trip (1970). And Quorum has triple winner Red Rum (1973-74 and 1977) to his credit.
Old Vic’s first hero of the great Aintree race was Comply Or Die in 2008, followed by Don’t Push It 12 months ago. On that occasion, he also sired the runner-up Black Apalachi, becoming the first to achieve the feat since Gay Trip beat Vulture, both sired by Vulgan. This time Old Vic’s team is likely to comprise his two previous winners, plus Vic Venturi and In Compliance.
When Old Vic won his only sires’ title in 2008, he bucked a trend, being the first champion whose laurels included the Aintree winner since Menelek, with Rag Trade, in 1976.
The John Smith’s Grand National, with a purse of £950,000, may yet have a bearing on this season’s leading jump stallion title. Old Vic is currently out of the top 10 but earnings of less than £450,000 covers the first five on the leaderboard, namely King’s Theatre, Presenting, Oscar, Beneficial and Flemensfirth.
King’s Theatre’s only National entry is King Fontaine. Presenting has Ballabriggs, Niche Market and Killyglen; Oscar should be represented by Oscar Time and Dooneys Gate; Beneficial by Becauseicouldntsee; and Flemensfirth by the current favourite The Midnight Club and Tidal Bay.
For weight watchers; how the National’s unique handicap has raised quality and rewarded those with the ‘Aintree factor’
Don’t Push It became the first horse to carry 11st 5lb to victory since Grittar in 1982 and the Jonjo O’Neill-trained chaser boasted some top-class form previously, most notably during his novice campaign over fences in 2006/07, when he posted three wins. He was also beaten three quarters of a length by subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Denman in a novices’ chase and was still very much in contention when falling at the penultimate fence in the Grade One Arkle Chase at the 2007 Cheltenham Festival.
While previous results suggested that horses towards the head of the handicap struggle to win the John Smith’s Grand National, Don’t Push It’s was the third in the past six renewals to triumph in the world’s greatest chase with a weight of 11st or more. Hedgehunter carried 11st 1lb to victory in 2005, while Mon Mome shouldered 11st when he scored four years later. Both horses went on to prove themselves among the best of their generation away from Aintree, with Hedgehunter taking second in the 2006 Cheltenham GoldCup and Mon Mome coming home third in the same race in 2010.
Last year also saw a full field of 40 horses race off their correct weight for the sixth consecutive year, further demonstrating the rise in quality. The John Smith’s Grand National is unique in British horseracing because it has its own handicap, with every entry in the race receiving a rating partly based on any previous experience over the Aintree fences. This “Aintree factor” has allowed horses who have shown good form on the Grand National course to line up whereas they might have been denied a run in previous years.
Phil Smith’s role
The British Horseracing Authority’s Head of Handicapping Phil Smith, who has been responsible for framing the weights for the JohnSmith’s Grand National since 1999, has been instrumental in ensuring that horses who have excelled around Aintree are given the chance to run in the John Smith’s Grand National
A prime example of this came in 2004, when Amberleigh House gave Red Rum’s trainer Donald McCain a fourth victory in the great race. The 12-year-old had been denied his chance to line up in the race in 2002, when he was eliminated despite having won the totesport.com Becher Chase earlier the same season. Mr Smith’s assertion that Amberleigh House was a different horse around Aintree was vindicated as the veteran chaser beat Clan Royal by three lengths.
Mr Smith has also helped attract the best staying chasers by giving top-class horses a more lenient mark than their official rating. This is because there are very few Graded chases in the racing calendar that are contested over marathon distances and that it would be unfair to expect a horse to replicate a level of form achieved over far shorter than the four and a half miles of the John Smith’s Grand National.
Recent modifications to the race conditions have also helped improve the competitive nature of the National over the past decade. The top-weight was lowered from 12st to 11st 12lb in 2002, then dropped a further 2lb in 2009; reserves were introduced in 2000. In the past 11 years, a maximum field of 40 has started every year except 2004, when 39 went to post. Such measures have seen the quality of runners improve.
Dramatic rise in quality
The number of horses officially rated over 135 at the entry stages has risen dramatically from 55 in 2004 to 94 in 2010, while horses rated below 139 have failed to make the final field for the past two years, whereas the lowest-rated horse to take part in 1999 did so off a mark of 110.
In the 1990s and earlier, it was not unusual for horses who were racing from out of the handicap to run far better races than their handicap ratings would suggest. Just So was second to PartyPolitics in 1992 despite being rated 22lb below the 10st cut-off, with jockey Simon Burrough putting up a further 3lb overweight. Encore Un Peu also finished second when lining up out of the handicap as he went down by a length and a quarter to Rough Quest in 1996 despite being 9lb “wrong” at the weights.
The same year, Sir Peter Lely came home fourth despite being 12lb out of the handicap, while Three Brownies finished sixth after carrying 22lb more than his correct mark. Of the 27 runners, only nine raced in the handicap proper. The 1998 renewal also highlighted the disparity between the top and bottom of the handicap as the runner-up Suny Bay was rated 48lb better than the third Samlee, while Bobbyjo won the following year despite being a stone out of the handicap.
But perhaps the biggest change to the John Smith’s Grand National in recent times has been the massive injection of prize money. The contest carried total prize money of £250,000 when Lord Gyllene triumphed on a Monday in 1997, whereas last year’s winner Don’t Push It collected more than double that as the race had a total prize fund of £925,000. That amount has risen by a further £25,000 to a record £950,000 for 2011. Such a rise has allowed Aintree, thanks to the continued support of John Smith’s, to attract the best staying chasers and the John Smith’s Grand National is by far the richest chase outside of Japan.
There is more to come as it is the declared ambition to increase prize money to £1 million while the race is backed by John Smith’s.
My thanks to Racenews for the content
Why bother studying festival form? Should we just back Ruby and Mullins, lay AP and PFN for a fat profit?
Figures for the past five festivals suggest a cold-blooded approach to profit might well be best served by backing certain jockeys and trainers and laying others. But is it as straightforward as it seems?
Listed below are the records for jockeys, trainers and Ruby/trainer combinations over the past 5 festivals.
In order the list reads:
number of runners/rides
number of winners
return on investment at Betfair odds where 100% = break even
cash profit/loss at £100 unit stakes (Betfair commission omitted)
NB this combination ran at a slight loss before the victory of Final Approach last week
Interesting that the 100 non-Walsh ridden runners for PFN produced just 4 winners and a substantial loss for backers. Also, the 70 (from 100) non-Walsh ridden Mullins horses also managed just 4 winners.
Ruby’s 7 ‘outside rides didn’t provide a winner. Following Ruby when riding for his two main ‘suppliers’ brings this result:
Building a ‘system’ on betting Ruby’s mounts would need to be a long-term strategy. Had you begun following Ruby on day one of the 2007 festival, you would not have gone into profit until he rode American Trilogy (returned at 22.2 on Betfair) to win the County Hurdle in 2009.
Also, layers will be a shade wiser come next March and Ruby’s mounts will get tighter in price though whether they are ‘overbet’ to the extent that AP’s are (on the basis of these figures) is debatable.
Still, AP backers since 2007 would never have reached profit at any time; the bottom of their punting pit, at £100 stakes, being as low as £4,351 in losses.
A judicious combination of backing Ruby and laying AP might prove the best solution.
Stats and trends have become hugely popular in the past few years, especially for festival meetings. Maths was never my strong point – if I could work out a £2 double at 11/4 and 9/2 I was happy.
So when stats came to the fore in racing, I, like many, welcomed them. They were the S-Plan diet for form students – lose work, gain time painlessly.
The first time I was alerted to the cracks in the stats ceiling was in 2008 when I had a very strong fancy for Captain Cee Bee in the Supreme Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham.
But the stats boys said – “Ignore seven-year-olds, they have a very poor record”. The Supreme is a race for novice hurdlers aged four and older. I set about digging a bit deeper and found that in the previous ten years, only a handful of seven-year-olds had run in the Supreme. That blew the stat’s credence, making it a non-stat. It also helped Captain Cee Bee go off at a longer price so the ‘stat’ was helpful to me in the end.
Another, bound to pop up somewhere before next Friday, is “ignore six-year-olds (Long Run) who have a very poor record in the Gold Cup” But as the popular Paul Jones, the man who is to stats what Brian Epstein was to The Beatles, tells us in his annual Festival Guide , only three six-year-olds have run in the race since 1963.
My simplistic view is that, unless stats are published with a sample size, treat them with extreme caution. For a much more comprehensive and learned insight, you will find James Willoughby’s article, enlightening.
Another excellent article from Timeform’s studious stats guru, Simon Rowlands is here
Good luck with your betting.
NB links are provided for easy access by readers; I do not get paid affiliate fees