I did an article on a few interesting stats and potential angles for Cheltenham last year, and it will still be relevant for this years festival so have a read of my Cheltenham 2016 Stats piece. With plenty of talk about how Irish trained horses are unfairly, and inconsistently treated in big UK handicaps, I decided that for this years article I would delve down into the handicaps from an Irish perspective, to see is there any areas they are especially favoured, or hindered.

Cheltenham Handicap Hurdles – Horse had last run in Ireland

CountWin SRPlace SRWin AEPlace AE
Hurdle LTO1886.9%23.4%1.41.24
Chase LTO90.0%0.0%00

I’ve used data from the last 9 Cheltenham Festivals for this piece. For normal day to day analysis I wouldn’t go back that far, as things can change, and the older data might be irrelevant, but given the small sample sizes when dealing with just one meeting, I think the benefits of going back further, outway the negatives. SR means strike rate, while AE means Average/Expected. Actual is actual winners or places, while expected is the amount of wins/places expected based on the Betfair win or place SP. So for example if you had 10 even money shots, the expected winners would be 5, so if 6 of those 10 won, then the AE figure would be 6/5=1.2. This would also equate to a Return On Investment (ROI) of +20%. It should be noted that for samples this small, that even if you are trying to come up with win angles for the future, that the Place AE from past data will be a better guide, as the fact the place data contains far more that placed, means it has the effect of increasing the robustness of the sample. For instance a 1.4 Win AE might mean 7 actual winners when 5 was expected, while that might equate to 28 places, when 20 was expected. The place data is less biased by a lucky win or two.

You can see from the first table above that Irish Trained Handicap Hurdlers do particularly well. A win strike rate of 6.6% is backed up by a place one of 22.3%, and Win AE figures of 1.36, with 1.2 for the Place AE mean you would have made a very nice profit blindly backing Irish trained handicap hurdlers at the festival, over the past nine years. The small amount of horses who had their prep run in a chase didn’t trouble the judge. The Place AE for those who had their previous run over hurdles of 1.24 is actually fairly significant too, with only around a 7% chance it would happen by chance alone.

Cheltenham Handicap Hurdles – Horse had last run in UK

CountWin SRPlace SRWin AEPlace AE
Hurdle LTO6973.4%15.2%0.850.93
Chase LTO661.5%9.1%0.860.97

Compare the results from the horses who had their last run in Ireland, to those who had it in the UK, and you’ll notice a much lower win strike rate of 3.2%, and also a significantly lower place strike rate of 14.6%. I wouldn’t however take this as proof that Irish horses are advantageously, or even fairly treated, as the horses profiles within the samples aren’t comparable. Indeed I was amazed so many seemed to fall for the following quote from Head UK Handicapper Phil Smith last week.

“We have also monitored success rates at the four major festivals since 2006, where the British strike-rate is 250 winners from 5,199 runners at 4.8 per cent, compared to 154 Irish winners from 2,990 runners at 5.2 per cent. The jump handicappers are confident that based on these figures there is no semblance of any anti-Irish bias and that keeping our own Irish performance figures has given our handicaps greater equality and fairness.”

Based on those figures I would say without much doubt, that on the whole Irish Trained horses are not fairly treated in big UK handicaps. The 5.2% strike rate is only marginally higher than the 4.8% for British trained horses. To use that as proof of fairness, as Phil has, is totally absurd, as the samples will have totally different profiles within them. For example horses who won last time out, have a much higher strike rate than horses who came down the field. Horses who are specifically targeted at a big prize, will do better than horses whose connections just decide to have a go. Horses that are working really well, will do better than horses who are doing just okay at home. Less exposed horses do better than ones who have shown their hand numerous times. I could go on with dozens of examples, but in each case Irish trained horses will have a higher percentage in the positive category than UK ones will, so to solely compare strike rates, and conclude that the fact they’re pretty much equal, means Irish trained horses are been fairly treated is at best chancing your arm, and at worst stupidity. That Irish handicap hurdles do so much better than UK ones at Cheltenham is likely due to almost almost every single Irish trained runner will likely have been specifically laid out for the race, and will only travel if they’re in top form at home. If they were fairly treated you would thus expect them to have a good bit higher strike rate than the UK horses.

Cheltenham Handicap Hurdles – Ran in Irish Hurdle Last Time Out

CountWin SRPlace SRWin AEPlace AE
HCP LTO865.8%23.3%1.11.19
HCP LTO, Position LTO <=3456.7%22.2%0.960.94
Hcp LTO, Position LTO >3,414.9%24.4%1.391.63
NON HCP LTO1027.8%23.5%1.691.29
NON HCP LTO, Position LTO<=3679.0%22.4%1.751.13
NON HCP LTO, Position LTO >3355.7%25.7%1.551.67
Race value winner >30,000 LTO659.2%30.8%1.881.61
Race value winner <=30,000 LTO1235.7%19.5%1.151.04
Runners LTO <10848.3%21.4%1.991.25
Runners LTO >=101045.8%25.0%1.041.24
Handicap Mark >=140666.1%19.7%1.291.1
Handicap Mark <1401227.4%25.4%1.461.31

To delve a bit further into the horses who had their last run in an Irish Hurdle, you can see that while horses whose last run was in an Irish Handicap Hurdle do quite well, both strike rate wise and AE figures, the horses who last ran in a non handicap do much better in AE terms, suggesting these horses are being underestimated by the market. The win AE is 1.69, which means if you backed them all to return a set amount, you would be showing a +69% ROI. The place figure of 1.29 is also really good,  and pretty significant too. You will also note that of the horses who last ran in a handicap hurdle, it was the ones who didn’t get in the first 3, who had much better AE figures, again suggesting the market underestimates these types. Some of these horses will have run below par on their previous run, but it’s likely they have a good excuse, and connections feel they’re over it, or they wouldn’t travel, while for the rest, connections likely think they have improved for whatever reason or they wouldn’t bother bringing them across the Irish Sea.

Race value to the winner last time is another interesting one. Both strike rates and AE figures are much better for horses who last ran in a race worth over £30,000 to the winner last time, suggesting both the handicapper, and the market might be underestimating these races. The place AE of 1.61 is hugely significant, and would only happen by chance around 2% of the time. Another very interesting stat is the fact that horses rated less than 140 outperform the higher rated Irish Challengers. In one way the lower rated horses are often less exposed in these big handicaps, and as such they would do better, but the lower rated Irish challengers get bumped up from their Irish mark by a bigger margin, than the ones rated over 140. The AE figures also suggest the market underestimates the lower rated horses more.

Cheltenham Handicap Chases – Horse had last run in Ireland

CountWin SRPlace SRWin AEPlace AE
Chase LTO1345.2%26.9%0.911.22
Hurdle LTO345.9%32.4%0.871.29

The Irish don’t do as well in the handicap chases, although the place figures are much more respectable, and indicate that it’s probably just luck that stops them having a higher win strike rate, as from the 47 places achieved you would expect a few more winners than the 9 recorded. The place AE figures indicate that again, the market underestimates the Irish handicap chasers. The horses who last ran over hurdles do just as well as those who had their prep over fences.

Cheltenham Handicap Chases – Horse had last run in UK

CountWin SRPlace SRWin AEPlace AE
Chase LTO7294.5%17.3%0.980.92
Hurdle LTO736.8%20.5%1.591.2

The UK figures back up the idea that the Irish horses distribution is slightly skewed, as the UK win strike rate is only slightly lower than the Irish one, but their is a significant difference in the place strike rates. It is worth noting that the horses whose last run was in a UK Hurdle did quite well though, both in strike rate and actual/expected terms.

Cheltenham Handicap Chases – Ran in Irish Chase Last Time Out

CountWin SRPlace SRWin AEPlace AE
HCP LTO7010.0%37.1%1.851.74
HCP LTO, Position LTO <=3219.5%38.1%1.181.4
HPC LTO, Position LTO >3,4910.2%36.7%2.411.95
NON HCP LTO982.0%21.4%0.320.9
NON HCP LTO, POS LTO<=3512.0%29.4%0.271.15
NON HCP LTO, POS LTO >3472.1%12.8%0.390.59
Race value winner >30,000 LTO578.8%28.1%1.661.37
Race value winner <=30,000 LTO1113.6%27.9%0.571.17
Runners LTO <10661.5%21.2%0.260.96
Runners LTO >=101027.8%32.4%1.311.4
Handicap Mark >=140697.2%33.3%0.871.18
Handicap Mark <140994.0%24.2%0.941.29

For handicap hurdles at the Festival Irish horses who had their last start in a non handicap hurdle, did extremely well in AE terms, this is not the case for the handicap chasers. Both in win and place strikes rates, and actual v expected, they perform a good big worse than horses whose last run was in an Irish handicap chase. It could be the handicapper is overestimated the conditions race form, or it could be that the conditions races just don’t give the horses the experience they need for a big field chase around Cheltenham. The fact that horses who last ran in a chase with at least 10 runners backs up the later assumption somewhat.

As was the case when looking at the hurdlers though, it is the horses who were outside the first 3 in an Irish handicap chase last time that do notably well against the market, with a win AE of 2.41, and a place AE of 1.95. There would be a less than 1% chance of that happening by chance, and it’s clear the market has underestimated these horses. Once again it was a plus to have raced in a race worth over £30,000 last time, especially in terms of how they did against market expectations, but for chasers the horses rated over 140 do quite a bit better than those rated under that mark.

I hope you found something of interest in this piece. The sample sizes aren’t huge, although there is still a few very significant findings, and while I don’t suggest following any of these stats blindly next week, the positives ones could point you towards horses you should consider closely, while the negative ones might make you think twice about a horse you thought was a good bet.

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