Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned

There are Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

I’m not a stats based punter, but I do take notice of statistics, usually when they look to back up or disprove a theory I’ve got. This year, having always had a gut feeling that the main handicaps were won by horses further down the handicap than was generally perceived, I did some research – and looked at the marks of all the winners this century.

Those results backed up my theory, with each of the 6 main open handicaps having been won off marks in the 120s, and the highest mark defied being 147 over fences and 151 over hurdles. The highest mark any novice had defied was 142.

This year Whisper won the Coral Cup off 153, Fingal Bay won the Pertemps off 148 and Savello won the Grand Annual off 147. The lowest mark won from was 139. Novice chaser Holywell won the 3m handicap chase off 145.

I only had bets in 2 of those 6 handicaps, and backed horses in the low 140s so it wasn’t as if I was guilty of picking horses to back up a statistical theory – but it’s a reminder of the dangers of paying too much attention to statistics. These handicaps will generally be won by the best handicapped horses, regardless of where they are in the handicap.

Watering Trends

There’s one thing at the Festival that’s usually less true than statistics – and that’s the going description. This year we had the absurd situation where first Vautour, and then Jezki, broke the 2m½f hurdles course record, Jezki’s time lopping almost 3 seconds off Istabraq’s record – on good to soft ground!

There wasn’t a Grade 1 run over jumps on the old course that wasn’t under standard time. By contrast, on the new course after watering, no horse ran within two seconds of standard time – on officially good ground.

In the decade or so since a watering policy has been in place at the Festival, the general consensus has become that, (in the years when its not wet in the run up), the course will be watered so it’s on the slow side of good on Tuesday and no quicker than good by Friday.

However, where like this year, there’s the possibility of soft ground in the run up so there’s no watering – there is a strong chance of watering later in the week. That’s because if you get a dry and mild week or so before the Festival, you’ll be racing on good, quick ground on Tuesday.

In that scenario, that occurred this year, the opposite to the perceived wisdom tends to apply – the ground is quick early in the week and dead on Thursday and Friday. If, for example, you’ve got a 2 – 2½m novice chaser that’s very dependent on good ground, then they might be better off in the Arkle on Tuesday than in the JLT on Thursday – the opposite of what’s often assumed.

It May Be Easier Laying Horses At The Festival Than Backing Them

Before the advent of the exchanges, punters regularly said how much easier it was for the bookies – laying horses was much easier than backing them. The exchanges gave punters the chance to do just that and many have found that it’s harder than it looks.

One of the key rules when backing horses is not to think you’re clever when you’re winning, and not to think you’re an idiot when you’re losing. Theoretically, the same rules apply when you’re laying, so perhaps I’m in danger of breaking them.

However, if you’re basically a backer of horses like me and so will back several a day at the Festival, you’ll have a smaller subset of those horses you’re backing that you’re particularly keen on. Logic suggests that there ought to be loads of value in laying the equivalent smaller subset of horses that you’re really convinced will bomb out.

I’ll learn whether this is true over the next few Festivals, but having got all four (Rock On Ruby, Ballycasey, Big Buck’s & Kings Palace) out of the frame this time at short prices – my gut feel is that I should put more emphasis on laying horses for a place.

There Is Value In Long Range Ante-Post Betting

There has been a growing consensus that long range ante-post betting is getting harder. The proliferation of options at the Festival has certainly added an element of complexity - as I showed when calling the Champagne Fever & Felix Yonger targets the wrong way.

However, we’ve never had so much information as punters and I’d argue the opposite is true. There are so many markets where the value looks to have been squeezed out of them come the day (and often well before that) – I reckon long range ante-post betting is easier, as that’s where the value lies.

Having put up Jezki in May and Balthazar King in November, I’ll be looking for the value for next year’s Festival during the big spring meetings at Aintree, Fairyhouse and Punchestown. Hopefully Dynaste can do the business for us in the Gold Cup next year.

Bravery And Dignity Of Jockeys Makes The Sport

After the tragic injury to JT McNamara last season, this year there were a number of serious injuries to jockeys during Festival week. On Monday Jason Maguire had a horror fall at Stratford, which left him needing part of his liver removed. On Wednesday in the Fred Winter, Bryan Cooper broke both the tibia and fibula in his right leg, which has been described by an attending doctor as the worst break of its type he’d seen. On Friday, Daryl Jacob broke his knee, leg and elbow when he was dumped on the concrete on the way down to the start in the Albert Bartlett.

Add in Ruby Walsh breaking an arm and it was a salutary reminder of the dangers these guys run every day, for our entertainment. The best news of the week came a couple of days after the Festival when it was announced that Bryan Cooper is anticipated to make a full recovery.

Ruby Walsh got plenty of criticism in the non-racing media for having the courage to say that important though equine welfare is, the welfare of the jockeys is a bigger priority. The anti-racing lobby were always likely to seize on those sort of remarks, but it’s important he said it, (even if he wasn’t initially as eloquent as usual.) It’s true and racing needs to stand up for its beliefs and values more than it has in recent years.

The dignity shown by Barry Connell in his piece in the Racing Post after losing Our Conor spoke volumes for the care the vast majority of those involved in racing have for their horses – those who argue otherwise rarely know much about the sport.

The other person who showed great dignity was Davy Russell. Sacked from one of the best jobs in racing as Gigginstown’s retained rider a couple of months ago, he never complained. Having ridden a treble including the Gold Cup on Friday he might have been forgiven for crowing. Instead he quietly said “This is a lesson for anybody who gets knocks through their career. You keep your mouth shut and try to do your best.” A top man, who deserved everything he got on Friday.

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Cheltenham Countdown

Welcome to our exclusive betting blog focusing on the 2014 Cheltenham Festival.

For the third year running, we welcomed National Hunt expert Matt Tombs to blog all things Cheltenham through the winter. The highlight was Jezki's Champion Hurdle win, which was a vindication of a long-term plot and went some way to ensuring another Festival in profit. Click through to view the archive of 2012 and 2013.


2014 Results:


Western Boy - Supreme Novices - 1pt 20/1 - U/P

Zamdy Man - Supreme Novices - 1pt 33/1 - N/R

Ted Veale - Arkle - 1pt e/w 25/1 NRNB - U/P

Felix Yonger - Arkle - 1pt 16/1 - N/R

Jezki - Champion Hurdle - 1pt 12/1 - WON

Cockney Sparrow - Mares Hurdle - 1pt 10/1 - U/P

Foxrock - National Hunt Chase - 1pt 9/2 - U/P

Gullinbursti - National Hunt Chase - 1pt 33/1 NRNB - N/R


Rathvinden - Neptune Novices - 1pt e/w 16/1 - 3rd

Corrin Wood - RSA Chase - 1pt 14/1 - U/P

Ifandbutwhynot - Coral Cup - 1pt 28/1 - U/P

Arvika Ligeonniere - Champion Chase - 1pt 16/1 - U/P

Balthazar King - Cross Country - 1pt 33/1 - WON

Modus - Champion Bumper - 1pt 10/1 - U/P


Mozoltov - JLT Novices Chase - 1pt 25/1 - U/P

Champagne Fever - JLT Novices Chase - 1pt 7/1 - N/R

Benefficient - Ryanair Chase - 1pt 9/2 - U/P

Baily Green - Ryanair Chase - 1pt e/w 20/1 NRNB - N/R

Salubrious - World Hurdle - 1pt e/w 25/1 - U/P


Captain Cutter - Albert Bartlett - 1pt 10/1 - U/P

Arctic Fire - County Hurdle - 1pt 16/1 - 2nd

The Giant Bolster - Gold Cup - 1pt 16/1 - 3rd

Dynaste - Gold Cup - 1pt 25/1 NRNB - N/R

Certain Flight - Foxhunter Chase - 1pt 20/1 NRNB - U/P


Gigginstown - Top Owner - 1pt 7/1 - WON

Good Ground - Official Going - 1pt 10/1 - LOST


Advised Bets:

Sizing Gold - Aon Novice Handicap Chase - 1pt 7/1 - U/P

On The Fringe - Champion Hunters Chase - 1pt 7/4 - WON

At Fishers Cross - World Series Hurdle - 1pt 5/1 - 3rd

Balder Succes - Ryanair Novice Chase - 1pt 11/4 - 3rd

Art Of Logistics - Three.ie Handicap Chase - 1pt 12/1 - 2nd

Lyreen Legend - Punchestown Gold Cup - 1pt 6/1 - U/P

Shanahan's Turn - Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle - 1pt e/w 33/1 - U/P

Mozoltov - Boylesports.com Champion Chase - 1pt 9/1 - U/P

Western Boy - Champion Novice Hurdle - 1pt e/w 10/1 - U/P

Mullaghanoe River - Irish National - 1pt 18/1 - U/P

Mozoltov - Powers Gold Cup - 1pt 11/2 - U/P

Quito De La Roque - Grand National - 1pt 40/1 - U/P

Salubrious - Liverpool Hurdle - 1pt 16/1 - U/P

Ted Veale - Maghull Chase - 1pt 16/1 - U/P

Saint Are - Aintree Handicap Chase - 1pt 10/1 - U/P

Ballynagour - Melling Chase - 1pt 7/1 - 3rd

King Of The Picts - Top Novices Hurdle - 1pt 33/1 - 3rd

Themanfrom Minella - Sefton Novices Hurdle - 1pt 50/1 - U/P

Giorgio Quercus - Topham Chase - 1pt 25/1 - U/P

Dynaste - Betfred Bowl - 1pt 15/8 - 2nd

Turn Over Sivola - Red Rum Chase - 1pt 8/1 - 2nd

Uxizandre - Manifesto Novices Chase - 1pt 9/2 - WON

Mossey Joe - Aintree Fox Hunters - 1pt 13/8 - 3rd

Baby Shine - Reynoldstown Chase - 1pt 7/1 - U/P

Grumeti - Kingwell Hurdle - 1pt 5/1 - U/P

Bog Warrior - Red Mills Chase - 1pt 9/4 - U/P

Lord Windermere - Irish Hennessy - 1pt 12/1 - U/P

Vautour - Deloitte Novice - 1pt 2/1 - WON

Tammys Hill - Hunters Chase - 1pt e/w 5/1 - WON

Vendor - Betfair Hurdle - 1pt 12/1 - U/P

Boston Bob - Cleeve Hurdle - 1pt 5/1 - U/P

The Giant Bolster - Argento Chase - 1pt 7/1 - WON

Unioniste - Sky Bet Chase - 1pt 9/2 - 3rd

Hidden Cyclone - Clarence House Chase - 1pt 7/2 - 2nd

Captain Chris - WH Chase - 1pt 2/1 - WON

The Liquidator - Tolworth Hurdle - 1pt 5/2 - U/P

Lord Windermere - Lexus Chase - 1pt 12/1 - U/P

Hey Big Spender - Welsh National - 1pt 25/1 - U/P

Shantou Magic - Challow Hurdle - 1pt 6/1 - U/P

Morning Assembly - Topaz Novice Chase - 1pt 9/4 - 2nd

Cue Card - King George - 1pt 7/2 - 2nd

My Tent Or Yours - Christmas Hurdle - 1pt 5/4 - WON

Defy Logic - Racing Post Novice Chase - 1pt 6/1 - WON

Salubrious - Long Walk Hurdle - 1pt 9/1 - 2nd

Totalize - The Ladbroke - 1pt 9/1 - U/P

Ma Filleule - December Gold Cup - 1pt 20/1 - U/P

Prince De Beauchene - Hennessy Gold Cup - 1pt 16/1 - U/P

Grumeti - Fighting Fifth - 1pt e/w 10/1 - 3rd @ 9/1

Sizing Rio - Drinmore - 1pt 5/2 - U/P @ 3/1

Jezki - Hatton's Grace - 1pt Evens - WON

Roi Du Mee - Betfair Chase - 1pt e/w 20/1 - U/P

Ballynagour - Paddy Power Gold Cup - 1pt 8/1 - U/P

Gift Of Dgab - Paddy Power Gold Cup - 1pt 25/1 - U/P

Cash And Go - Greatwood Hurdle - 1pt 13/2 - U/P

Cotton Mill - Elite Hurdle - 1pt 6/1 - U/P

Cue Card - Haldon Gold Cup - 2pts 11/8 - U/P

Benefficient - Charlie Hall Chase - 1pt 9/1 - U/P

Sizing Europe - JNwine Champion Chase - 1pt 3/1 - 2nd