Matt Tombs / Thursday 29th January 2015 / 16:45
One of the key attributes to building a successful ante-post portfolio is flexibility. Too many punters have rigid rules. A typical one is that they will only strike ante-post bets at certain stages of the season – eg starting about now. The Champion Hurdle and Arkle markets are mature and if you’re not on yet, you might as well wait for enhanced markets on the morning at the race. Looking at markets and being flexible as to timing is crucial.
When you spend as a high a proportion of your betting time looking at the Festival as I do, you ought to be flexible enough to analyse virtually any market the layers put up. Whilst I like specials/novelty bets, I’ve never struck a bet on finishing distances or SPs. They’ve always seemed too random for my style of punting, but I’m about to change that and have a bet on the race that produces the biggest SP at the Festival. I don’t have the confidence from betting on this sort of market previously, but I’m open-minded and I hadn’t bet on the cross-country before last season.
I always work on the principle that odds compilers have little experience of these novelty markets compared to pricing up eg a Gold Cup, and that really looks to show in Stan James’ market on which race will have the biggest SP. It’s priced up to around 140% so in theory Stan James should have a big buffer to protect them, but I think they’ve got it so wrong, that there’s plenty of value.
Like any bet, I started by trying to visualize what the market should be like. The obvious points I came up with were, firstly, the level weights races were less likely to produce long prices than the handicaps. Secondly, certain races – eg 2m chases and the cross-country are very predictable. Thirdly, races where there is little form, like the Bumper and the juvenile hurdles, ought to be more likely to produce upsets.
A slightly less obvious point is that big field handicap chases over staying trips are so much about getting into a rhythm and luck in running, that if you ran a typical 24 runner Festival handicap chase 10 times you’d probably get between 8 and 10 different winners – so those races should provide upsets. (By contrast, if you ran a typical Arkle 10 times, you’d probably get 1-3 different winners.)
The shape of the market will also be important. If you’ve got a 1/2 favourite then, by definition, lots of the other horses will start at big prices. There’s a bigger chance of that one horse not performing and a long shot winning, than in a race where there are half a dozen at single figure prices.
In that sense, the market looks wrong about the four championship races. This century, the average winning SP in each of the Champion Chase, World Hurdle and Gold Cup has been just less than 9/2. The average SP of the Champion Hurdle winners has been nearly 10/1. The Champion Hurdle is a much less predictable race because it’s so different from the trials, (ie they usually go so much faster than in the trials, compared to the other championship races.) The other three championships are priced up at between 25/1 and 33/1 with the Champion Hurdle the outsider of all 27 races at 66/1. The fact that it’ll probably be 33/1 bar only 5 on the day for the Champion Hurdle, means a real upset is actually more likely than in the Champion Chase.
Noticing that the Champion Hurdle was the outsider of the 27 race field got me interested – it suggested the odds compilers might have misunderstood the whole market. Whilst I wouldn’t put anyone off that bet, I think there’s even more value elsewhere based on the principles I’ve set out.
We’ve now had 10 years of the four day Festival, (though the Mares Hurdle, Martin Pipe and JLT are more recent additions.) Looking at those 10 Festivals, there’s been a winner at at least 33/1 every year. Twice 33/1 has been the biggest price, 4 times the biggest SP has been 40/1, 3 times it’s been 50/1 and once 66/1. Basically we’re looking for a race that has a decent chance of producing a 40/1-50/1 winner.
Of the 26 winners in the last decade to go off 33/1 or bigger, 12 were in what are now the 16 level weights races and 14 in the 11 handicaps. Even that underplays the likelihood of the biggest SP being in a handicap as 3 of those 12 were in the old 4 miler (2004-06) – when there were penalties. That’s now one of the most predictable races of the whole meeting.
You’ll always get the occasional shock in even the most predictable race, as happened in the Arkle last year, (Western Warhorse won at 33/1). The remaining long shots all won what look the least predictable level weights races. Ebaziyan won the Supreme at 40/1 in what in hindsight looks a fluke. In 2010 Cue Card was the longest price winner when taking the Bumper at 40/1, a race that was won by Hairy Molly at 33/1 four years earlier. The Bumper is only 12/1 in Stan James market though.
The Triumph being a juvenile race is prone to the odd upset and Countrywide Flame was a 33/1 winner 3 years ago. However, with the introduction of the Fred Winter the fields have got smaller and the race more predictable, so 33/1 isn’t much too big a price.
The Albert Bartlett is hard to assess – it’s been an all or nothing race from an SP point of view. 4 favourites have won, (all shorter than 2/1,) and 4 other winners have been at single figure prices. However there have been two 33/1 winners so 20/1 could be a generous price.
The Foxhunter is a race where most punters have little knowledge of the form. It’s like the Albert Bartlett - favourites have done well, but some years its open, (there have been two 33/1 winners.) It looks an open contest this year and 16/1 about it producing the biggest SP is more than fair.
When you look at the handicaps, there are some that are much more likely to produce an upset than others. Surprisingly Stan James has the Martin Pipe as 8/1 favourite. It’s not a predictable race but that’s not the same as being likely to produce a big SP winner. In its 6 runnings the biggest winning SP is 25/1.
By contrast, in the last decade the Fred Winter has had two 40/1 winners and a 33/1 winner. The open 2½m handicap chase, (the Mildmay Of Flete in old money,) has had a 66/1 winner, a 50/1 winner and a 33/1 winner. The open 3m Festival handicap chase has had a 50/1 winner and a 33/1 winner.
Virtually every other handicap over conventional obstacles has produced one shock result, but they haven’t been common. Stan James second favourite is the County Hurdle (10/1). Silver Jaro did win at 50/1 in 2008 but that’s the only time the winner has gone off bigger than 20/1 and it isn’t the sort of lottery that ought to produce big priced winners. The Coral Cup has produced two 33/1 winners.
If I were an odds compiler, the races at the front of the market would be the Bumper, Festival Handicap Chase, Fred Winter and Mildmay Of Flete, with the Albert Bartlett, Coral Cup and Foxhunter also at fairly short prices.
Of the 4 races I’d have at the front of the market, the Bumper and Festival Handicap Chase are 12/1, the Mildmay Of Flete is 14/1 and the Fred Winter is 20/1.
The fact that Festival handicap chases over conventional obstacles, (except over the specialist minimum trip,) are so unpredictable make the Mildmay of Flete and Festival Handicap Chase tempting. However, I think the Fred Winter is a complete lottery. It’s not just the two 40/1 winners and one 33/1 winner – as many (ten) horses at 33/1 or bigger have been placed, as horses at single figure prices.
Looking at those 3 big priced Fred Winter winners, even with the benefit of hindsight, their chance isn’t obvious. It might be the fact that I don’t bet on juvenile races, (I just watch them for clues for the future,) that makes me see it as so unfathomable – but it must be the easiest race to plot horses up for as there is so little form and young horses can improve hugely in a short space of time. I think the Fred Winter should be favourite in this market.
Any bet in this sort of market is clearly a bit wild – but the odds look so out of line with the nature of the races and the previous results, that’s it must be worth having a few quid.
1pt the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle - longest SP winner @ 20/1