Things We Learned » Value may lie outside the top three

Value may lie outside the top three

You can pick holes in the chances of all three horses who sit at the top of the Magners Gold Cup market.

Clan Des Obeaux is the King George winner.  He is a progressive seven-year-old, trained by Paul Nicholls, who appears to be very sweet on his horse’s chances, and who knows a thing or two about training a Gold Cup winner (or two).

But the Kapgarde gelding has run at Cheltenham four times, and he has been beaten four times.  He has run well on occasion, like when he finished second behind Guitar Pete in the December Gold Cup as a five-year-old carrying 11st 12lb, but he would have finished third that day had poor Starchitenct not gone wrong, and even that run was well short of the best of his career.  His best runs have been at Haydock and Kempton and Ascot.  All very different to Cheltenham. 

Also, he has gone beyond three miles twice in his life, and he has come up short on both occasions.  Third behind Might Bite in the Betway Bowl at Aintree last April, fourth behind Bristol De Mai in the Betfair Chase at Haydock.  He may well win the Gold Cup, but he is short for a horse who has yet to win at the track, and a horse who is yet to win at the trip. 

Native River could win the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup again.  Colin Tizzard’s horse is tough and talented, and he loves Cheltenham.  Specifically, he loves chasing and the Cheltenham Festival.

Only ninth in Martello Tower’s Albert Bartlett Hurdle in 2015, he has run three times over fences at the Cheltenham Festival, and he has excelled on each occasion.  Second to Minella Rocco in the National Hunt Chase in 2016, third behind Sizing John and (the same) Minella Rocco in the Gold Cup in 2017, winner of the Gold Cup in 2018.

They say that the placed horses from one year don’t go back and win the Gold Cup the following year, but he confounded that notion.

He will have to confound another notion this year, that Gold Cup winners just don’t go back and win the Blue Riband again.  Best Mate is the last horse to do it, and he won the third of his three in 2004.  Before that, it was L’Escargot in 1971. 

They say that horses go through a pain barrier to win a race that is as demanding as the Gold Cup and that, when they are faced with the same barrier again 12 months thence, they may not want to go through it again.  And last year’s Gold Cup was a particularly gruelling Gold Cup, run, as it was, at an unrelenting, unforgiving pace, mainly down to Native River, and on soft ground.

Only two horses who finished last year’s Gold Cup have won since.

Native River is tough, and he has run just twice this season, à la Best Mate.  Encouragingly on both occasions.  He could confound the statistics, but he is a short price to do so.

It is more difficult to pick holes in Presenting Percy’s chance.  It’s just his preparation.  One run over hurdles.  Unorthodox.  But then, history tells you that it is difficult to argue with Pat Kelly’s methodology.  Philip Reynolds’ horse had an unorthodox preparation last year, and look how that one turned out.  It would be some story.

That said, the top three are taking out over 60% of the market.  From a betting perspective, the value may lie in looking beyond them.

Formlines enhanced

Meanwhile, all over the countries, Cheltenham formlines are being enhanced.  Midnight Run, for example, second behind Champion Bumper favourite Envoi Allen at Navan in December, was impressive in winning his bumper at Naas on Sunday.

Vision Des Flos, third behind Supreme Novices’ Hurdle contender Grand Sancy in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton two weeks ago (and, incidentally, second behind Buveur D’Air in the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown in early February), landed the Grade 2 National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell on Sunday.  The form of the Tolworth Hurdle in which Grand Sancy finished second, behind fellow Supreme Novices’ Hurdle contender Elixir De Nutz, was also enhanced by Southfield Stone, third in the Tolworth, who beat Angels Breath in the Grade 2 Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle at Kempton on Saturday.

Cap York, fourth behind Albert Bartlett Hurdle contender Derrinross at Limerick over Christmas, battled on well to win the Pertemps Qualifier at Punchestown last Wednesday.  Chosen Mate, second behind Sinoria at Punchestown three weeks ago, won the Grade 2 Paddy Power Novice Hurdle at Naas on Sunday. Chavi Artist, a well-beaten third behind Ballymore Hurdle contender City Island at Naas earlier this month, won his maiden at Fairyhouse on Saturday.  They’re all lining up.

It could be a tie

Irish-trained horses won 17 of the 28 races run at the Cheltenham Festival last year.  In 2017, they won 19.  In 2016, they won 15.  So in each of the last three years, there have been more Irish-trained Cheltenham Festival winners than British-trained Cheltenham Festival winners.  So you can understand why the market is skewed in favour of Irish-trained horses again this year.

But the market may be skewed too much. 

We don’t know the exact make up of all 28 fields as yet of course, but you can still do a rudimentary assessment of the chances of an Irish-trained or British-trained horse winning each race, based on ante post odds and best-guess at targets. 

Take the Gold Cup for example.  Best price available about Presenting Percy (Irish-trained) winning the race is 4/1, which equates to a 20% chance, or a probability of 0.20.  Clan Des Obeaux (British-trained), similarly, is available at 4/1.  Probability also 0.20.

Native River is a 6/1 shot, which equates to a probability of 0.143.  Kemboy is as short at 6/1 in places, but he is best-priced 10/1, so you can assign a probability of 0.091 to Willie Mullins’ horse.  Do that for every horse in the Gold Cup market – you can exclude the big outsiders as their impact on the overall probability is negligible – and round it to a total probability of 1.0 (it is certain that someone is going to win the Gold Cup, as long as the race is run) to skim off the bookmakers’ margin, and you are left with the relative probabilities. 

On this basis, there is a probability of 0.482 that an Irish-trained horse will win the Gold Cup, at current ante post prices, and there is a probability of 0.518 that a British-trained horse will win it.

Do that for all 28 races, relative probabilities based on best ante post odds at present and best-guess at Festival targets (exclude the big outsiders or you will be there all week), and you come up with the following: 14.33 Irish-trained winners, 13.67 British-trained winners.  

So the 7/4 that is available about more British-trained winners than Irish-trained winners looks far more attractive than the 8/11 that is available about more Irish-trained winners.  Or you could back the tie at 7/1 and hope that Urgent De Gregaine does not win the Cross Country.

Home rules

It was appropriate that, exactly 12 months after he sent out his first winner, trainer Padraig Roche recorded the first graded race win of his training career when Way Back Home won the Winning Fair Juvenile Hurdle at Fairyhouse.

Actually, Roche’s first winner was 364 days earlier, but it was on the day last year, last Saturday, on the same card.  The JP McManus-owned Out Of The Loop ran out an easy winner of the Tommy Carberry Handicap Hurdle under Mark Walsh last year.  That was Roche’s first winner, his only National Hunt winner last season. 

He has kicked on this season.  Way Back Home is the star of the stable, his first graded winner, but the son of Power was bringing up Roche’s 11th win of the season on Saturday.  The trainer is putting together a nice team of horses.  

Way Back Home is a really likeable and progressive individual.  Peter Comerford’s horse ran a big race to finish third behind Gardens Of Babylon and Surin in the three-year-old maiden hurdle at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve, in a race that is working out really well.  The winner and runner-up finished second and first respectively in a winners’ race at Fairyhouse in January, well clear of La Sorelita, and they finished second and third behind Sir Erec in the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival.

Way Back Home himself added further solidity to the form of that race next time in winning his maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse, and Saturday’s win was another step forward from that. 

He is not entered in the Triumph Hurdle or the Fred Winter Hurdle, but that may not be a bad thing.  He was racing for the second time in 10 days on Saturday, and his trainer said after Saturday’s race that a little break might be a good thing for him now.  Skip Cheltenham.  Maybe have a look at Punchestown.  He and his trainer are both on the up.

Arkle weakened 

It’s a real shame that Le Richebourg has been ruled out of the Arkle.  The Arkle is usually one of the most exciting races at the Cheltenham Festival, and Le Richebourg was one of the most exciting horses in it. 

That leaves the race a lot less exciting that it might have been.  Dynamite Dollars is out, Cilaos Emery is out, and it looks like Defi Du Seuil is going to stay on the JLT path.  Those four horses would probably be occupying the top four places in the market, or at least four of the top five, if they were still in contention.  There will still be an Arkle winner, of course, and the absentees will be an absolute irrelevance to the winning connections.  That has a probability of 1.0.

© The Irish Field 2nd March 2019