Singlefarm could emulate Clouds by landing famous double
How to use race trends to find winners in unconventional races
To celebrate the countdown to Christmas, the Racing Post is giving away one piece of paid content free every day. Here, James Pyman identifies a likely sort for the Ladbrokes Trophy and the Randox Health Grand National
Any columnist who regularly offers advice on how punters might improve their chances of backing more winners is inevitably, from time to time, asked to divulge rules and systems they like to use in the pursuit of profits.
Experience has taught me that you can’t have too much information, which is why we should embrace fresh datasets such as the impending introduction of first-time wind operation notifications. Leaving no stone unturned improves your chances of finding value in betting markets.
However, you must have an understanding of the factors more likely to lead you to winners in the type of race you are analysing. An overload of information can be unhelpful.
Take for example a handicap where rain has eased the going to soft from overnight good. Before the going change you might not have needed to consider runners’ suitability to the ground, but we know when horses fail to handle going they run markedly below form, so checking runners’ suitability to the soft conditions is a necessity for any punter contemplating a bet.
Race trends help us identify specialist horses with attributes to excel in races with distinguishing features. Trends are more likely to yield insights when a race is unconventional – such as those with an unusual distance, run at an idiosyncratic course, or with nuanced race conditions – and are less likely to shed light on a generic type of race like a run-of-the-mill all-weather handicap.
For example, say you wanted to predict the winner of next month’s Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock. To ascertain whether trends are likely to help you, it is necessary to establish what, if anything, sets apart this 3m handicap from similar races.
The Peter Marsh was chosen for two reasons. Firstly, it has few equivalents, making it a race trends followers should be interested in. It’s a limited handicap, meaning there is no ratings ceiling, and it's the only British handicap chase with Grade 2 status run over further than 2m5f. It also takes place at a time of year when the ground is usually soft and at a course where the going can be extremely attritional.
It’s a topical race given last weekend’s emphatic Betfair Chase winner Bristol De Mai won last season’s Peter Marsh on soft ground by 22 lengths, and the tired horses behind Bristol De Mai last Saturday underlined how testing underfoot conditions can get at Haydock.
When you look at Peter Marsh winners since 1980, the modal winning profile is a chaser with an ability to run to a high level in testing ground. Little Owl won the 1981 Peter Marsh and claimed the Gold Cup in the same season on heavy ground. The Thinker achieved the same double in 1987 – his Gold Cup success came on snow-covered good ground, but the previous season he had won the Midlands National in heavy going.
Conditions may have been quick when Jodami won the 1993 Gold Cup, but he won two Peter Marsh Chases (1993 and 1997) and his win on soft to heavy in the 1995 Grade 1 Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown demonstrated his ability to act in soft conditions. The 1995 Peter Marsh winner Earth Summit won a soft-ground Grand National in 1998.
Since the turn of the century the Peter Marsh roll of honour features few chasing legends. Our Vic, the 2008 Ryanair Chase hero, is an exception, although his Peter Marsh win came in the twilight of his career, aged 12 in 2010.
This could reflect the continued rise of the Cheltenham Festival, coupled with improvements to the drainage at Prestbury Park.
Many chasers being prepared for the festival are now kept under wraps in January-February and the Peter Marsh is too close to March for some trainers to use the race as a staging post to the meeting.
Additionally, we are now accustomed to Cheltenham taking place on good/good to soft, meaning the Peter Marsh, routinely run in testing ground, is not on the radar of trainers with horses who want the type of going we usually get at the festival.
In decades before the 1990s, conditions at the festival were often slower, and colleague Steve Dennis recently reminded me that the “heavy ground” archetypal Gold Cup was won by Ten Up in 1975. Two fences were omitted and the meeting abandoned after the race.
Bristol De Mai floats over soft ground – he boasts chase form figures of 21121311 on going slower than good to soft – and in some ways is a throwback to the last century. He is young in years (he turns seven next month) but runs regularly, with the Betfair Chase his 16th run over fences. The fact he's as big as 12-1 for the Gold Cup reflects the low probability of him getting his ground.
The Grand National is about as unconventional as it gets, and is synonymous with race trends. Okay, so many of the old maxims for finding winners were sunsetted by changes to the fences and course in 2013, but this has created a new landscape which might give rise to a fresh bunch of winner-finding trends.
Picking the winner of the new-look National has proved to be extremely difficult, with the winners returning SPs of 66-1, 33-1, 25-1 (twice) and 14-1. Conceivably, with time and more evidence, meaningful trends will emerge and if the record of horses fancied in the betting improves in the National it could be an indication that the public are getting a handle on the patterns important in finding the winner.
A germ of an emerging National-winner trend relates to the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase, formerly the Hennessy, taking place at Newbury on Saturday.
Traditionally this handicap has been a stepping stone to the Gold Cup. Eight chasers have achieved this double, the latest being Bobs Worth in 2013. However, in the 2014-15 season Many Clouds broke new ground when becoming the first horse to win the Ladbrokes Trophy and Grand National. Many Clouds was a second-season novice.
Initially, this may seem like a surprising stat, but the Newbury handicap has always been at the mercy of Gold Cup-bound classy and unexposed second-season chasers.
When the National was a race with more challenging fences, it came at least a season too early for many second-season chasers who ran well in the Newbury handicap. In the 1990s, National winners like Mr Frisk, Party Politics and Rough Quest had earlier in the season run well in the Ladbrokes Trophy (the Hennessy) but when winning at Aintree they had more chasing experience than Many Clouds.
But the changes to the National have brought it and the Newbury contest closer together.
Softening the Aintree fences has improved the National’s safety record and fattening the prize-money has fuelled interest in the race, which is attracting more high-quality chasers.
The Ladbrokes Trophy and National are run on flat, galloping, left-handed courses. The National distance has shortened to 4m2½f, from 4m4f, edging it nearer to the Ladbrokes Trophy’s 3m2f distance, while the National course and chase course at Newbury both reward horses who travel strongly, stay well and can establish a jumping rhythm.
You could argue the Newbury race is an ideal stepping stone to Aintree, and my working theory is that the Ladbrokes Trophy in years to come will be the premier trial for the National of the same season, with young, second-season chasers who run well in the Newbury handicap the first port of call when trying to find the winner of the Aintree marathon.
Last season’s Grand National fourth Blaklion was a second-season chaser and finished fifth in the Ladbrokes Trophy. Native River, the winner of the Newbury handicap, won the Welsh National next time out but was scratched from the National in February when connections made a decision to go for the Gold Cup, in which he was third. Native River is being aimed at the National this season.
Related contingency rules prevent us placing a double on the same horse winning the Ladbrokes Trophy and the Randox Health Grand National. However, when you strongly fancy a chaser to win the Ladbrokes Trophy and have an inkling they will then be trained for the National, it might be worth backing the horse for the Aintree race before their Newbury appearance.
A horse with this profile in Saturday’s Ladbrokes Trophy is second-season chaser Singlefarmpayment.
If you're going to back Singlefarmpayment at around 7-1 on Saturday you should think seriously about having a tenner on the seven-year-old at a best-priced 33-1 for next year’s National.
He is open to improvement and runs off a workable mark of 147 at Newbury, just 5lb higher than the rating he was beaten a short-head off as a novice in the 3m1f handicap at last season’s Cheltenham Festival.
When winning the 2015 National, Many Clouds defied a mark of 160, which was 9lb higher than the rating he won off at Newbury the previous November. For Singlefarmpayment’s mark in the National to be higher than 160 he will need to win by a wide margin on Saturday.
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