AINTREE’S GRAND NATIONAL MEETING – IS A CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL RUN A PLUS OR A NEGATIVE
David Cormack looks at Aintree and asks whether a run at Cheltenham is advantageous, from a punter’s point of view
One angle that people sometimes put forward is that it is advantageous for a horse to have missed the Cheltenham Festival if it turns up at Aintree for the Grand National meeting. Let’s look at what the numbers tell us about whether this particular strategy is likely to give you an edge or work against you.
I looked at the period 2003 to 2018 inclusive and looked at the Aintree results in relation to whether horses had or had not run at the Cheltenham Festival in the same year. In total there have been 5216 runners at Aintree in the period in question – here’s how the split worked in terms of whether they had run at the same year’s Cheltenham Festival meeting (I’ll refer to the Cheltenham Festival simply as Cheltenham or The Festival in parts of the article, any reference to Cheltenham is to the Festival meeting only).
Table 1 – Number of horses running at Aintree’s National meeting that did/did not run at the Cheltenham Festival same year
As we can see, almost 38% of the runners were coming to Aintree off the back of a run at Cheltenham and 62% had by-passed Cheltenham. The chart below shows that there is a very slight trend over the years towards horses tending to by-pass Cheltenham before running at Aintree (in terms of % runners at Aintree)
Let’s look at whether Aintree winners how had come via a run at the Cheltenham Festival.
Table 2 – Aintree winners – did they run at Cheltenham Festival in the same year
Interesting to note here that despite only supplying 37.92% of the runners, the pool of horses that had run at Cheltenham supplied 57.66% of the winners at Aintree.
But winners are one thing – profits are another. Let’s look at how the two pools, those that missed Cheltenham and those that ran at Cheltenham, in terms of overall profitability/loss.
Table 3 – profit/Loss backing all runners blindly at 1 pt level stake depending on whether they did/did not run at Cheltenham same year
Although the Aintree winners that had run at Cheltenham started at lower prices, their higher number of winners and far superior strike rate (more than double that of the Aintree runners that had not run at Cheltenham) meant that, backing blind, you’d have been in a better position backing those runners. You’d have had a head start, in general, in your quest to beat the books.
Let’s look then at the individual races at Aintree. I’ve looked at the split of runners in each race in terms of whether they did/did not run at Cheltenham in the same year that they ran at Aintree. I’ve then looked at the strike rate of winners/runners and profit/loss backing blind for both groups. Finally I’ve repeated that for horses that started at less than 20/1, the object being to focus on the more fancied runners to identify whether that filter highlights anything of note.
Here is a quick summary of some key points for each race –
The Grand National – a Cheltenham run doesn’t seem to be advantageous or otherwise. Five winners have had a run at Cheltenham the same season – Tiger Roll (won X-Country), Many Clouds (6th Gold Cup), Pineau De Ri (3rd Pertemps Final over hurdles), Don’t Push It (pulled up Pertemps Final over hurdles) and Silver Birch (2nd X-country). The strike rate is similar for both groups (ran at and by-passed Cheltenham) but you’d have been better off, value wise, backing those that hadn’t run at Cheltenham both at any odds and at those <20/1.
The Topham Trophy – Although an even split between the groups in terms of numbers of winners, the ‘ran at Cheltenham’ group has a much better strike rate. Blindly backing those that had run at Cheltenham that start at <20/1 would have been marginally profitable, 6 winners for 7pts (+11.1%) from 63 selections. That is probably a decent starting point in terms of starting to narrow down the field.
The Foxhunters – The strike rate of winners from the ‘ran at Cheltenham’ pool is three times higher than for those that didn’t run at Cheltenham. Although 10 winners from the 16 hadn’t run at Cheltenham, that group were numerically much more strongly represented (332 starters versus only 63 from the ‘ran at Cheltenham’ group). Both groups registered losses both overall (where the ran at Cheltenham group performed better) and when filtered to only those that started <20/1 (where the ‘didn’t run at Cheltenham’ group came out on top). Although unprofitable backing blind, strike rate is better in the ‘ran at Cheltenham’ pool.
The Aintree Hurdle – generally contested by top class hurdlers, with almost 73% running here after a run at Cheltenham the same year. The striking stat here is the good record of those starting at <20/1 who had not run at Cheltenham. 4 winners from 22 (18.2% s/r) delivering a 53.4% profit. This thanks to Aintree specialist Al Eile (won this twice), Sacundai and Solwhit. Any horses with similar profiles are definitely worth considering this year.
The Liverpool Hurdle – the equivalent of Cheltenham’s Stayer’s Hurdle this race generally goes to horses near the top of the market (6 odds on winners in the 15 years and only one winner at double figure odds – Identity Thief at 14/1 last year). 14/15 winners had run at Cheltenham that year (Monet’s Garden in 2005 the only exception) but with odds cramped it is difficult to find an angle. If you narrow the price range filter to <5/1 for horses that had run at Cheltenham you do register a small profit (+1pt from 26 selections) but only a small one.
The Mersey Novices’ Hurdle – 11 of the 16 winners had taken in Cheltenham but backing the ‘didn’t run at Cheltenham’ group would have given you 5 winners and nearly 19% profit so it is definitely worth considering. Winners from that group were Leinster (12/1), Turpin Green (14/1), Elusive Dream (7/2), Bouggler (16/1) and Finian’s Oscar (3/1) so don’t be afraid to go for one at double digit odds.
Top Novices’ Hurdle – 50% of the winners from only 40% of the runners bodes well for runners that missed Cheltenham and when you look at those under 20/1 it gets better with that group registering a good 26% profit thanks to 3 of the 7 winners starting at 14/1. Like the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle, anything under 20/1 that didn’t run at Cheltenham is worth a good look and don’t be put off by double figure odds.
Manifesto Novices’ Chase – This race is quite the opposite to those two novice hurdles we’ve just examined with only 1 winner from the ‘didn’t run at Cheltenham’ pool (Arzal at 4/1 in 2016) so they are very much to be avoided. Those that ran at Cheltenham and started <20/1 (most of the Cheltenham runners qualified) gave 9 winners (from 10 races) and a small (2%) loss so that is the pool to be fishing in. In fact all 9 winners from the Cheltenham runners started at <10/1 and blindly backing those (32 starters) would have been fairly profitable and is probably where to look.
Champion Bumper – We have a strong stat in this. Only 33 of the 290 runners (11.1%) had run at Cheltenham but they provided 33% of the winners, 5 of them. Blindly backing all those that had run at Cheltenham would have delivered a significant profit (150%) thanks, in the main, to the big price wins of Classic Native(25/1) and Pangbourne (28/1). Megastar (9/1), Bacardys (15/2) and The New One (8/1) were all fair prices too though so backing a horse that had run at Cheltenham not only narrows down the contenders significantly but also delivers a good return.
Mare’s Bumper – There is no equivalent race at Cheltenham (don’t tempt them) so only 5 runners came from there in the 14 renewals since the race was inaugurated. None of them have won but they have had a second and a third so you couldn’t really discount them.
Maghull Novices’ Chase – Roughly 50/50 split here in terms of runners that had/hadn’t run at Cheltenham. Those that had run at Cheltenham have a 60/40 edge in winners though. However this group have been less profitable than backing those that hadn’t run at the festival. In fact backing all 53 that hadn’t run at Cheltenham would have delivered a very small profit thanks to Special Tiara’s 28/1 success in 2013. If you take that out there isn’t that much between the two groups really.
The Bowl Chase – Generally contested by top class chasers and over 70% of the runners had run at Cheltenham. That group provided over 80% of the winners and would break even if backed blindly. Narrowing it down to those starting <20/1 would generate 21.1% profit from the ‘ran at Cheltenham’ group. The ‘didn’t run at Cheltenham’ pool did generate a profit backing all runners blind but that was thanks to Follow The Plan’s shock 50/1 victory and you’ll do well to repeat that.
Anniversary 4-y-o Hurdle – Another race with a strong trend to take note of. Again roughly 50/50 in terms of runners but the Cheltenham runners have landed 14 of the 16 renewals (87.5%). This resulted in a very good profit of 66% from backing them blind, due to 4 big priced winners. Once you reduce the filter to those starting at <20/1 that advantage disappears and you face a loss. The winning strategy would have been to focus on runners that had run at Cheltenham, starting >10/1 and < 50/1. That would have given four winners, over 200% profit and also a host of placed horses (Gumball’s second at 20/1 last year the latest of these).
Red Rum Handicap Chase – 50/50 in terms of both runners and winners, the difference between those that ran at Cheltenham and those that didn’t is that the ‘didn’t run at Cheltenham’ group regularly turns up a longer-priced winner and, even though that group provided 120 runners, backing them blind would have resulted in a profit. Like the Anniversary Hurdle, applying the <20/1 filter eliminates the profit so the best play in the period we’ve looked at is to look for a horse at 20/1 or greater that hasn’t run at Cheltenham.
Gaskell’s Handicap Hurdle (formerly known as the Dominican Handicap Hurdle) – winners are split 8/8 between did/didn’t run at Cheltenham. Backing those that ran at Cheltenham and that start <20/1 did yield a profit as all 8 of the winners from that group started in that price range (as in fact did 7 of the 8 winners from the other group, although were not as profitable, so it is not a race where outsiders do that well).
Merseyrail Handicap Hurdle (formerly Alder Hey Handicap Hurdle and John Smith’s Handicap Hurdle) – the same pattern as the Gaskell’s with 8/8 split of winners and those that ran at Cheltenham and started <20/1 yielding a small profit (7.5%)
Betway Handicap Chase (formerly Betfred TV Handicap Chase) – Nothing particularly exciting in the stats for this. Narrowing down the ‘ran at Cheltenham’ group to <20/1 gets close to break even so if you can be even more selective with that group you stand a chance.
Pinsent Masons Handicap Hurdle (formery Maxilhead Metals Handicap Hurdle) – 50% of the winners in this came from those that had run at Cheltenham but from only 23.5% of the runners. Blindly backing all 47 of those would have resulted in a large percentage profit. However, a lot of that was due to Culcabock’s 66/1 success. Reducing the bets to only those at <20/1 that had run at Cheltenham would have resulted in only 27 bets but a good profit of 63% (17pts at 1pt level stake). That is where to focus.
Mildmay Novices’ Chase – 53% of the runners had run at Cheltenham and they’ve produced 81% of the winners (13 of the 16) but finding a profit is difficult. All 16 winners started at <10/1 with Killyglen’s 7/1 SP the largest return. However, even reducing the filter to <10/1 still doesn’t produce a profit backing blind so it is probably best to focus on those at the head of the market and apply some criteria of your own in order to be increasingly selective.
Sefton Novices’ Hurdle – Those that had not run at Cheltenham seem to have the edge in this, from a value viewpoint. Backing the 139 runners that by-passed the festival blindly would have been profitable (Ogee, Saint Are and Thistlecrack all winning at big prices of 25/1+) while reducing the filter to those <20/1 from the same group of runners reduced the selections to 60 but returned a similar percentage profit. Those are probably the runners to concentrate on.
The Melling Chase – The majority of runners (75%) had run at Cheltenham and all 16 winners came from that pool. Applying the <20/1 filter to that group resulted in a 14.4% profit backing all 80 selections (all 16 winners started <20/1). There were three double figure odds winners and an 8/1 winners so, within that band up to 20/1, don’t be afraid to pick one out at a little bit of a price although 5/1 and lower is a profitable range backing blind also.
I’d make the usual disclaimers here in as much as the sample numbers for each race are relatively low so the patterns described here may be purely down to chance and are ‘back-fitted’ to highlight profitable avenues, what happens in the future may not reflect what has happened in the past. Hopefully though we may have highlighted a few rich seams where an edge may be found or indeed some areas to be avoided or to approach with caution from a betting point of view.
The other thing that crossed my mind is whether the patterns change, relating to the success or otherwise of Cheltenham Festival runners reappearing at Aintree same season, depending on the number of days between the two events. I haven’t taken that into consideration although if I get time I may have a look at that. Race distance may be another factor to look in more depth at.
In my next article I’ll look at the fate of those that had finished in the first 4 at Cheltenham when they returned at Aintree in the same season. I’ll try to post that in a few days, certainly by the end of the week.