horse racing
Narrowing the Field

What we learned from the weekend: 11th, 12th & 13th of December…

So the Irish raiders continue to dominate at Prestbury Park…🍀

They’ve regularly dominated proceedings at the Festival in March but now they’ve set their sights on complete domination at Cheltenham, sending successful raiding parties across for ALL meeting run at the track…and it isn’t just Mullins and Elliott we need to be looking out for!!

Irish trainers sent over seven runners for the December meeting last weekend (seven runners over only four races) and they plundered three tasty prizes, the most notable being the demolition job that CHATHAM STREET BOY produced in landing the (what appeared to be beforehand) competitive Caspian Caviar Gold Cup.

A quick look at the stats tells us that had you backed ALL Irish trained runners at Cheltenham in 2020 you would have returned the following figures…

25/205 | 12% S/R | +£231.18 BFLSP – W&P 66/205 | 32% S/R

12% above expectation

Far from a flash in the pan either, amazingly you could have made a profit backing all Irish trained runners at Cheltenham (all Cheltenham meetings) every year since 2017…

2020: +£231.18 BFLSP

2019: +164.17 BFLSP

2018: +£40.16 BFLSP

2017: +£90.81 BFLSP

Can’t see that slowing down any time soon either…

This week on ‘What We learned From The Weekend’ I’m going to take a slightly different approach and highlight three horses that caught my eye from a handicapping perspective. All three horses were shunted down a pound or two by the handicapper after their runs at the weekend and as such they now sit on marks that look rather attractive for future punting purposes.

Before I point you towards those three horse, just a quick word on how I view handicap marks.

I view the handicap process in three ways, or rather I split horses into three zones, those zones being…

ZONE 1: Horse needs to be in the correct Class of race to win but are able to defy most handicap marks that they run from

ZONE 2: Horse needs to be on or below a certain handicap mark to win but can be competitive across a couple of Class levels

ZONE 3: Horse needs to be in the correct Class of race AND on or below a certain handicap mark to win

There are no hard and fast rules and many people have many differing views on the handicapping process, but like most things in life it isn’t really black and white and you need to be flexible, to a certain extent, with your approach.

For me, most horses have a ceiling to their abilities and once they step out/over that ceiling (either by a rise in the weights or a jump in class) they will struggle to win/be competitive until they are back down to their ‘correct level’ (whether that level is Class/Grade of race, Handicap Mark or a mix of both). Obviously the two can be intrinsically linked (a rise in their handicap mark can force them into a higher class/grade) which is something else that needs to be considered.

…but enough on that for now, let’s get onto those three handicappers that caught my eye this weekend

AGRAPART (N Williams)

Friday 11th – 3.35 Cheltenham – 4th in Class 2 Handicap Hurdle

This was only the 9yo’s third handicap start of his career and I suspect OR 144 (went down 1lb for this run) should be a winnable mark for him (won the Betfair Hurdle on his first Handicap start off OR 137 and finished a close 4th of 17 off OR 150 on his second handicap start, a G3 at Sandown).

He is a horse that is very dependant on having his Prime Conditions to be able to run to his best, with those conditions being…

Grade 2 or below | Soft-Heavy | Nov-Feb

…where he is…

442121112 (4/9, 4p – all 4 Hurdle wins)

This race was actually the first time he had failed to at least place when faced with Prime Conditions, but in his defence he was making his seasonal debut (off a break of 314 days) against a field of runners who were all race fit. He hit a flat spot around 2-out but did then stay on once he found his second wind and I have no doubt he’ll strip fitter for the outing.

If he gets his conditions and runs in the correct grade then I wouldn’t think his mark of OR 144 will be a problem to overcome.



Saturday 12th – 1.15 Cheltenham – 7th in Class 2 Handicap Chase

The 9yo has been parked on a mark above his ceiling for a good few starts now but yet another down the field effort on Saturday has finally seen him released back to a winnable area (he was shunted down 3lbs to OR 142 for this run). 

If you look at him in handicaps when running from a mark above OR 142 you get the following form line…

4067494 (0/7, 0p)

Now back to what I would consider a winnable mark, I’d be looking out for him under the following Prime Conditions…

Listed level & below | NOT Heavy | Field of 15 or less | Not V Undulating tracks | 2m5f or less | OR 142 or less

…where he is…

11134211 (5/8, 2p – 5 of 6 career wins)

Relatively stringent conditions but history tells us that’s what he needs to perform to his optimum and connections have now got him back to a mark where he can start to be competitive again.



Saturday 12th – 12.20 Doncaster – 4th in Class 3 Handicap Chase

He was dropped 3lbs to OR 122 for this run and that puts him bang on the mark from which he was last able to be successful from.

His Prime Conditions are relatively simple…

Left-Handed Handicap Chases | Oct – Feb | OR 122 or less

…where he returns form figures of…

124212211 (4/9, 4p – all 4 career wins)

Perhaps worth noting that the Ellison yard have been struggling of late, with 14-day form of 0/17, 4p and 30-day form of 3/48, 15p, with the PRB stats (Percentage of Rivals Beaten) backing up the fact that the yard are indeed struggling for form (PRB stats of 39% for the last 14 days, which is firmly in the ‘red’ zone – *PRB stats taken from Proform), but when they do begin to find their feet again INSTANT REPLAY will be sitting on a mark where he should be able to find himself back in the winners enclosure.

That’s all for today. Things may get a little bit more sporadic for me over the Festive period although I will hopefully have the usual Tuesday post for your reading pleasure next week…

Keep safe

Ben (NTF)

P.S.  if you are looking to sign-up to the full service for the remainder of the National Hunt 2020/21 season then I’ve got a great deal for you on the following page…

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8 responses to “What we learned from the weekend: 11th, 12th & 13th of December…”

  1. Hi Josh,I was hoping you might have some stats about low weights dominating Cheltenham ,seems to happy on testing but when ground is tacky .I noticed a 5lb out the hcap winner on the Friday and it was no surprise to see the top or big weights in the caviar gold cup and other races struggle.

    • Hi Rob

      This is Ben, not Josh…like how I signed off the post with ‘Ben (NTF)’, like how I have for the past 10+ years…👍

      Can’t really analyse the stats based on ‘tacky’ as it’s not an official going description so impossible to use any database to find that out.

      If you look at the December Cheltenham meeting and only consider those handicaps run on Soft or heavy then the top weights have struggled, failing to score in any handicap since 2010 (from 42 that have tried).

      Cheers – Ben (NTF)

  2. I’m with you Rob. It was noticeable on Friday that 11.0 was more or less the ceiling in handicaps and I applied that principle to Saturday handicaps. The principle was OK but still couldn’t pick the winners.

    • Hi Clive

      Nothing carrying above 10.12 managed to land any of the handicaps this year round, from 44 that tried, so yes, definitely seemed to play into those lighter weighted types…

      Ben (NTF)

  3. Dangerous game ruling out horses just because they are above a certain weight. This will lead to betting horses based solely on the weight they are carrying and that can’t work. It is a narrow and lazy approach. NB. Obvious exception being you need to reconsider anything rated 150+ for a festival handicap.

    • Hi Hugh

      I never mentioned about ruling horses out based on weight carried? I was talking about an individual horse’s own handicap mark, the mark they are running from being more important than the actual physical weight they are carrying.

      If you look at the last four years of the festival and consider only those rated 150+ that ran in a handicap then there have been six winners, striking at 4% above market expectation and returning +£22.24 to Betfair SP.

      If you narrow it down to the strong age group for festival handicaps (7yo-9yo) and look at those returning off a break of 31+ days (so being primed for the day) you get the same six winners but striking at 98% above market expectation and returning an even healthier +£67.24 to Betfair SP.

      I wouldn’t personally be ruling out the 150+ rated handicappers at Cheltenham.

      Cheers – Ben (NTF)

  4. Hey Ben, thanks for sharing those stats and insights. Going back to the Irish raiders at Cheltenham, are there any filters you can apply to narrow the field down to a more manageable size without hurting the ROI too much ?

    • Hi Ben

      Yeah, a couple filters tightens things up a little…

      If you look at only those aged 10 or less and having had no more than 7 starts in current season you get…

      85/743 | 11.5% S/R | +£576.69 BFLSP – 8% above expectation

      Strengthens ROI from 63% to 78%

      Still a fair amount of bets but it’s slightly more manageable…

      Cheers – Ben (NTF)

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