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Does Cheltenham Novice form matter at Aintree?

Cheltenham Festival Novice Form vs. Non-Cheltenham Festival Novice Form

In the National Hunt game, the entire season is almost transfixed and dominated by the Cheltenham Festival, to the point where when the jumps season starts proper around the middle of October, any impressive early season novice hurdle or novice chase winner is being talked about with Cheltenham targets in mind.

But, on occasion, some trainers will take their time with younger horses and may decide to miss Cheltenham altogether, for many different reasons.

The beneficiary of this is that at Aintree we can often see fresh horses taking on what might be considered more experienced counterparts, having already been tested at the cauldron of Prestbury Park.

The idea of this analysis is to compare the prices of these two different Aintree preparations for Novices and see how the market treats them as a result.

From 37 novice races (novice handicaps were not included) since 2011, the two data sets have the exact same number of winners; so, eight of the total novice race winners won last time out (LTO) at Cheltenham and eight won at various other tracks.

The returns on those winners are very telling:

LTO Cheltenham Festival winners

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LTO Non-Cheltenham Festival winners

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Although this is a small sample size the results are still significant.

The main takeaway from this is that the LTO Novice Cheltenham Festival winners are heavily factored into the betting markets, having had what will have likely been the toughest race of their lives. Whereas the Novice winners coming into Aintree fresh, from not having had their previous run at the Festival are being underrated as outlined by the winning prices of the individual horses.

This suggests two things; the Cheltenham Novice winners trying to follow up at Aintree are under-priced, and way over-bet, thus heavily factored into the market with an average exchange SP of 2.65. The opposite is true of the other set of novices, averaging at 7.40 on the exchanges just before the off.

With this in mind there are a few horses that maybe worth looking at for the Grand National Meeting.

Thursday

Big Buck’s Manifesto Novices Chase 2m4f

With monster Arkle winner Footpad being scratched from the race after failing to please Willie Mullins this has thrown the race wide open. Cyrname is at the head of the market but is a horse that Paul Nicholls is adamant needs to go right handed. Arkle also-ran, Brian Power, beaten out of sight by Footpad, is hovering around the same price as Finian’s Oscar - who seems to have completely lost his was this season - was well beaten by Shattered Love at Cheltenham in a race that I feel completely fell apart.

But there is a horse in here that has been specifically trained by Nicholls’ former assistant Dan Skelton, with this race in mind after two Listed wins at Doncaster and Huntingdon. The mare in question, RENE'S GIRL is now on an Official rating of 144 and gets a 7Ib sex allowance which brings her close to the market leaders and with freshness on her side she looks a value bet against the main principles in this six runner affair.

Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle 2m1f

After winning three small field races on heavy ground at Cheltenham before the Festival, Apple’s Shakira went off a short-priced favourite for the Triumph Hurdle where she could only manage fourth Place. While she is favourite here again and trained by Nicky Henderson, who loves Aintree almost as much as he loves Cheltenham and has purposefully kept back We Have A Dream for this race, he’s a short price behind the filly.

The horse that stands out at the prices is the filly MALAYA, trainer by the master of Ditcheat Paul Nicholls. She was beaten seven lengths by the ultra-impressive Redicean at Kempton on Christmas Eve, she then went on to Ascot to win a Juvenile Handicap Hurdle comfortably, giving weight to geldings. As a result of this she is now rated 141 – just 2 Ib behind Shakira – and rates as serious danger to the two Henderson runners ahead of her in the betting.

Although the premise of this piece was to compare novice winners from Cheltenham to novice winners who missed Cheltenham we must give a mention to the Guillaume Macaire trained Beau Gosse whose form ties in with Malaya from Kempton. The horse came with a strong reputation from France and went off a well-backed 4/1 on the day but proved very disappointing. The fact that Macaire is sending the horse back for another tough assignment suggests to me that he expects a lot better and at a massive double figure price I can’t help but suggest a small win and place bet.

Friday

Top Novices' Hurdle 2m1/2f

The horse that stands out here is Global Citizen and although he’s favourite and running against some useful horses that ran creditably in the Supreme, I was surprised to see he’s trading at nearly 3/1 on the Exchange. Normally bigger priced value would be sought based on the analysis, but the horse is already top rated on 149 and more importantly Pauling chose to keep him fresh for Aintree rather than run at the Festival. The former assistant to Henderson who has only been training in his own right since the beginning of the 2013 season is already wise enough to know the right thing to do by his horses and especially the ones he considers to be of real quality. He knew what he had on his hands from day one with the high-class Barters Hill and chose to skip the Cheltenham bumper in favour of Aintree, thus showing that he was thinking of the long-term future of the horse and I feel he is doing likewise with Global Citizen.

Saturday

Mersey Novices' Hurdle 2m4f

This is a fascinating race on paper. At the head of the market is Black op who ran a blinder to be beaten only 2 and ¾ lengths by Samcro in the Ballymore. But fourth and fifth placed Scarpeta and Duc Des Genievres have already been out since in a Grade 2 at Fairyhouse and let the form down to some degree. On The Blind Side is second favourite but did miss Cheltenham due to sore shins and his time-figures weren’t great in his Cheltenham prep races either so he looks worth taking on as well. There’s a few others that look to have other engagements at the meeting but the Pauling (that man again) trained Kildisart looks to be improving well and it won’t take much more improvement to feature where it matters at the end of the race. Widely available at a double figure price he looks worth the win and place bet on this market, off the back of a nice win at Kempton from one of Nicholls’ most consistent hurdler’s, Zubayr.

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In summary, Cheltenham form counts, but it is not everything and if you're looking for value in the novices, look beyond those that ran at Cheltenham in their last race.

Read more detail on horses going to Aintree fresh before making your trades for the Grand National Festival and give yourself the best chance of a profitable three days.

Brian Cruickshank


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