Cheltenham numbers: Which age of horse runs best in the Championship races
As the 2019 Cheltenham Festival approaches, we take a look at the marquee races on each day from an age-related angle to find the standout numbers, taking into account impact values (IV), showing by what factor a win or place occurred compared to chance, the higher the better.
We also consider % of rivals beat (% RB), which takes into account field size and offers greater insight than the simple question of did a horse win or not. Anything from 55% and upwards is considered a positive and anything below 45% can also be considered noteworthy as a negative.
The following tables reflect the results of the four Championship races from 2008 to 2018.
As we can see from the table above, when it comes to the Champion Hurdle the six and seven-year-olds have won eight races combined since 2008, and are comfortably the best-performing groups. Both also come out very favourably in terms of Win IV, Place IV and % Rivals Beat.
Defending two-time champion Buveur D’Air is an eight-year-old and so might struggle against his younger counterparts challenging this year. This could also be considered a positive for 10-time Grade 1 winner and current exchange favourite Apple’s Jade, as well as the six-year-old ‘could be anything’ Laurina, for Willie Mullins.
Another six-year-old from the Mullins stable who may have slightly gone under the radar is Sharjah. The Doctor Dino gelding has won two Grade 1s himself this season, having beaten Faugheen and Supasundae respectively and has been trained specifically for this race, again from the powerful Mullins stable. However, the forecast rain for Tuesday might put pay to his chances as his form is much stronger on better ground.
There is much more of an even spread of winners across the age ranges for the Champion Chase.
However, in terms of the key metrics, it is again the younger horses who have been consistently better in terms of Win IV, Place IV and % Rivals Beat.
The youngest horses potentially running in this year’s Champion Chase are seven-year-olds Footpad and Sceau Royal. It’s more or less been stated by connections that Footpad will contest the longer trip of the Ryanair on Thursday, which leaves the Alan King inmate to put it up to reigning champion Altior (9yo) et al.
There are no five-year-olds contesting this year’s Stayers' Hurdle (and historically no wins) so they can be put to one side. In terms of winners, much like the Champion Chase there is a fairly even spread. But when we look closer it is definitely six-year-olds who stand clear from the rest, beating 58% of rivals on average, winning 27% more often than can be expected by chance and placing 69% more often as well.
The only six-year-old in this year’s race is the experienced Bapaume, again for the all-conquering Mullins stable. He looks to have been trained with this target in mind as he has no other entries for the week and has two Grade 1s on his CV to further recommended him.
The final day of the festival bonanza features the meet's blue-riband Gold Cup, seen by many as the pinnacle of the sport. It's been quite a mixed bag in recent times, with seven-year-olds showing up well on the metrics but amassing only one winner in 11 years. There are no six-year-olds running in this year’s race. Eight-year-olds have managed five winners in the same time period, albeit from nearly twice as many runners.
Seven-year-olds are very much clear on % rivals beat as well as Place IV. This could bode well for fans of leading contender Clan Des Obeaux, who warmed up for this with an 11-length romp in the Denman Chase at Ascot last month.
The above numbers are by no means a simple matter of isolating the horse with the perfect age in order to find the winner, but will hopefully add some context to the merits of the horses running in their respective races at the Festival.