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STATS: The importance of course form at the Cheltenham Festival

Why going with course form can put you on track for some winners

by Aidan Elder | March 7, 2014

Whether it’s a lucky pair of puling pants, our favourite nightclub for laying down the extra cheesy chat-up lines or other pointless superstitions we might have that we think guarantee us success.

Horses are no different. Except they probably won’t bother chatting you up. If they want to have their way with you, you’ll know about it pretty sharpish – chat-up line or none.

The equivalent for horses is developing a fondness for one particular track. Whether it’s the topography of the track, the direction they run around it or just some fond horsey memories that they have of said venue, some horses seem to come alive on certain tracks rather than others.

Desert Orchid bossed things at Kempton, but not so much at Cheltenham. Beef Or Salmon loved a bit of Leopardstown but never did like crossing the Irish Sea. More recently, Bob’s Worth – unbeaten in five Cheltenham starts – seems to love the Cotswolds and as does The New One who has a useful record of four from six at Prestbury Park. Over the last three years, we can see that horses with win and place form at Cheltenham, regularly find themselves being roared into the winners’ enclosure by an ever so slightly inebriated crowd.

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Yes, 51% doesn’t sound like the most compelling, ‘holy crap, someone call Kay Burley – people need to hear this’ stat, but when you think it includes the bumper, novice and juvenile hurdles featuring young horses who haven’t had a chance to make a trip to Cheltenham yet and of course, horses who have mainly operated in Ireland, it suddenly becomes a more impressive.

Lots of horses go to Cheltenham having never faced the imposing uphill finish and it can be quite a shock. That’s not to say that they won’t handle the hill, but certainly, knowing that a horse handles the course and gets up the hill is a big plus when you’re going through the card.

One major factor to note is that the win and place form is across all Cheltenham races, irrespective of quality. Obviously if a horse finished third in a race for wheezy, arthritic three-legged donkeys that won’t automatically make him a contender for the Gold Cup, but a record of being able to do well at the track doesn’t hurt, particularly in the wide open handicaps.

The incentive of also getting a decent price on a shock result is also quite tempting. Golden Chieftain (28/1) and Medinas (33/1) had Cheltenham place  form to their names ahead of landing a couple of competitive handicaps at the Festival last year and in general, it’s worth looking out for these snippets of course form, particularly when it comes to each way bets.

Case and point comes in the very first race of the Festival, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Irving has been far and away the most eye-catching horse in the division, but we’ve absolutely no proof he’ll like the course or get up that hill. On the other hand, The Liquidator has gotten up the hill for victory (last November) and put in respectable showings in a couple of bumpers at the track last season – one of which was the Champion Bumper.

That’s not to say that every horse with course form is going to romp home, but if you don’t fancy some of the leading contenders, it’s worth looking for some course form, particularly at bigger prices. It’s not guaranteed to work, but we can say with confidence that 51% for of the time, it works all the time. For the last three years at least.

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