Punters could be forgiven for thinking that the 'triumph' referred to in the title of the JCB Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival is that of hope over experience. It's never easy to pick a winner at jump racing's "Olympics" and picking one in the Triumph has seemed well nigh impossible at times.
There were three 66/1 winners of the Triumph in the 1980s, from which time until recently the average field size has been just short of 30. But things have changed. In particular, the institution of a juvenile handicap hurdle at the Festival in 2005 has led to a marked reduction in field size for the Triumph itself: Celestial Halo beat just 13 rivals in the race in 2008. What's more, the last five winners have all been in the first four in the betting.
Not quite so hard to pick a winner, then! With that in mind, I thought I would look at recent runnings of the race to see if there were other indicators of where to look for horses that may run well, or badly for that matter. There has been a lively ante-post market on Betfair for some time for the race, run on Friday March 19th, the final day of the Festival.
Follow this link to Betfair to see the market for the 2010 Triumph Hurdle and find out how to get a free bet on the Cheltenham Festival.
Looking at % of rivals beaten for the 91 horses to have contested the last five Triumph Hurdles came up with few conclusions that could not be arrived at by common sense also. There was little advantage in month of debut provided it came before February (which would have counted against According even if that horse had not blotted his copybook on his debut the other day). It was similar with number of hurdling runs, though horses with only one previous start or with more than seven performed worse than par.
There should be no great surprise that horses with more than 50% of wins in hurdle starts had fared well or that a first-three position - though not necessarily a win - on the most recent of those starts was a decided plus. However, less intuitive may be the fact that horses rated 80 to 99 by Timeform on the Flat previously had outperformed those rated higher and lower to a sizeable degree. Another powerful stat was that horses with Flat wins at beyond 12 furlongs had done especially well (66.8% of rivals beaten) and those that had won on the Flat but not at beyond a mile had done poorly (38.9% of rivals beaten).
It should be remembered that the Triumph is run at an extended two miles, usually at a stronger pace than the runners have encountered previously over timber, and both stamina and raw ability come to the fore.
Supporters of Carlito Brigante (9.2 to back but only an ordinary mile winner on the Flat) may do well to remember that. The horse was impressive in beating Alaivan (11.0 to back, listed mile-and-a-half winner on Flat) at Leopardstown at Christmas, but there is good reason to think the latter could turn the tables in March. The closing sectionals of that race show that the leader had probably gone too fast earlier on, and Alaivan, who fought for his head before being allowed to stride on, was that leader. I imagine he will get much more cover in the Triumph.
Neither Alaivan nor Royal Mix (17.5 to back, 89-rated 15f winner on Flat in France and winner of his only hurdle start) has a perfect Triumph Hurdle profile, but they look worth an interest in what is an open year, not least because they should be staying on when others have cried "enough". I recommend 1 pt win back of both.
Apparently my name came up on a Timeform Radio preview of the Cheltenham Festival on Monday, when it was pointed out that I will be hoping that my ante-post tip Long Run will go in the three-mile RSA Chase on the Wednesday rather than the two-mile Arkle Chase on the Tuesday. This is indeed true, though not to quite the extent that might be imagined. While I have several bets at between 15 and 17 on the five-year-old for the RSA, I must also own up to having an interest in the ex-French monster for the other race.
There was never any doubting Long Run's ability - he was quite some horse in his native country - but there had been some doubt about his stamina. When he was pulling hard behind the leaders early on in the Feltham Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day I quickly snapped up some 220 for the Arkle on Betfair. I did not get much on, but, as they say, you do not need much on at that sort of price. I expect to be accused of aftertiming.
I will follow Long Run's likely appearance over just two miles at Warwick on Saturday with mixed feelings. All I hope is that they don't run him over an intermediate distance at the Festival in the Ryanair Chase instead!