• Cheltenham Festival Handicapping with Dan Munn

    POSTED Mar 3, 2011
    With the Cheltenham Festival just around the corner, UK horseracing expert Dan Munn shares his thoughts on the premier jump meeting in the world.

    It’s plain for all to see, the Cheltenham Festival is an obsession. Made up of no fewer than 27 races, The Cheltenham Festival is a four-day jumps racing spectacular, featuring races for novice jumpers, amateur riders, experienced chasers, cross country raiders… you name it, Cheltenham has it. And the preparation and anticipation for the next years’ Festival starts right after the final runner passes the winning post in the previous years’ final race. The roar of the crowd as the tape goes up for race one at a new festival would make the hair on the back of every racing fans neck stand up. It’s one of the places every racing fan just has to visit. But with so much top-class racing in so little time, how do you get an edge with your handicapping, particularly if you’re new to jumps racing? Well hopefully the next few blogs will help to give you just that.

    Falling Down
    For me, a horse that has fallen in a previous race is apt to be a severe underlay next time out, as a fall, unseating or refusal – all of which are common day-to-day occurrences in jumps racing – are seen as a permanent ‘character’ flaw. So what are the key things to consider and look out for when one of these blips occur?

    Judge Momentum
    Dependingt on where the horse has fallen, analyse the horse’s speed coming towards the fence/hurdle. Was the horse in cruise control coming to the fence and merely suffered badly from a mistake? Would the horse have taken the lead with a good jump? Is he/she closing fast off of a steady front end pace? If the answer is yes to either of these questions then it’s likely your horse would’ve been onto a win or, at the least, a very big run and the best thing to do is to note down the distance and back it on it’s reappearance over that distance. Heck, if the horse was going that well, then a wager when the horse is turned out over a longer distance may even be an option.

    So, how about if your horse was coming to the fence with a lack of momentum and seemed to make a mistake because of fatigue? Use the same idea but back the horse next time out over a shorter trip. Just like flat racing, it’s common for a horse to find an extra step up in distance hard. However, as opposed to six-furlong horses struggling to see out a mile, these staying qualities can normally be judged in half-mile blocks. For example, a horse struggling over 20 furlongs should be much better suited to a jump back to two miles (16 furlongs) and so on.

    Does the horse have any behavioural quirks? Has he/she shown similar before? If the answer is yes, how often has this quirk been evident? Past performances and video replays are perfect for this. A great example of temperament is Kauto Star’s customary final fence blip. In his youth, Kauto Star always went through the top of the final fence — a sure-fire way of giving anyone with a lumpy wager on him a semi-heart palpitation.

    This is the key trend to consider when backing any horse that refuses to jump: if a horse has refused in the past and has now reverted back to this trait then it’s highly likely to happen again. For me, if a horse has refused to jump twice before (or even start the race), then this is where handicapping is impossible in predicting just what the horse will turn up and do. However, any noted alterations made by the trainer are where you can begin to get back on track with these runners.

    Twist Magic, a Paul Nicholls two miler chaser, has regularly refused to race, but a decision was made to allow a handler to run with the horse towards the start line, thus keeping the horse on the move and not allowing him to plant himself at the start. If these alterations are noted, then your value will begin to appear again.

    Beware: If a horse refuses to start then under UK rules your betting stake will be lost. As a horse is at the start with a view to run it is deemed as a ‘runner’.

    Jockey Errors
    Has your horse been subject to a slight blunder? Has your jockey lined the horse up correctly before the fence? Has he/she pulled the horse up too early ahead of the fence and caused a premature jump? The key to this, again, is video replays. When coming towards a fence the common method from a jockey is to tap the horse on the neck three times and then ask for the jump. If the horse has met the fence on the wrong stride then this four-step-sequence may be out of sync. More often than not this can cause blunders and mistakes and even the unseating of the rider as opposed to falls but can be rectified with schooling.

    Right-Handed? Left-Handed?
    It sounds crazy but it really does happen. In the UK and Ireland racing is run both clockwise and counter-clockwise and a considerable amount of horses in jumps racing are found to jump to their left or right. If a horse jumps to their left on a right-handed course then back it next time it goes left-handed and vice versa. These jumping errors can cost a horse momentum and, on occasions, mean that they cover considerably more ground that their rivals. You’ll also find that a horse jumping to it’s left on a right handed track may become unbalanced on landing and this can contribute to falls/and unseating It’s a very simple thing to notice but one that can reap rewards.

    Of course, some of this seems ridiculously straightforward; surely horses won’t be pushed out to big prices next time out just because they’ve fallen/refused/unseated in their last race? Surprisingly, yes. This year the future-wager favourite for the Cheltenham Arkle (a two-mile ‘chase) refused in his second start of the year (he was 1/5 that day). Next time out, he returned at a lower-level racecourse in a similar type of race… his morning price was 3/1.

    There is significant value to be found in jump racing errors and, with just that little extra preparation, significant rewards can be sought.

    Dan Munn's blog can be found at
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