What have the past eight Champion Hurdle winners got in common, and what are the omens like for Gold Cup favourite Galopin Des Champs? Andy Stephens has all the answers.
Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable. Mark Twain’s observation holds true, especially when it comes to next week’s Cheltenham Festival.
Stats, facts, trivia and trends can provide us with a clue or two in the search for Cheltenham winners next week but don’t let them cloud your thinking. Rules are there to be broken!
The below merely reflects many notable Festival patterns. And if you click on the race title, you can read about plenty more plus watch a plethora of memorable replays.
Vintage Clouds win the Ultima in first-time headgear two years ago
1.30 Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 87y__
Six of the past ten winners have had an official rating of 153 or higher. They have been Vautour (155), Douvan (155), Altior (155), Klassical Dream (154), Shishkin (153) and, two years ago, Appreciate It (153). Last year’s winner, Constitution Hill, had a mark of 148, having had only two runs beforehand. Facile Vega and Il Etait Temps (both 155) are the only runners rated in excess of 153 this time. None of the British-trained runners this year are rated higher than 142.
2.10 Sporting Life Arkle Trophy (Grade 1) 1m 7f 199y
Between 1998 and 2006, four renewals were won by five-year-olds. However, since the 5lb age allowance was scrubbed 14 years ago, they are 0/16 in the race, albeit Fakir D’Oudairies went close three years ago. Riviere D’etel, Haut En Couleurs and Saint Sam all had their supporters last year but none finished closer than fifth. Perhaps trainers are cottoning on: Fil Dor is the only five-year-old left in contention this year.
2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 3m 1f
Nine of the past 11 runnings of the Ultima have been won by a horse wearing some form of headgear (cheekpieces or blinkers but never a visor) at prices ranging between 15-2 and 28-1. On four occasions they’ve enjoyed a 1-2, and in 2016 a spectacular 1-2-3 (the Trifecta paid £2,025). In 2018, one of the two years they missed out, the visored Shantou Flyer was beaten a neck at 14-1. A total of 97 horses have worn headgear in the race since 2012. Meanwhile, 144 have worn no headgear with Coo Star Sivola (5-1) and Corach Rambler (at 10-1 last year) their only victors in this period. If you’d put £10 on every horse wearing headgear in the race since 2012, you would be showing a profit of £365. Had you put £10 on all the horses without headgear, you would have lost £1,280. Those wearing headgear on Tuesday include Harpers Brook, Fantastikas and Happygolucky__, who will be wearing first-time cheekpieces. My colleague, Harry Allwood, tipped the last-named earlier this week.
3.30 Unibet Champion Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 87y
The past eight winners – Faugheen (111), Annie Power (11), Buveur D’Air (111), Buveur D’Air (111), Espoir D’Allen (111), Epatante (11), Honeysuckle (11) and Honeysuckle again (111) all lined up having not been beaten that season. Constitution Hill (11) and State Man (1111) have been flawless this campaign. In addition, 28 of the past 32 winners of the race won on their most recent start. That does not augur well for four of their five rivals (I Like To Move It the exception).
4.10 Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 3f 200y
Willie Mullins didn’t have a runner in the first renewal, in 2008. Since then he has saddled nine of the 14 winners (admittedly Quevega won six of them) and it would have been ten had Benie Des Dieux not fallen at the final flight in 2019 with victory at her mercy. He’s also been responsible for the runner-up on four of the occasions when missing out. Last year was a rare blip, with Stormy Ireland, who was a staying-on fourth, faring best of his three runners. His three runners this time are Brandy Love, Echoes In Rain and Shewearsitwell.
4.50 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) 2m 87y
It's early days with the Boodles but the Naas novice hurdle won by Sir Allen last month has yielded the winner in three of the past four years. The four who chased him home will also be in action, including Jazzy Matty, who began his career in France. Half of the 18 winners of the Boodles began their careers there. Gaelic Warrior went agonisingly close to boosting the tally last year, as did Saint Sam a year earlier. Tekao, Risk Belle and Punta Del Este are others among the field who started in France.
5.30 National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys' Novices' Chase (Grade 2) 3m 5f 201y
Gordon Elliott has had 11 runners in the National Hunt Chase. Four have won, another has finished second and the other six have failed to complete. His winners have been Chicago Grey (5-1), Cause Of Causes (8-1), Tiger Roll (16-1) and Ravenhill (12-1) so you would be showing a healthy profit if you had backed him blind. And two years ago he prepared Galvin, who won, and Escaria Ten, who was third, but they ran under the name of Denise Foster for well-documented reasons. So, you could say he’s had five winners from 13 runners in it. All of Elliott’s winners (not Galvin) had been beaten on their previous start and two of them, Chicago Grey and Ravenill, had suffered a fall earlier in the campaign. Chemical Energy and Minella Crooner represent Cullantra House Stables this time. Both were beaten last time out.
1.30 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 5f
I’m quite sweet on Hermes Allen but as the winner of the Challow Hurdle, history is loaded against him. The record of winners in that race stands at zero from 19, with Stage Star and Bravemansgame being the past two to come up short. Like Hermes Allen, they are trained by Paul Nicholls. The last Challow winner to win at the Festival in the same season was Wichita Lineman, who went on to win the Albert Bartlett in 2007. Irish-trained runners have finished 1-2 in the past three years.
2.10 Brown Advisory Novices' Chase (Grade 1) 3m 80y
Gerri Colombe, The Real Whacker and Sir Gerhard dominate the betting. The trio are all unbeaten over fences. However, bubbles are often burst here and this century there have been only four winners return to the winner’s enclosure with a flawless record – Denman, Don Poli, Monkfish and L’Homme Presse. Of those, Monkfish gave his backers an uncomfortable time before landing cramped odds two years ago.
2.50 Coral Cup Hurdle (A Handicap Hurdle Race - Grade 3) 2m 5f
Last year’s shock winner, Commander Of Fleet, became only the fifth victor since 2000 to have run more than nine times over hurdles. He snatched a short-head win over Fastorslow, who was having just his fourth start over hurdles. One of the five, William Henry, had only ten runs to his name before victory in 2019. The overall evidence is clear: look for lightly raced, second-season hurdlers. And don’t be put off if your fancy is a big price. Only one of the past five victors has been shorter than 20-1.
3.30 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1) 1m 7f 99y
In the past 31 years, ten winners had landed the Arkle Chase 12 months earlier. They have been: Remittance Man (won the Champion Chase in 1992), Klairon Davis (1996), Moscow Flyer (2003), Azertyuiop (2004), Voy Por Ustedes (2007), Sizing Europe (2011), Sprinter Sacre (2013), Altior (2018) and Put The Kettle On (2021). The SPs have included 10-1, 9-1 and 17-2, so it’s been a profitable route to follow. Edwardstone seeks to improve the record this time. Only one horse older than 10 (Moscow Flyer) has won since 1978, and just three of the past 25 winners failed to win last time out. Energumene must overcome the latter stat, just as he did last year.
4.10 Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase 3m 6f 37y
No fewer than 14 of the 18 winners had run at the track earlier in the season – and Delta Work became only the fourth winner without any previous experience of the course. That is a little misleading, though, as most cross-country contenders school over the fences beforehand with Cheltenham’s blessing. The race was first run in 2005, with 32 obstacles having to be negotiated. There have been 265 runners but only six runners have ever fallen, including two in the first running. All 16 runners completed in 2010.
4.50 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 2m 62y
Nine of the past 12 winners have had an official rating of between 138 and 147, with Global Citizen (136) just outside that group last year. He was a rare older horse to prevail - only the third winner since 1998 to be ten or older – but was not typical of his age group, given he was having only his sixth start over fences. Dinoblue (rated 140) and Aucunrisque (147) are among leading fancies this year. The latter ran over hurdles last time, as did Global Citizen 12 months ago.
5.30 Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Grade 1) 2m 87y
Willie Mullins has had the winner 12 times since it was first run in 1992 – plus plenty of near-misses. However, punters looking to cash in on his dominance should note the market often gets his runners wrong. Facile Vega became the first of his past seven winners of the race to have been his apparent “first string”. Five of his previous six winners were returned at 12-1 (Cousin Vinny), 16-1 (Champagne Fever), 25-1 (Briar Hill), 25-1 (Relegate) and 11-1 (Ferny Hollow). The shortest-priced Mullins runners in those races finished sixth, third, eighth, fifth and second. So, don’t rely on the market telling you accurately what the best of the Mullins brigade might be.
1.30 Turners Novices' Chase (Grade 1) 2m 3f 166y
Willie Mullins won four of the first six renewals but in the past five years he’s been out of luck with his 13 runners finishing 4P60U235836F3. Galopin Des Champs looked sure to end his run of reverses last year when breezing clear, only to fall at the final fence. His other runner in the four-runner field, El Barra, finished last of the three finishers. Plenty of his beaten runners have been well-fancied, with Galopin Des Champs going off at 5-6. Six of the past 12 winners had previously won at the Festival over hurdles. Banbridge, Appreciate It and Sir Gerhard could boost that tally. Mighty Potter is a hot favourite but he was pulled up in last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Meet the handicappers on the latest Road To Cheltenham
2.10 Pertemps Network Final (Handicap Hurdle) (Grade 3) 2m 7f 213y
It will be interesting to see if the new qualification rules make a difference to the profile of winners. In the past, you needed to finish in the first six of a qualifier to have a chance of running in the Final. But this time, a top-four finish has been required. None of the past eight winners have won a qualifier. Or even finished second in one. The last horse to win one and then land the Final was Fingal Bay, back in 2014. None of the past five winners had won in the previous eight months. Presenting Percy did win on his previous start, in 2017, but needed to as otherwise his rating would have been too low to make the cut. Shoot First, trained in Ireland, is this year’s ante-post favourite. He won the qualifier at Cheltenham in October and has since been kept under wraps. Irish-trained runners had won six successive renewals before Britain hit back by having the 1-2-3 last year.
2.50 Ryanair Chase (Grade 1) 2m 4f 127y
Fourteen of the past 18 Ryanair Chase winners have boasted at least one win at Cheltenham beforehand. Shishkin, the hot favourite, is among those who fit the criteria this year. Nicky Henderson, his trainer, won with Riverside Theatre in 2012 but since then his runners in the race have finished 43428050PP. Two of those runners trailed home last.
3.30 Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 7f 213y
Plenty will scoff at the notion of Paisley Park regaining his crown at the age of 11 four years after he last won the race, but Crimson Embers did exactly that in 1986. Three of the past five winners ran in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle the previous year, including scorers at 12-1 and 50-1. There were no representatives from the race last year. Flooring Porter would emulate Inglis Drever and Big Buck’s if winning for the third year in succession, but his rating of 162 indicates he is not in their league. Big Buck’s was rated 174 when landing his hat-trick, while Inglis Drever was on 172.
4.10 Magners Plate Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 2m 4f 166y
Coole Cody (145) became the ninth successive winner to be rated in the 140s when taking the spoils last season. Six of those have been novices or second-season chaser to do so. So Scottish, the ante-post favourite, is a novice rated 143. Venetia Williams has landed the race three times since 2007 with runners chalked up at 12-1, 33-1 and 50-1. She’s not had a runner in the race since Willie Boy fell in the 2018 renewal but could run Frero Banbou (rated 135) and Gemirande (132) this time. However, they will need some luck to make the cut.
4.50 Ryanair Mares' Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m 179y
Willie Mullins was responsible for the first five winners of the this race – all of them French-breds who started their careers in France. He’s lost his grip in the past two years but again has plenty of possible players. The first seven winners of the race have all been aged five or six, with four of them having had eight races or more (Flat and jumps). Five of the seven have previously won or been placed in a Graded race.
5.30 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase (Sponsored By JRL Group) 3m 2f
It’s surely no coincidence that eight of the past 12 winners have worn some form of headgear and that only two of the past 18 winners won on their most recent start. Just four winners since 1992 have been ten or older. Increasingly, this is a race for younger legs with six of the past ten renewals won by seven-year-olds. They had the second and fourth home last year. Stumptown, a six-year-old, and Mr Incredible, who is seven, head the ante-post betting. The latter has never worn headgear, but looks the type who might benefit from some.
1.30 JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 179y
No fewer than seven of the past ten winners ran in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown in February, with Quilixios and Vauban doing the double in the past two years. This season’s renewal was won by Gala Marceau after Lossiemouth, who finished second, ran into traffic problems. Both are prominent in the betting.
2.10 McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) 2m 179y
Half of the past 16 winners have been trained by a member of the Mullins family (Willie x 6, Thomas x 1 and Tony x 1), while Dan Skelton, who has had three winners during this time, seems to enjoy lining one up for this contest. Only two winners this century have scored off a rating in the 150s, so beware supporting those near the head of the weights.
2.50 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 7f 213y
The Nice Guy became the eighth of the past nine winners to go off at double-figure odds last year. The SPs have been 50-1, 33-1 (twice), 18-1, 16-1, 14-1 (twice)) and 11-1, so do not be worried if your fancy is overlooked in the market. Among the 18 winners of the race, Monkfish and The Nice Guy are the only victors not to have won or been placed in a Graded novice hurdle beforehand, although the former had won his previous two starts and the latter was unbeaten.
3.30 Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup (Grade 1) 3m 2f 70y
In the past 40 years, Imperial Call, Best Mate, Kicking King, War Of Attrition, Kauto Star, Sizing John and Al Boum Photo have won chasing’s biggest prize as a seven-year-old. Three of those – Best Mate, Kauto Star and Al Boum Photo – would go on to scoop the spoils at least once more. Galopin Des Champs will emulate the septet if successful. He’s had six runs over fences and, but for his unfortunate fall at the final fence in the Turners, would be unbeaten. Best Mate had also had six runs beforehand, but Imperial Call (10), Kicking King (11) War Of Attrition (9), Kauto Star (10), Sizing John (9) and Al Boum Photo (7) had more experience. Kauto Star and Al Boum Photo both fell at the Cheltenham Festival the year before winning the Gold Cup, so don’t let his tumble 12 months ago worry you. Noble Yeats will emulate Golden Miller and L’Escargot if he adds a Gold Cup triumph to his Grand National victory of last year. The stats are stacked against Minella Indo, the 2021 winner, as Kauto Star is the only Gold Cup winner to regain his crown and the last horse older than nine to win was Cool Dawn in 1998. He was also the last Gold Cup winner not to have won a Grade One race beforehand.
4.10 St. James's Place Festival Hunters' Chase 3m 2f 70y
Perhaps appropriately, 29 of the past 34 winners began their careers in point-to-points or hunter chases. Last year’s winner, Billaway, was among them and like seven of the past 13 winners had finished in the first five in a previous year’s renewal. This year’s favourite, Vaucelet, had his first run over fences in a point-to-point, and has continued to pop up in that sphere. But this will be his first run in the race.
4.50 Mrs Paddy Power Mares' Chase 2m ½f
It’s only the third running of the Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase, so we have no stats or trends to play with. But it is worth recognising that 15 of the 24 races run at the Festival exclusively for mares in recent years have been won by French-breds – including Elimay in this race last year. This year’s favourite, Allegorie De Vassy, was herself bred in France. And, like the first two winners of this, she’s trained by Willie Mullins.
5.30 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle (0-145) 2m 4f 56y
Eight of the past 12 renewals have been plundered by Irish runners, with all bar two of them having their first run in a handicap. None of Willie Mullins’ four winners had previously run over hurdles more than three times beforehand. David Pipe would naturally love to win the race that honours his father but his quest will have to wait for at least another year as he has no entry. Since the first running, in 2009, he has had 23 runners and got no closer than third. Big Eared Fran (third in 2009 at 7-2); Ashkazar (seventh in 2010 at 9-2) and Gevrey Chambertin (pulled up at 9-4) all went off favourite, while he has had four other runners beaten at single-figure odds, including Umbrigado three years ago.
🐴 STATS AND TRENDS FOR ALL 28 RACES
🐴 A SUPER STATISTIC FOR EVERY RACE
📅 I WAS THERE: EIGHT MEMORABLE FESTIVAL DAYS
✍ DAN OVERALL STUDIES THE 9 HANDICAPS
✍ 11 THINGS WE LEARNT WHEN THE WEIGHTS WERE RELEASED
😲 WINNERS WHO HIT 999-1 IN-RUNNING AND EPIC LOSERS
🐴 BETTING OFFERS AND FREE BETS
✍ CHAMPION HURDLE RUNNER-BY-RUNNER GUIDE
✍ CHAMPION CHASE RUNNER-BY-RUNNER GUIDE
✍ GOLD CUP RUNNER-BY-RUNNER GUIDE
📺 WATCH: GORDON ELLIOTT ON HIS LEADING CONTENDERS
📺 WATCH: WILLIE MULLINS ON HIS LEADING CONTENDERS
📺 WATCH: MARTIN PIPE - RACING GREAT
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