Winning form the Festival key
With the Festival firmly on the horizon, Ben Coley profiles the typical Cheltenham winner.
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Two of the most popular systems for narrowing down Cheltenham fields are to find last time out winners, and those who've run well at the Festival before.
But which, if either, is the most reliable approach?
Quite simply, the answer is that last time out winners can be followed with some confidence come the middle of March.
Over the last three Festivals, there have been a grand total of 80 races. Of those 80, 44 were won by a horse whose final run before Cheltenham was a victorious one.
A further 12 had placed, meaning that just 30 per cent of winners had finished outside of the frame in the run-up to the meeting.
And, while it's little surprise to report that non-handicap races account for most winners - a total of 33 - an impressive 11 of the 34 handicaps have been won by a horse doubling up.
That ratio improves further still if we ignore the Pertemps Final and the Coral Cup, two races that in the last three years have been won by horses beaten on their Cheltenham preparation runs. Doing so leaves 11 handicap winners from 28 races, and a further four who'd placed beforehand.
The strongest races for last time out winners in recent years have been the Arkle Trophy, Neptune Novices' Hurdle, World Hurdle, Champion Bumper and Foxhunters Chase, with each of the last three winners having arrived in winning form, although the World Hurdle's record owes everything to the phenomenal Big Buck's.
The weakest non-handicaps are the RSA Chase, Ryanair Chase and Champion Chase, each of which have been won by a last time out winner just once in three years.
In terms of the handicaps, two relatively new races stand out. The Martin Pipe Hurdle has seen its last two winners produced from those arriving in winning form, while both renewals of the Pulteney Novices' Chase fall into the same bracket.
The latter race has only been a Festival feature for two years, but the 2012 renewal saw just 10 of the 20 runners arrive on the back of a win which means 50 per cent could've been ignored.
Festival form has been less significant, but it must be noted that both the Triumph Hurdle and Champion Bumper are contested by horses who haven't yet had the opportunity to strut their stuff at the March spectacular.
Including those contests, 13 of the last 80 Festival winners were adding to previous successes, which is a relatively high percentage of 16.25.
Just one of those came in a handicap, meaning that more than a quarter (26.09 per cent) of graded races over the last three years have been won by a previous Festival winner.
Eight of the 34 handicap winners had placed at a previous Festival, but in graded company previous efforts are more significant, with just under 70 per cent of winners having placed at a previous Festival.
So, how can we use this information to our advantage?
1. Avoid last time out winners in the Pertemps Final and Coral Cup
2. Focus on last time out winners in the Pulteney and Martin Pipe
3. Hold previous Festival form in high regard in graded races
4. Focus on last time out winners in the Arkle, Foxhunters, Bumper and Neptune
5. Don't rule out last time losers in the Champion Chase, Ryanair and RSA