Weighed In: Novice numbers | Statistical insight and horses to follow

Find out which horses have caught Ben's eye this week

Ben Linfoot wonders if there are punting angles to be had in novice handicap chases and picks out a couple more eyecatchers for his horses to follow list.

Statistical Insight - Novice Handicap Chases

Novice handicap chases have vastly increased in number over the last decade or so as part of a BHA initiative to improve field sizes, competitiveness and betting appeal in the sphere.

I’ve long thought that these type of races offer an opportunity to the punter to find an edge, largely because we are dealing with inexperienced horses over fences.

Often, these days, you’ll find a chasing debutant in a novice handicap with a rating allotted to them on a judgement of their hurdling form, so that immediately makes these contests a bit different.

Usually you have some racecourse evidence ahead of a horse making their handicap debut, but in the world of novice handicap chasing this is often not the case – certainly when it comes to them jumping an actual fence in public.

Such thrills appeal to the most masochistic of punters (me) and maybe we can find an edge by looking through the numbers to see if certain trainers or sires thrive in this risky pursuit.

Table 1: UK Trainers in novice handicap chases by winners

Firstly, the table above is purely based on number of winners, just to see who succeeds in these races more often than others.

Paul Nicholls and Tom George are tied at the top for numbers of winners in the sphere, with Jonjo O’Neill and Venetia Williams also part of the 100 club.

All have respectable strike-rates compared to their overall winners-to-runners percentage, but in truth there’s not an awful lot we can take from the data and I’d rather look at the trainers that don’t quite have such a quantity of ammunition.

Table 2: UK Trainers in novice handicap chases over 20 runners by strike-rate

Some healthy strike-rates are on show here and the one that stands out is Dan Skelton’s, his 23.01 per cent figure being carved from 226 runners.

John Quinn hasn’t had a novice handicap chaser run since the May of 2018, so Harry Fry probably deserves to be top of this particular chart after his four winners from nine runners in novice chase handicaps last year.

He’s still to have a winner in the sphere in 2019, but is clearly one to look out for when he has a qualifier and the same can be said for Harry Whittington, Kerry Lee and Nick Williams.

Shropshire trainer John Groucott, who has a 9 per cent strike-rate overall, certainly seems to excel in the novice handicap chasing field, winning 11 from 47 at 23.4 per cent.

His entries are worth monitoring when he has a local runner, as his victories have come at Bangor, Hereford, Huntingdon, Leicester, Ludlow, Southwell, Stratford, Worcester – and he’s even one from one at Cheltenham thanks to Midnight Target’s win in the April of 2018.

His near 60 per cent rivals beaten figure from almost 50 runners tells you he knows what he’s doing with a novice handicap chaser and it’s a record well worth bearing in mind.

Table 3: Trainers with chasing debutants in novice handicap chases by strike-rate over 20 runners

As I alluded to at the top, it’s the chasing debutants that intrigue me in this genre and some trainers are carving out good records with first-time-out-fencers in a novice handicap chase.

Emma Lavelle, her stable probably renowned for developing chasers, tops the charts here with an excellent 27.08 per cent strike-rate, with Richard Rowe not far behind on 25.58 per cent.

Nicky Henderson doesn’t have as many runners in these sort of races as his contemporaries (his overall record is 51/300 at 17 per cent), but he excels with chasing debutants in novice handicap chases as a 24.19 win strike-rate shows.

Skelton performs well with chasing debutants in novice handicap chases, too, his rivals beaten percentage of 55.50 the highest in the list.

Table 4: Trainers with chasing debutants in novice handicap chases by P and L

As for profitable trainers to follow, David Bridgwater has amassed a level stakes profit of +49.50 to starting price from just eight winners.

His biggest-priced win was at 25/1 and he’s had winners at 13/2, 8/1, 12/1 and 20/1, too, so it’s not just one huge odds victor that’s skewed the results.

Similar comments apply to David Pipe, his P&L helped by one 25/1 winner but also achieved by having six winners between 7/2 and 8/1.

Seamus Mullins makes the list despite a smaller strike-rate thanks to 16/1, 28/1 and 33/1 winners, while Robin Dickin has had a 20/1 winner and a couple of 16/1 scorers, too.

Nicky Henderson and Emma Lavelle, who came out so well in the strike-rate table, have churned out profitable results with first-time chasers in the sphere, as well.

Table 5: Chasing debutants in novice handicap chases by sires over 20 runners with qualifiers this year

The last thing I looked at was National Hunt sires, to see if a certain type of horse has thrived as a chasing debutant in a novices’ handicap chase.

I’ve only included sires that have had 20 runners or more, including at least one qualifier this year, and the one that sticks out to me is Midnight Legend.

A high-class jumps sire, he’s responsible for Gold Cup winner Sizing John as well as horses of the calibre of Midnight Chase and Seeyouatmidnight and is a renowned source of a proper steeplechaser.

It’s perhaps no surprise to see him fare so well in this list, but with 16 first-time chase winners to his name in novice handicap chases at 19.28 per cent, with over 50 per cent of rivals beaten, the evidence very much backs up the assertion.

From a smaller pool of data, those above him in the list by way of strike-rate are probably worth monitoring too.


My Stable Eyecatchers

MAGIC SAINT (Paul Nicholls)

I thought MAGIC SAINT shaped very nicely in the BetVictor Gold Cup on his first start for 208 days and he’s well worth following in the short term.

Back up in trip to 2m4f for the first time in five starts, he travelled into the contest smoothly before his effort flattened out up the hill.

Eventually finishing fifth, this was a really encouraging run on his first start since wind surgery and the handicapper has dropped him 1lb to 147 on the back of it.

He’s only 5lb higher than when hosing up at Wincanton in February, and a drop in trip or slightly better ground (or both) would be very much in his favour next time.

HAPPYGOLUCKY (Kim Bailey)

Thyme Hill looks a horse out of the top drawer and I don’t think there was anything wrong with HAPPYGOLUCKY’s effort behind him on Saturday. His jumping was particularly impressive.

Eventually third in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, Happygolucky looked the biggest danger to Thyme Hill at the second last but had to give way to the vastly more experienced Champagne Well up the hill.

A close-up third behind the runner-up, this was a terrific effort from Kim Bailey’s horse on just his third start (including a point-to-point) and he looks one to follow.

Going up in trip could help, but he’s been allotted a handicap mark of 137 and he could well have a say in such company off that rating between 2m4f and three miles in the coming months.


Weighed In: My Stable Horses To Follow

With two more added we have seven to keep an eye on in the coming weeks and Lisp looks like being the first runner at Warwick on Wednesday.

He caught the eye in handicap hurdle company at Ascot but Alan King reports that he’s schooled well ahead of his chasing debut so his progress will be closely monitored.

Further afield the chasing debut of Old Rascals could well be at the Ladbrokes Trophy meeting at Newbury and I can’t wait to see him over a fence.

He absolutely bolted up against subsequent Aintree scorer Champagne Mystery when last seen and could be very well treated off 134 over fences on that evidence.

And discovering Emma Lavelle’s superb record with first-time out chasers in novice handicap company has only increased anticipation for this one’s fencing debut.


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