Andy Gibson's Cheltenham Festival review: After the Lord Mayor's Show

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While it would be very easy to join in with all the eulogising after any impressive looking Cheltenham Festival success, I would suggest that it might be wise to take a step back and consider the consequences of any such victory. The one thing we can be pretty sure about is that any wide margin success or 'out of the ordinary' performance is likely to be followed by the horse in question trading shorter than he or she should next time out and maybe for his next two or three starts. Hype plays a significant role in determining the price of any successful horse the next time they visit the racecourse. This hype can be multiplied many times over when considering the consequences of any supremely impressive looking performances at the Cheltenham Festival.

Cheltenham Festival 2021

At the 2021 Cheltenham Festival I recorded five performances in graded races which I felt were 'out of the ordinary' and well in advance of anything those horses had managed to achieve previously. More importantly, perhaps, all five of those winners resulted in extremely enthusiastic media responses from the TV pundits as well as racing journalists over the following few days. The horses I noted were Appreciate It, Bob Olinger, Allaho, Flooring Porter and Vanillier. This quintet traded at odds of 100/30, 1/3, 6/4, 100/30 and 100/30 respectively on their next outings and the sole winner from that group was Bob Olinger, who won at odds of 1/3. The point is not so much that four of the five failed to win, as I am sure we could easily find a few exciting winners who followed up with another success on their subsequent starts. The point of interest here is that whatever the reasons for such 'out of the ordinary displays', a big performance can take a lot out of any horse and result in them being less likely to repeat such a feat the next time we see them. The market, however, will tend to move in the opposite direction and not consider the possibility of the successful horse regressing to mean. Because of this pattern, those five horses arguably all traded at short prices (even more so in the early markets) in relation to what was being asked of them in their follow-up races.

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Cheltenham Festival 2022

In 2022 I noted all Grade One winners that managed to put three lengths or more between themselves and their nearest pursuer. Ten horses qualified using this criteria and the record of those ten horses on their next outing reads: 1 2 1 2 3 3 1 1 1 P - which translates to a 50 per cent strike rate. Once again, the point here is not whether they were able to win on their subsequent outing, but rather the price they started at due to that impressive looking Cheltenham Festival success. Despite enjoying a 50 per cent strike rate, anyone betting on all ten horses to follow up next time would have still made a small loss backing all of them.

What about the 2023 Cheltenham Festival?

The seven horses that won a grade one contest at the 2023 Cheltenham Festival by three lengths or more are as follows:

  • Marine Nationale

  • El Fabiolo

  • Constitution Hill

  • Impaire Et Passe

  • Energumene

  • Stage Star

  • Galopin Des Champs

I would suggest that statistics like this should represent the beginning of our studies rather than be viewed as an end in themselves. From the above list, the Willie Mullins horses will trade very short for the Punchestown Festival and will presumably face easier tasks than the ones they have just excelled in. However, even if most or all of them are successful next time out at Punchestown, I doubt it will make much difference to our pockets backing them all given the prices they are likely to start at. For now, I have no interest in opposing Constitution Hill, whilst I will prefer to remain open-minded as to the claims of Marine Nationale should he race again at one of the other spring festivals. Personally, I would be more interested should a horse like Stage Star trade very short for the Grade One Manifesto Chase at Aintree. After all, there can be little doubt that he enjoyed the run of the race in the Turners' Novices' Chase; furthermore, his overall profile suggests that while he may excel when enjoying an untroubled lead, he is not the most certain to prevail when the going gets tough. He hung badly left when beaten by Sebastopol at Newbury in November and was also pulled up at each of the 2022 Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals. In addition, the Manifesto Chase is the first race of the Aintree Festival and is often run at a strong gallop. If this trait repeats itself next month it will make it that bit more difficult for Stage Star to enjoy another solo run up front.

One more to consider

Envoi Allen may have won the Ryanair Chase by less than the required three lengths; nevertheless, the horse he beat into second spot was Shishkin who was thought by many to be one of the bankers of the festival after his scintillating looking Betfair Ascot Chase success.

Since moving to the Henry De Bromhead stable in early March 2021, Envoi Allen's form figures read: F P 1 6 1 3 3 1 7 1 - which translates to a 40 per cent strike rate. I am hoping that the name of the horse Envoi Allen beat into second place results in this relatively inconsistent type trading shorter than his profile merits next time out. My preference would be to see this Ryanair Chase winner turn up at Aintree in the middle of April to contest the Melling Chase. Along with the aforementioned Stage Star, the Henry de Bromhead horse is one of the two horses I am most interested in opposing next time out. This does not automatically mean I will bet against them on the day, however, as first of all I will need to see a viable rival in opposition to take them on with.

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