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Preparing for the jumps: The National Hunt Season

The changeover from the flat season to the national hunt season is a dangerous time for betting. There’s no form to go on, you’re guessing at fitness and there are many horses changing codes; e.g. from flat to hurdles, from bumpers to hurdles, from hurdles to fences (steeplechasing – or chasing for short).

My National Hunt season rules

1. Hurdlers

Not all hurdlers make good chasers. Traditionally, horses make the transition as they get older and when the trainer schools them over the bigger obstacles.

Last year saw one of my favourite horses make the transition from hurdles to chasing, with a disappointing conclusion. Peddlers Cross was arguably one of the best hurdlers who only narrowly got outfought in the closing stages of the 2012 Champion Hurdle by Hurricane Fly. Last year he was sent chasing and he was just not the same horse over those obstacles.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Donald McCain reverts him back over hurdles this campaign to ignite PC’s enthusiasm.

My first rule is to watch those making the transition to see if they can successfully maintain hurdling ability and fluency whilst tackling the bigger obstacles.

 

2. Flat bred horses

There are many horses that swap stables and are introduced to hurdles as soon as they are schooled. Unfortunately, historical figures show us that flat bred horses very often don’t make good hurdlers and chasers.

Normally flat-bred horses will have a limit of around 2 – 2 1/2 miles, so they are usually only any good over those distances. You will very rarely find a flat-bred horse running in staying hurdles over 2m 6f and greater.

For rule number 2, I only consider flat-bred horses over hurdles when:

  1. They have proven that they can jump efficiently
  2. They are running over a suitable distance
  3. They show the ability that they can be effective in this scene

 

3. Official Rating

This one is crucial when understanding the National Hunt season.

When horses improve their rating by winning, the number of races that they qualify for becomes limited.

For example, if a horse continually wins his official rating will increase. If he started on a rating of say 100, he would have had loads of opportunities to race at smaller tracks in 0-110 races with easy fences, like Bangor, Towcester, Worcester, Southwell, Market Rasen, Sedgefield and the likes. When he gets to a rating of around 140, the opportunities to run at these tracks become almost impossible and the opportunities are only presented at the harder, more competitive tracks such as Cheltenham, Sandown, Kempton, Aintree and Chepstow. This is when commentators and race pundits will often mention the words “difficult to place”; i.e. it’ll be difficult for the horse to find a race that he qualifies for where he can realistically win.

Finding underestimated horses or well-handicapped horses over the jumps is just as beneficial as on the flat.

 

4. Younger horses

As a rule I tend to look at the younger horses in each race as they are likely to possess better speed. The old plodders will stay the same pace throughout and have a limited kick for speed at the end of a race. Younger horses may need to work on their jumping or may possess natural jumping ability, so spotting which category they fall must be judged in watching replays.

The Grand National is a good example where many are choosing 7 to 9 year olds within an analysis over those aged 10 and older due to their ability to possess a better kick for speed coming off the elbow into the home straight.

 

5. Hidden Gems

As mentioned above, flat-bred horses rarely develop into good jumpers. The ones that do develop into good jumpers and race in the staying races will normally be national hunt bred and start their careers in ‘bumpers’ – i.e. the National Hunt Flat races that usually conclude a jump meeting’s card.

Those that are successful in bumpers usually go on to take the staying hurdles and then often make the transition to chasing when they’re old enough and have the ability to do so.

Many hidden gems come through the bumper routes but there are even more that progress to bumpers from the Point To Point scene.

I followed Peddlers Cross during his PTP campaign which meant I was able to land 16-1 bets early in his career because the market did know of his potential. PC is now a ‘public horse’ so it’s odds will never be very high and will often be overbet.

Following PTP results and noting the horses that have changed hands when they’ve proved themselves to be successful can often be a sign that the horse is good enough to compete under rules.

There are loads of horses that find their way into the main stables like Charlie Longsdon, Rebecca Curtis, Nicky Henderson, Donald McCain, Colin Tizzard, Willie Mullins, Paul Nicholls, Warren Greatrex and many others from the PTP scene where they’ve demonstrated the ability the win, and most important of all been able to demonstrate a bit of class whilst winning.

Some value prices can be sought for these animals when running first time out as not everywhere documents their PTP history. To many punters this is the first time the horse has ever run so will overlook its chances and perhaps choose a horse with proven flat form figures instead (as mentioned above which is often futile); when in actual fact it has already demonstrated its abilities over the jumps within the PTP scene.

 

These are my main rules to adhere to when preparing for the national hunt season. Take it steady in the early weeks to determine the form and assess the ability of horses changing codes and do your homework on those that the market are likely to underestimate.

The PTP scene is not like non-league football is to those that follow the Premier League who largely consider it as insignificant. PTP is a real opportunity to spot quality race horses that are more than capable of winning in the very top class races. Spotting them early will definitely bear some big returns. It’s also a good sales / buying opportunity as well.

 

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