January is often a quieter month than normal for National Hunt trainers, mainly down to the fact that the Cheltenham Festival is just around the corner, and that most yards use January to give their horses an annual flu jab. There are some trainers, however, who maintain high levels in the first month of the year.
Over the last five years Nicky Henderson’s strike rate in January is 31%, whereas his average strike rate over the last five seasons is 24.2%. Admittedly, the latter is over a much bigger sample of runners, but it still shows that Henderson doesn’t suffer a dip in form during this period. The yard have had a high turnover of runners, too, saddling 284 horses. Backing Henderson’s horses blind in January would have returned you a level-stake profit of 46.22 at Betfair SP.
Similarly, Harry Fry figures prominently in terms of strike rate and profit. He has operated at a strike rate of 28.7% in January over the last five seasons and, just like Henderson, this is higher than his average seasonal strike rate of 22%. A healthy level-stake profit of 33.50 at Betfair SP is also noteworthy and he has already made a flying start to this year, with five winners from just 13 runners (at the time of writing).
However, the most profitable trainer in January over the last five years has been Sue Smith, who has returned a level-stake profit of 124.68 at Betfair SP. She endured a torrid start to this season, having to wait until the 24th November for her first winner - in the shape of Informateur who won a handicap hurdle at Uttoxeter – but has been going along steadily since. She duly saddled a winner with her first runner in January when Midnight Shadow – albeit fortuitously – won the Dipper Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.
You would expect the leading yards to have relatively consistent strike rates throughout the season, but Paul Nicholls is one who has a quieter period during January. Nicholls’ strike rate of 17.2% is below his average seasonal one of 22% and his number of runners is much reduced, too, as he has saddled just 256 horses in January over the last five years compared to the 511 in December. You would have made a loss of £32.77 at Betfair SP backing his horses in January. It is interesting, however, that his strike rate jumps to 26.2% in February, so any quiet period brought about by the administration of flu jabs does not last for long .
Jonjo O’Neill is another whose yard is quieter in January – he has just a 6.9% strike rate from 233 runners in the last five seasons. His runners tend to be at the top of their game later in the season, though, and his haul of 26 Cheltenham Festival winners is one of the best around. Tedham, who is entered in a Pertemps Qualifier at Warwick this weekend, will likely be a horse of particular interest at the Festival.