The tell-tale signs that Christmas is around the corner have been gathering for a while: Christmas trees, Christmas songs and Christmas advent calendars have been in the shops for weeks now, Christmas office parties have been planned, and in some cases already consummated, and some mad people have even started buying Christmas presents.
In the world of horseracing, it could be argued that the countdown to Christmas truly starts at Newbury this weekend, with the late-November/early-December tradition that is the Hennessy Gold Cup, or, as it is now known, the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase.
Indeed, at times it has seemed as if the race was Christmas come early. This is one of the great events of the jumps calendar, and it has been won by some of the greats of the sport.
Arkle won twice under 12-07 in the 1960s, Burrough Hill Lad won in 1984 under 12-00, One Man trotted up under a feather weight in 1994 and Denman twice shouldered 11-12 to victory in the 2000s. Subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup winners Bobs Worth and Native River have been successful in the race this decade. We could be due another star turn.
What such a well-established event does lend itself to is a degree of “trends” analysis. The same sorts of horses contest it, year in, year, out, and it may well see the same sorts of horses running well or poorly. Let’s have a look.
The above figures are taken from the last 10 editions of the Hennessy/Ladbrokes, with runs, wins, places, impact values (factor by which a horse won or placed compared to chance) for wins and places, and % of rivals beaten for all horses in a category, not just for those that happened to run well. Higher figures for IVs and %RBs are particularly worth paying attention to.
So, it may be seen that horses younger than seven have provided eight places from just 25 runners at a rate of one and a half times what could be expected randomly and by beating an impressive 60% of their rivals.
The win IV figures are even more impressive for higher-weighted horses (seven winners out of 10 from less than one-third of the representation), the same for place IV and not quite so good for %RB.
There is a slight edge to having run once in the season under review, and to having won in that period also, and there are some impressive returns for horses near the front end of the market even after expectation is factored in by varying stakes in line with the horses’ Betfair SPs.
Shorter-priced, higher-weighted, younger horses are appealing, then.
There are just two six-year-olds in the field of 24 (plus one reserve), only one of them due to carry more than 11-00, and that horse is near the front of the market. With justification, in my view.
Mister Malarky earned his 150 BHA mark with a highly successful novice season, in which he won three times from six starts, most notably the Grade 2 Reynoldstown Novice Chase at Ascot from the smart pair Now McGinty and Yalltari.
A feature of that contest was an overly-strong pace – the leaders got to three out a dozen or more lengths ahead of Cheltenham Gold Cup candidates in the Denman Chase later – which brought stamina very much into play. Mister Malarky was like a duck in water, never more impressive than at the death.
No excuses are needed for Mister Malarky’s defeats at Cheltenham (fourth in a red-hot RSA Chase) and Aintree (second in a large-field handicap), but they are required for his well-beaten twelfth at Ascot on his recent return.
That looked to be a pipe-opener with this race in mind, and Timeform’s reporter further opined “…went with more promise than the distance beaten suggests…should be much straighter for this…”.
Mister Malarky wears cheekpieces for the first time here, possibly due to some occasionally sloppy jumping of late, and is “partnered by exceptional conditional” Jonjo O’Neill Jr for just the second time. A good run, and certainly a much better run than the other day, seems odds on.
There are, of course, lots of dangers, but perhaps not so many upwardly-mobile types as usual.
Cabaret Queen was most impressive last time but has taken a massive hike in the handicap, OK Corral is highly talented but lacks experience over larger obstacles, and Dingo Dollar has place claims at a bigger price but may lack the potential to find the extra for a win.
Meanwhile, the rain has come in time for a horse, in Mister Malarky, who looks to have almost bottomless reserves of stamina.
This is a race better tackled with an each-way bet than a win bet in mathematical terms (124% win book at current best odds, but just 103% per place, and that’s before any enhancements to the latter), so that is the recommendation.
1 pt e/w Mister Malarky at 9/1