In week three, we look closer to home once again, as Joe Napier asks whether Kempton is too different from Cheltenham to give us any pointers to Festival success.
Kempton could not be more topographically opposed to Cheltenham. The Festival sees its competitors navigate undulations throughout its circuits, whereas Kempton is almost pancake flat and tight. The longer the trips at either track, the more contrasting they get, so that once you reach 3m, Cheltenham will be a thorough stamina test, while less hardy horses may be able to see out the trip around Kempton.
Therefore, you would not expect many races, Graded or otherwise, to produce many winners at Cheltenham. We have already seen that only some course form is handy, and that Leopardstown has a fantastic recent record of providing Festival winners in keeping with the rise of Irish domination. But are the expectations surrounding Kempton, and that the tracks are simply too different, accurate regarding Festival form?
It is worth pointing out, before diving into the details, that while the galloping nature of the courses is very different, both are severe enough jumping tests. Kempton’s fences come very rhythmically, one after another, so you have to be foot-perfect, while Cheltenham’s stiffer, spaced-out fences can take a lot out of even the most talented runners with a bad leap.
If you’re a Kempton skeptic, then the answers you are looking for are true. We will get to the chasers, who fare marginally better, but the numbers do not bode well for Kempton participants earlier in their Festival seeking season. In 226 hurdles races at the course within the last ten years, just ten winners have emerged, at a strike rate of a paltry 4.4%.
The sole beacon of light is the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day. Five of those ten winners have come from that race, four of those going on to secure the Champion Hurdle later that season. Good news then for Constitution Hill, who also won the race last year en route to glory on the Tuesday of Cheltenham, while Faugheen, Buveur D’Air and Epatante also did the double.
No winners of Cheltenham contests had run in a novice or maiden hurdle earlier in the season, with the only other five winners emerging from five separate handicaps. Even this broadly provides us with the pointer of avoid at all costs, with one coming from the Pertemps qualifier in November, two running at the Christmas meeting, one in the Lanzarote Hurdle in January, and one in February’s juvenile hurdle.
If you are intent on finding a winner, perhaps at a price given Kempton runners’ record, in any handicap at the Festival, don’t necessarily look for a horse who won at the track, as four of the five winners to come from handicaps did not win their respective races.
As mentioned above, chasers have done slightly better having run at Kempton before going onto Festival success. 15 winners have emerged from 188 different races, this strike rate of 8% being close to double that of the hurdlers.
What is interesting is the success of the Graded contests at Christmas. 12 of those 15 winners emerged from the four Graded contests on the 26th and 27th December: the Kauto Star, King George, Wayward Lad and Desert Orchid (now run as a limited handicap).
Rather neatly, all four have provided three winners each.The 2m races, the Wayward Lad and Desert Orchid, were very consistent in which races they gave winners to, with all of the winners, Altior, Shishkin and Edwardstone, from the former having won that race and gone on to claim the Arkle, and the latter’s winners, Sprinter Sacre, Special Tiara and Altior, doing the same for the Champion Chase.
In the 3m contests, things are much different. For starters, no horse has won the King George in our time frame and gone on to win at Cheltenham, with all three Festival victors having been beaten in the race. Envoi Allen (7th) and Vautour (2nd) were both vanquished before gaining compensation in the Ryanair, while Don Cossack was denied the possibility of a King George-Gold Cup double by falling at the second last in the former in 2015.
In the Kauto Star, Coneygree did win twice, but made the extremely unusual step of going for the Gold Cup as a novice. He duly made history in the big one, though the other two Cheltenham winners, Topofthegame and Might Bite, both failed, although the latter would have won by a wide-margin at Kempton but for falling at the last.
Of the other three winners, two claimed the now defunct novices’ handicap, so there is even more doom and gloom for the statisticians in this respect.
There is no bumpers section necessary this week, with no winners coming from the 19 bumper races run in this time period. The timing of each meeting at Kempton may contribute to their low Cheltenham winner haul: May and October are too early given the optimum time frame for a Cheltenham build-up, the Christmas meeting clashes with Leopardstown, while February’s two cards are likely too close to the Festival.
However, if there is one thing to take away, it is to not overlook the success of Kempton’s Christmas Graded races. While they are up against Leopardstown’s Irish giants, 17 winners have come from the 45 runnings of open Graded contests in December. Constitution Hill needs no favours from history, but his Christmas Hurdle success still augurs well.
Similarly, the connections of Shishkin and Bravemansgame need not be too disheartened from being beaten in the King George, as losers of that race have an infinitely better recent record at Cheltenham than winners, while perhaps Kilbeg King and Giovinco could surprise after defeat in the Kauto Star. Lastly, keep an eye on Master Chewy in the Arkle after his ready victory in the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase. The Tuesday novice contest looks open for the taking this year.
In last week’s opening edition of the Festival Pointers column, we learned that the rearranged Clarence House Chase points to many Cheltenham winners if run at Prestbury Park, while it can also pay to follow chasers in handicap hurdles at Cheltenham. Equally, it is worth watching out for the form of the novice handicap chases….
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