National Hunt’s Golden Rules

National Hunt's Golden Rules

The 10 Commandments

With the start of the jumps season upon us, expert Andrew Michael gives us 10 commandments to make revision pay

What was the worst bet you had during the last jumps season? Perhaps it was thinking Beef or Salmon was a certainty for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Many punters did because, amazingly, he was sent off favourite for that race.

‘Beefy’ is a grand horse, but his Cheltenham Festival record has been dismal. For the record, he finished 11th in 2006, after three previous attempts in jumps racing’s Blue Riband event where he had been pulled-up, finished fourth and fell. Hardly the record of a likely Gold Cup winner. Yet punters still lumped on him this time round and duly did their dough.

Making a profit from punting over the sticks is difficult enough without being seduced into having wallet-busting bets like these. Yet we all do it. So how best to steer clear of making these howlers?

A good way to swerve making ludicrous bets is to create a set of punting rules and then stick to them like glue. What follows is common sense. True, obeying strict rules could see you miss a few winners through the season. And while you may not earn a fortune from them either, they’ll probably save you from losing one. Let’s leave that to all those less savvy punters.

The First Commandment

A horse which performs well at a flat, easy or ‘speed’ track will not necessarily reproduce that kind of performance at a more testing course. This really is the most blindingly obvious National Hunt statement of them all and yet it’s still one punters ignore time and again, only to end up with burnt betting fingers. A horse which rattles up a sequence of wins at easy tracks such as Aintree’s Mildmay course, Fakenham, Hereford, Musselburgh, Southwell and Taunton should not be regarded as a shoo-in when it pitches up in a race at a course with a more testing layout. Particularly watch for courses with an uphill finish, such as Cheltenham, Sandown Park, Carlisle, Hexham and, the stiffest of all, Towcester.

The Second Commandment

For betting purposes, you should treat top-flight jumps horses who are on the comeback trail from injury with the maximum caution possible. It can be difficult for a horse making a return to high-grade contests after a lay-off to repeat the level of form that it once showed prior to suffering an injury. This season, several top chasers, including the likes of Kicking King, are due to make reappearances having been absent from the racetrack for several months. Sure enough, when they do reappear at the races, the bookies tend to keep the prices of these animals short – based more on the horses former reputations rather than on their current chances of winning. In this sort of situation, the decision should either be to have no bet at all or to look for value elsewhere in the race.

The Third Commandment

Say you have narrowed down your selection in a race to just two horses. One of them is ridden by a top-20 jumps jockey, while the other features a less able pilot who gets to claim weight from his more experienced rivals. In this situation, choose the pro every time. In flat races, a weight pull of a few pounds can be crucial and trainers often make clever use of apprentice jockeys to gain an upper hand. Over the sticks, however, it usually pays to follow the best horsemen around – even if that means giving a few pounds to a rival.

The Fourth Commandment

When the going turns properly heavy in the deep mid-winter, stick with horses which have already demonstrated their preference for this type of ground. Few horses actually enjoy galloping through mud. So if you can highlight a runner which relishes testing ground – even if they are one of the outsiders and their recent performances read like a row of duck eggs – then the chances are that you are sitting on a value bet.

The Fifth Commandment

This is so simple, but nevertheless so true. When trying to pick winners at Cheltenham, especially during the Festival each March, horses who have notched up previous successes at this unique course should also be high on your shortlist to triumph again.

The Sixth Commandment

Slightly modify the old racing maxim which says, ‘Don’t bet odds-on in a novice chase’. This is true if the race is priced-up based solely on a horse’s hurdling form. But if the horse has already shown ability over fences (boasting a win or having finished close up in a previous novice chase), then his chances of winning as an odds-on shot are probably no better or worse than if it was any other kind of race.

The Seventh Commandment

Dispense with the old chestnut that gets trotted out every year that two-and-a-half-mile chasers have the best characteristics to win the Grand National. Utter bunkum.

The Eighth Commandment

There are several prestigious two-mile handicap hurdles with major pots of prize money run each season. But pinpointing the winner is incredibly difficult because, a bit like the big summer sprint handicaps on the flat, horses often appear to land these races in turn. As a result, you should be prepared to reduce stakes on these races to a minimum. Instead, concentrate on handicap hurdles run over the more stamina-sapping race distances of three miles plus. Horses who have already demonstrated winning form over such distances have a habit of cropping up time and again in these races.

The Ninth Commandment

This commandment concerns horses who are taking a step up the racing ladder into better classes of race at more imposing tracks. When it comes to steeplechasers who are already competing in high-grade contests at quality tracks, it is often difficult to crab the chances of a good jumper who won last time out. In these situations, it is often futile trying to uncover a ‘live’ outsider with which you can take on a fancied runner. On these occasions, you might just as well lump on alongside your fellow punters.

The Tenth Commandment

Finally, remember that the clue is in the name and this fine sport is called jumps racing. If you can spot athletic horses which bend their backs and tackle obstacles with relish, you will unearth a rich seam of winners down the years. But by the same token, treat those so-called experts with caution when they trot out the old line that ‘such and such a horse may not be a fluent hurdler now, but just wait until you see him over fences’. The chances are that he will be just as poor, if not worse at those larger, more unforgiving obstacles.

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