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How To Bet On National Hunt Racing and Win

The National Hunt season runs throughout the year these days, but the winter months provide the bulk of the top class action, with the entire year geared towards the Cheltenham Festival in March. Here we look at five angles and strategies for profitable trading and betting for the National Hunt season.

#1 – Search For Those In-Running Angles And Trades

With “getting on” becoming an increasingly difficult task for anyone with more than half a clue, many punters are now completely exchange focussed with in-running options forming a major part of their betting activity. The advent of the “Betfair live” pictures from every track, with the action far closer to reality, has definitely changed things for the better. It is now certainly possible to play in-running, certainly in the first half of jump races, and the importance of learning run-styles, biases and traits has never been more important.

The frontrunning angle, where players back the horse they feel will get an untouched lead (and then trade out for an “all green” book soon after) is now something of a dead-duck. Often the price of the likely leader is artificially cramped pre-race because of this, and certainly if you can make a case for something spoiling on the lead, then value can be located elsewhere.

The way a race is being run is important to quickly assess, with “how fast are they going?” an immediate question that needs to be asked after two jumps by any trader. If the gallop appears breakneck (especially on rain-eased ground), then the value can lie with those residing in rear (often out of camera-shot). It is not only the characteristics of the horses that the astute player needs to learn, but also the mindset of the jockeys. Some are better judges of pace than others, with Aidan Coleman and James Reveley for example both excelling on frontrunners/waiting in front, while more patient pilots (such as Paul Moloney and Denis O'Regan) are both expert at finessing tricky sorts home on the bridle without knowing they have had a race.

Some such as Tom Scudamore frequently hare off far too fast, with nothing left at the business end, while others such as the out of fashion Andrew Thornton (now nearing retirement and becoming more agricultural), are often being immediately aware of any track bias (watch how wide he goes at Towcester in deep ground). Its all about opinions, and only those that can think quickly and correctly can survive in the ultra competitive world of in-running betting.

#2 – Unique Courses Produce Unique Results

Jumps courses are unique and results from each venue should be treated independently. Learning which courses suit certain horses is a massive part of becoming a profitable punter, and learning when a bias exists is an important part of assessing the form and merits of what a winner has achieved.

At Market Rasen for example, frontrunners have been hugely favoured on decent ground, proving very hard to catch even if they have set what appears to a rapid early gallop. Compare this sharp, speed orientated venue with Leicester or Towcester on easy ground, and it is like watching a completely different sport. At the last two venues, the finishes are regularly fought out by runners who are tired even before the home turn and the action develops in a slow motion slog. Clearly, the state of the ground plays a major part in this, but certain horses are much better suited by certain venues and backing an impressive Market Rasen winner to follow up at Towcester is generally a route to the poorhouse.

Obviously that is an extreme example to prove a point, and there are plenty of similarities between some venues, particularly places such as Taunton and Ludlow or Newbury and Ffos Las. But in general it can be dangerous to back the “form horse” when that form has been achieved under totally different circumstances.

Likewise as the summer-jumps turns into “proper” winter National Hunt racing, the form of the previous few months is almost always a stone below what is required to compete from November onwards. The winning sequences (and rise up the handicap) achieved at Worcester and Southwell in the summer, is usually surpassed when the bigger guns come out to play.

#3 – Price Up The Races To 100% And Turn 'The Machine' On Last

Try and focus on certain races and price them up to 100% before looking at the machine. It is all too easy to turn on Betfair first and allow that quiet, low turnover market to guide your view of a race. Look at the runners the night before and loosely price up the “perfect” market. This is excellent in identifying value (and also finding out the runners that are apparently not “fancied” when the race comes around). It's not a precise science and prices formed should by no means be set in stone, but it does provide a parameter to view a race and prevents following the crowd and backing at far too short a price close to the off.

There is little doubt now that the momentum horses at the front of the market are, as a general rule of thumb, far too short pre-race (particularly those trained or owned or ridden by the prominent names). Pricing up your own idea of their chances independently is an excellent habit to get into.

#4 – Out With The Old And In With The New

This could be the time where things change dramatically at the top of the National Hunt tree, and punters can cash in by opposing the “overbet names” from the more established yards. Paul Nicholls is a prime example here, with his stable lacking a few top class performers and many of his former pupils now making their own way up the ladder (it is a telling sign that he has recently had to advertise publicly for staff).

Instead punters should side with trainers such as Dan Skelton, Anthony Honeyball, Neil Mulholland, Harry Fry and Jeremy Scott. These yards have an impressive strike rate, and are beginning to attract new owners and more horses as a result. They have proved adept with other people's “cast-offs” and place all runners carefully, rarely over-facing them and knowing their traits and preferences. The bigger yards, by their very nature, cannot be so precise or meticulous, and certainly from a betting point of view there is little “juice” in backing their fancied runners.

The same principles hold true with the jockeys, with McCoy out of the way, Richard Johnson has seized the initiative and is poised to win his first ever jockeys championship in 2016. However, it can still pay financially to latch onto the young brigade, and there appears a rich seam of promising pilots emerging who are destined for great things.

Jack Sherwood and Sean Bowen are two claimers who have both shown terrific natural ability in just a handful of rides and are worth watching carefully this season. Both are bred for the job, hailing from racing families, and are natural horseman. Just dig out the replay of Bowen winning on the tricky Ballybough Gorta at Cartmel on 21st July if you need convincing (saw a stride at every fence), or watch Sherwood winning narrowly on Dazinski at Newton Abbot on August 13th (strong in a finish and tactically flawless).

While two lady riders, Lizzie Kelly and the excellent Bridget Andrew, are both connected to top yards and look set to really make the breakthrough over the next few years (Kelly in particular has excelled in winning a Grade 1 on Teafortwo this winter). They both still claim an allowance which is a terrific edge given their natural strength and riding ability.

#5 – Five Horses To Follow This National Hunt Season

Kylemore Lough – Kerry Lee made a real breakthrough in 2016, and this sound jumping mudlark has created a deep impression since tackling fences. He raced with zest on the lead at Haydock in February, doing remarkably well to survive one horrific blunder and galloping on relentlessly in the manner of a stayer to follow into Graded company going forwards.

Blandfords Gunner – Evan Williams lightly raced sort has made a decent start over fences, winning readily in a small field at Leicester before running a blinder in a warm Sandown handicap (raced widest throughout and made up his ground too quickly). He is a sound jumper with plenty of improvement to come as his stamina is furthe drawn out.

Fixe Le Cap – Nicky Henderson's juvenile was turned over at a short price at Haydock in February, but lost nothing in defeat in a muddling small field contest (did not settle in the lead and rider rather caught napping when his market rival quickened). He has plenty of size to make a chaser in time, and certainly has far more scope to improve for racing than most in his division.

Brise Vendeenne – shaped really well when finishing a clear second to the useful Lifeboat Mona at Wincanton (sent off a very heavily backed 11/10f), and looks just the sort who will bloom once transferred to handicaps over three miles.

Racing Europe – Brian Ellison's 7-y-o is starting to get the hang of chasing and is just the type to rattle up a sequence in the North. He stays marathon trips and was an unlucky loser at Sedgefield in January, where a slow gallop did not suit his run style and the field finished in something of a heap. A frontrunning ride, with the excellent Danny Cook in the plate, could see him in a different light in the coming months. National Hunt season runs throughout the year these days, but the winter months provide the bulk of the top class action, with the entire year geared towards the Cheltenham Festival in March. Here we look at five angles and strategies for profitable trading and betting on the jumps.

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