February’s finest NH performers

We are approaching the business end of the National Hunt season as it gets closer to the two main festivals; Cheltenham in March and Aintree in April. By the time February rolls around, all eyes are firmly on the massive meeting at Cheltenham the following month where the Gold Cup and several other Grade 1 races take place.

February can be a tricky time of year to bet because you’re not quite sure if a horse that is likely to run at Cheltenham is anywhere near its peak yet. Some trainers are content to simply give horses a preparation run with their mind on the big prize money available in a few weeks’ time. Other trainers may view it as an opportunity to snare a few winners but from a punter’s perspective, who should we watch?

In this article, I am going to analyse NH stats from Februarys gone by to help you find the trainers to watch.

The Big Three 

You can tell that the big races are coming because at the time I wrote this, Willie Mullins, Nicky Henderson, and Paul Nicholls had 125 entries between them in the previous 14 days. Let’s see how the intrepid trio performs in February in comparison to their normal statistics.

Willie Mullins

Mullins is a difficult one to analyse because he seldom enters horses in British races outside of March and April. Instead, he enters most of his horses in Ireland. Here is how he has performed overall in Februarys since 2014:

Bets  Wins  Strike Rate ROI (BF)
297 88 29.63% 25.84%

Mullins is in profit for the last four Februarys, but stats are inflated by an exceptional 2016 where you would have profited to the tune of over 108%.

Here is how he performs in Hurdles

Bets  Wins  Strike Rate ROI (BF)
165 49 29.7% 35.6%

Good overall but a poor 2018 to date with a loss of 75%.

What about Chases?

Bets  Wins  Strike Rate ROI (BF)
91 28 30.77% 5.05%

Not bad but most readers have loftier ambitions than a 5% profit.

Here is how he performs in all NH races since January 2014:

Bets  Wins  Strike Rate ROI (BF)
2857 846 29.61% 3.51%

Overall, we can see that Mullins performs well in February hurdles races in comparison to his overall performance which means his Irish mounts are worth a look in future.

Nicky Henderson

Henderson is another prolific trainer and averages hundreds of entries a month. Here is how he does in the month of February since 2014.

Bets  Wins  Strike Rate ROI (BF)
241 68 28.22% -21.82%

Although his strike rate is similar to that of Mullins, Henderson’s horses are clearly short priced in the main. Does he do any better with Hurdles?

Bets  Wins  Strike Rate ROI (BF)
147 41 27.89% -30.52%

No! In fact, you would be better off laying Henderson’s horses in Hurdles events in February as you would earn a profit of almost 25% with profit in each of the last five years.

Let’s see if his Chase entries have better fortune:

Bets  Wins  Strike Rate ROI (BF)
51 15 29.41% -18.04%

With a strike rate of close to 30%, you would expect profit, but once again, you see nothing but loss. Laying his Chase entries would yield a profit of 10%

Overall, Henderson is not a punter’s friend when you look at his record in all NH races since the beginning of 2014.

Bets  Wins  Strike Rate ROI (BF)
2154 527 24.47% -6.7%

A loss of 6.7% means you need to find other ways to make money from Nicky Henderson rides.

Paul Nicholls 

On to the final member of the trainer’s triumvirate. How does Paul Nicholls fare in February? All stats from February 2014.

Bets  Wins  Strike Rate ROI (BF)
308 75 24.35% -13.63%

Once again, there is nothing wrong with the strike rate, but it is a poor return for us. Laying his horses would result in a 6% profit. How does he do in Hurdles?

Bets  Wins  Strike Rate ROI (BF)
160 40 25% 0.68%

Once again, good strike rate, unimpressive ROI. You can already tell that his Chase stats will be poor.

Bets  Wins  Strike Rate ROI (BF)
124 31 25% -30.48%

While a 25%-win rate is fine, a loss of over 30% is crippling. If you lay his horses, you will benefit from a profit of almost 25%. If you lay all his non-favourites in Chase races, your profit will be over 40%.

Here is how Nicholls has performed since January 2014.

Bets  Wins  Strike Rate ROI (BF)
2436 555 22.78% -3.82%

As you can see, Nicholls’ overall record is better than his standalone February record. While Willie Mullins performs well in the lead up to Cheltenham, it is clear that Nicholls and Henderson view February as nothing more than a warm-up month.

Are There Any Other Good ‘February’ Trainers?

Unfortunately, there is a dearth of trainers with a solid February record.

Fergal O’Brien

O’Brien is one trainer who has excelled in recent times. After a poor 2014 and 2015 in February, the last three Februarys have been superb:

Bets  Wins  Strike Rate ROI (BF)
61 16 26.23% 111.78%

Things get even better when you look at Chase events only:

Bets  Wins  Strike Rate ROI (BF)
26 10 38.46% 139.93%

To be fair, O’Brien does well in all NH races since January 2014:

Bets  Wins  Strike Rate ROI (BF)
1185 184 15.53% 12.47%

Sue Smith 

Smith seems to have a stellar February NH record at first glance:

Bets  Wins  Strike Rate ROI (BF)
142 27 19.01% 41.55%

However, you would have double-digit losses in three of the last five years.

Final Thoughts on NH Races in February

Although it would be nice to believe that certain NH trainers excel in a specific month, it is seldom the case. Willie Mullins and Fergal O’Brien are about the most reliable trainers in February, and it is clear that most of the top trainers are more concerned about Cheltenham and Aintree. Next week, I will look at statistics relating to the final weeks before the Gold Cup. Are there any trainers with a fantastic record or should you keep your powder dry and wait for the major festivals?

Patrick Lynch

Patrick graduated from the National University of Ireland, Galway with an MA in Literature and Publishing but decided he would rather have the freedom of a freelance writer than be stuck in a publishing house all day. He has enjoyed this freedom since 2009 and has written thousands of articles on a variety of topics but sports betting is his passion. While his specialty is finding mismatches in obscure football leagues, he also likes to use his research skills to provide punters with detailed winning strategies in horse racing. You can check out his personal blog on or Twitter @pl1982 where he writes content to help small businesses achieve success.
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