Should you focus on specific yards in the lead up to major events?

Bookmakers tend to enjoy the unpredictability of major festivals such as Cheltenham, Newmarket, and Aintree. With so many world-class horses facing off against one another, it can be a nightmare to choose a potential winner. Occasionally, such as the Cheltenham Festival in 2017, a significant number of favourites win and give the bookies a much-needed bloody nose.

When it comes to these festivals, we tend to focus on ‘name’ trainers with a great record. For example, Willie Mullins, Nicky Henderson, and Paul Nicholls excel at Cheltenham. With a heavy focus on events such as the Gold Cup, it is easy to forget that there are hundreds of races in the weeks immediately before and after every major event. Is there a way to make money from certain yards in the periods directly before and after a festival? Keep reading to find out.

Cheltenham Specialists in March

When it comes to the big time, there are few better trainers than Nicky Henderson. With 58 winners, he is the all-time king of the Cheltenham festival, and for the 2018 event, he is sending his strongest ever line up. His entries include Altior, Might Bite, Buveur D’Air, We Have a Dream, Apple’s Shakira, and L’ami Serge. With such a strong stable, will Henderson pick up many winners in the build-up to Cheltenham or is he likely to focus on the festival and forget about everything else?

Even allowing for his routine success at Cheltenham, Henderson does not have a good record in March. Here is how it looks since 2013:

Bets  Wins Strike Rate ROI (BF)
369 67 18.16% -24.52%

In fact, you’ll make a tidy profit of 17.4% if you lay all of Henderson’s March National Hunt entries. This is hardly a surprise because he operates at the top end of the spectrum. Almost half of his entries are in ultra-competitive Class 1 events where he has a win rate of just 7.69% in March over the last five years.

Backing his mounts in Class 1 races would lead to a loss of almost 50%. Laying his horses would give you a superb ROI of 43%. Moreover, you would earn a profit in each of the last five years and 40% or more in the last four years.

Paul Nicholls is another Cheltenham specialist, but his March stats since 2013 are far more impressive from our perspective:

Bets  Wins Strike Rate ROI (BF)
352 65 18.47% 24.7%

Eerily similar to Henderson barring one important factor; profit! Betting on Nicholls in NH races in March is a great option with a profit of almost 25%. You would also be in substantial profit, over 29%, in four of the last five years.

Like Henderson, Nicholls has a lot of Class 1 entries (151) but is it in Class 2 and 3 races where he really excels:

Bets  Wins Strike Rate ROI (BF)
120 31 25.83% 85.37%

Once again, you’re looking at a major profit (33%+) in four of the five years and 82%+ in three of the last five years.

Aintree Specialists in April

Henderson and Nicholls also have terrific Aintree festival records while Jonjo O’ Neill is and Nigel Twiston-Davies have their fair share of winners. Although the festival is usually on in the middle of April, it is worth looking at the overall performance for the month. As it turns out, Nigel Twiston-Davies has a pretty poor record in April NH races. Here’s how he has fared since 2013:

Bets  Wins Strike Rate ROI (BF)
304 29 9.54% -46.79%

That’s a shocking record, but on the plus side, like Henderson, there’s money to be made by laying Twiston-Davies’ horses. You will win 90.46% of the time and earn a profit of 34.6%.

Jonjo O’Neill fares considerably better in April. Again, these stats are from the last five years:

Bets  Wins Strike Rate ROI (BF)
321 47 14.64% 9.7%

While O’Neill is an Aintree expert, it is worth focusing on his horses in lower level events. Here is how he does in Class 4 and 5 races in April.

Bets  Wins Strike Rate ROI (BF)
151 28 18.54% 24.17%

As you can see, he has far more lower level entries and does exceedingly well from our point of view. If you backed all of his horses in Class 4 and 5 races in April, you would have made a profit of at least 16% in each of the last four years.

A Royal Ascot Specialist in June

This is one of the world’s great Flat festivals and takes place in June. Aiden O’Brien is among the top performing trainers at Ascot, and he has won the Gold Cup on seven occasions. However, if you think he ignores the rest of the month, think again. Here is his brilliant June record since 2013 in Flat races:

Bets  Wins Strike Rate ROI (BF)
538 118 21.93% 58.07%

Best of all, we’re talking consistent profit with an ROI of at least 25% in each of the last five Junes. Unlike so many trainers who experience a downturn when they enter high-quality Class 1 events, O’Brien just keeps on winning. Here is his Class 1 record in June since 2013:

Bets  Wins Strike Rate ROI (BF)
159 30 18.87% 155.94%

A slightly lower win rate but an insane ROI. It also equates to profit in four of the last five years and an ROI of 130%+ in the last three years!

Newmarket (July) Specialist in July

The Moet & Chandon Festival is another wonderful race meeting, and John Gosden is one of the top performing trainers at Newmarket. However, his overall July record in Flat events since 2013 is not good:

Bets  Wins Strike Rate ROI (BF)
302 58 19.21% -16.79%

A loss of nearly 17% is bad news to be sure although you would earn a profit of 9.38% by laying all of his horses. About 35% of his entries are in Class 1 events, but frankly, he doesn’t do well from our point of view in any class of race.

Final Thoughts on Festival Specialists

For the most part, successful festival trainers focus their energies on the big prizes which is why the likes of Nicky Henderson, Nigel Twiston-Davies, and John Gosden don’t offer value for money. However, Paul Nicholls, Jonjo O’Neill, and Aiden O’Brien are excellent options before, during, and after festivals. They seem to enjoy a ‘golden’ period when it matters most for punters so keep an eye on them at the specific times of year mentioned above.

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.

One Comment

  1. Yes since the big stables are concentrating on the ‘ Major Events’ I think the small stables have a chance.

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