National Hunt Breeding with The Snout

There are many angles in the way to approach how to bet on a race, with plenty of variables the punter must interrogate in order to find himself an edge over the bookmaker. Of course this can include more obvious variables, including recent form, trip, jockey booking, trainer form, course form etc. These are always the principal reasons for a horse having been given an opening price by a bookmaker. But, in the ongoing search for complete perfect information, a horses pedigree can offer potential insight as to why a certain race may prove to suit him more than others. This article attempts to give an overview of this often unearthed information and how you can use it in your betting exploits.

Flat or Jumps?

I would start by saying that pedigree on the flat is seen by the wider community as “more important” than compared to a horses pedigree over jumps. I always remember hearing the commentary as Australia won the Epsom Derby in 2014, as it was prevailed “bred to win the Derby”. Australia was just that, out of Galileo and by Ouija Board, you effectively knew that this horse was going to be at his best at middle distances on good ground. But you tend not to hear the same sort of remarks about horses that are running in the Gold Cup or the Queen Mother.

However, for those that underestimate the impact breeding can have on a National Hunt horse, it is interesting to note that over the years, the top 10 National Hunt sires very seldom changes. The list for the 2015-16 season in terms of wins, not prize money, is as follows (source: Racing Post Bloodstock):

Kings Theatre (171)
Presenting (170)
Kayf Tara (164)
Flemensfirth (156)
Beneficial (148)
Milan (144)
Oscar (119)
Westerner (107)
Midnight Legend (74)
Shantou (62)

If you go back 5 years, 7 of these horses were still in the top 10 sires in terms of wins for that season, which shows that these horses have the clear attributes required in producing quality horses that are capable of winning races, and winning races at the highest level. If you compare strike rates to other sires that are still covering plenty of mares, giving a big enough sample, there is a clear trend towards better sires which indicates it is a huge part in deciding eventual winners.

But within these top sires there are small deviances from just simply looking at strike rate which allows us to see when it may be more favourable to be betting on a given horse. For example, Presenting is a multiple champion jumps sire, producing the likes of Denman, War of Attrition, Grand National winning Ballabriggs, and First Lieutenant. What is evident from even just listing some of his more famous progeny, is that Presenting is effective in producing horses that have extremely strong stamina attributes. And even more so, his progeny’s strike rate on good or better ground is 12%, compared to 10% on softer than good. Already we can see that understanding a sire’s key attributes can help to inform a bet; if we spot a horse out of Presenting who is up to 3m for the first time and has been running on heavy ground but is today meeting with good ground for the first time, then we could know more than the market. This is what it is all about.

Anything else?

You can go deeper into this too. As another example, for the past few years the leading Cheltenham Festival sires have tended to be the similar suspects. Robin Des Champs (sire of the late Vautour, Quevega, and Un Temps Pour Tout), Kings Theatre and Kayf Tara often top those tables to be leading sires at the festival. Whether this is due to their stamina that allows them to get up that hill, or a liking for good ground, differs between the horses themselves, but again it is another angle to show that family traits including a liking for a certain trip or course can be carried on through the bloodline.

Aren’t we forgetting something?

You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned the female side of the breeding calculation. Of course, a horses traits are given to them by their Mother and their Father. The difficulty with this, is that sires cover many mares over the course of a year, whereas a Mare will only have one foal at a time. This means that we have much more data on sire performance and looking at the same angle from the Mare’s end gives a much more incomplete picture. Generally, I believe, it is best to focus on the sire when trying to figure out if a certain race will suit a given horse.

Of course this article could go on and on with data taken from each sire and their performance history, but hopefully this gives a good idea as to how small differences in sire performance can in actuality lead to helping to find more of an informed betting proposition.

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