I’ve heard many a quote this season saying, top national hunt horses run less than they used to. I take a look at the evidence, to see is it a Hit or Myth. For many the lack of racecourse appearances for some of the big stars, in the lead up to Cheltenham was enough to confirm the theory. Indeed before I did any research, I expected to find that jump horses racecourse outings, were less frequent than 8 – 10 years ago.

I decided to take data from 2003, and 2004 for a look at the past, and then 2011 and 2012, as a recent sample to compare it to. You could have many a debate as to what equates to a top horse, for the purposes of this article, I decided to count any horse that finished in the first two, in a grade one hurdle or chase race that year. I could have achieved a bigger sample by using top 3, or even more, but with many small field grade 1’s, the sample would be at risk of including many horses below the top level.

I only counted races in the UK and Ireland, as I only have full years data for horses that race in those countries, I thus excluded horses trained abroad, that would have qualified otherwise. For comparison I also did the same for flat horses in the same period.

The grade one races prior to Cheltenham this year struck me as decidedly uncompetitive in many cases, with a good few small fields assembled for them. With that in mind I also recorded the amount of runners in grade 1 races between October, and the end of February.

Top Horses NH Top NH Horses runs per year Average Field Size in Grade 1 Top Flat Horses runs per year
2003 74 6.04 7.16 5.53
2004 66 5.68 6.52 5.12
2011 87 5.39 6.74 5.7
2012 87 5.14 6.4 5.32

Lets look first at the past. In 2003 the 74 top horses, ran an average of 6.04 times. The figure for 2004 was 5.68. There has been a noticeable drop off, when we look at the last two years. Top horses only ran 5.39 and 5.14 respectively. The average field size in grade ones, from October to the end of February, also show a drop off in quantity. In 2003 the average was 6.04, but worryingly, 2012 recorded the lowest figure of 5.14.

If your wondering what grade 1 is run in October, the answer is there isn’t one currently, but the race now known as the Tipperary Hurdle, was formerly the John James McManus Memorial Hurdle, and it held grade one status for the years in the sample.

There is no clear pattern for flat horses. The 56 horses who qualified as top horses in 2003, ran an average of 5.53 times, that figure was 5.12 for 04. In 2011 they raced 5.7 times on average, before a slight drop to 5.32 in 2012.

 

Top national hunt horses run less than they used too – Hit or Myth

 

This one is a hit. My sample size isn’t huge, and perhaps I should have used 3rd place finishers as well, but the drop from 6.04 runs in 2003, to 5.14 in 2012, is still pretty significant. From the evidence so far this year, I don’t expect to see much improvement on that. There is also a worrying drop in average fields size, for grade ones, run before Cheltenham each season, with the 2012 figure of 5.14, being well down on the 6.04 recorded in 2003.

The figures for the flat are better, and the past two years show higher overall returns, than in 03 and 04. The difference is not huge however  and to tell you the truth I expected to find a greater increase, as the perception is, that top flat horses are now running much more than in the past. One reason for the lower figures than expected, could be the top flat horses are running in big international races far more, and these aren’t included in my runs per year data.

I think the above data should be a concern to National Hunt followers, as the way trainers are going with their, keep them in the box till Cheltenham attitude,  it might just get worse, and as a result the jumps season will all be crammed into the end of season festivals, with only uncompetitive, small field trials before that.

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