Sunday, December 17

What my Profile Says About Binocular

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Good afternoon, friends,

In today’s Horse Racing Focus….

Binocular is at it again….
The stats against the formbook….
What does the Winning Profile say?
Between now and then…
Binocular is at it again….

Binocular is at it again. What can we make of it?

Last year he approached the Champion Hurdle in a trough of poor
form. In his first two runs of the season he disappointed
connections and punters alike with below par performances in the
Fighting Fifth and the King George.

At the time his lack of edge was widely put down to his exertions in
the 2009 Champion Hurdle – a tough race where Binocular was edged
into third by Nicky Henderson’s older and more experienced horse,
Punjabi, and by stout-hearted Celestial Halo. But nobody knew for
sure whether or not the horse was suffering from some kind of virus
or undiscovered injury.

Binocular did win a 3-runner Listed race in early February but
doubts remained about him having retained his form. Tony McCoy
admitted Binocular did not feel like the horse he had ridden the
previous season.

The horse drifted to 999/1 on the exchanges just a month before the
Festival – when he was found to have a muscle problem. He recovered
from that – but the damage to his credentials appeared to be done.

Having been the previous year’s 6/4 Champion Hurdle favourite and
having been a short-price fancy for the 2010 renewal during the
early portion of the jumps season, Binocular – doubts and all – was
sent off on the day at 9/1 – a lowly 7th in the market.

It was a case of faith rewarded for those who stuck with the horse
and got into the ribs of a price that – with the benefit of
hindsight – looked pretty massive as Binocular cruised home to win
by more than 3 lengths having jumped beautifully from start to
finish.

Here we are again…

It’s a case of déjà vu (or almost) this year… a poor show at
Newbury on seasonal debut, a very good-looking effort to win the
Christmas Hurdle and then an absolute stinker of a performance at
Sandown last time out.

Binocular won the race but registered a speed figure well-below
Champion Hurdle level. And he only got to 2nd place Ruthenoise –
rated just 116 compared to Binocular’s 171 – when the Nicky
Henderson second-string runner, there to make the pace in small
field and without a win or a notable performance to take from his
previous 6 races, made a mistake to let the Champion Hurdler in.

The inconsistency returns… the doubts resurface… questions are
once again being asked… What is it with Binocular?

The formbook doesn’t lie. The Sandown performance isn’t what you
want to see going into a Champion Hurdle. But the reaction of the
market isn’t so pronounced as last year. Binocular’s response to
doubters last March appears to have tempered an over-reaction in the
market this year. He retains his favourite status across the board –
and is available at prices no bigger than 7/2.

The stats against the formbook….

Maybe the market is prepared to view Binocular through the lens of
his best-form this season in the Christmas Hurdle. Maybe the market
– as a whole – is prepared to forgive Binocular a bad race… or
two…

Maybe the stats have something to do with the market’s new-found
determination not to desert the horse just because we might be
seeing signs of trouble.

Whilst the formbook says that Binocular has had two bad runs from 3
efforts this term the stats stand to remind us of the fact that
Binocular comes alive at the Festival. His record reads 231 from 3
runs in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Champion Hurdle.

Maybe Binocular is one of those horses who needs Cheltenham, the
Festival, the conditions and the challenges the meeting presents? He
certainly appreciates the drying ground the Festival tends to be run
on. In races run between February and April (taking out the horse’s
racecourse debut) Binocular’s career record reads: 21213111.

Maybe it’s the big-fields at Cheltenham – and the fast start-to-
finish pace they generate – that he appreciates? His 3 races at the
course – where’s he’s produced such good combined Festival for
figures – are the 3 races in which Binocular has faced most
opponents. Maybe it’s the guaranteed piston-pumping pace he really
needs to produce his best?

The third way….

Do we go with the formbook? Or do we take our steer from the stats?
Both give us a different impression of what to expect from
binocular. It’s confusing. It can appear difficult to figure out
where we stand with the horse and his 7/2 price tag.

When it comes to big races – like all of the races we’ll be watching
in a few weeks time at the Festival – there’s a simple test I like
to apply to extract a snapshot view of exactly where a specific
horse is at in regard to a specific race.

I simply measure the horse against what I call the Winning Profile.
Year-on-year individual big races are won by horses with a shared
set of qualities, attributes and characteristics and I’ve identified
what those shared values consist of for each and every race at this
year’s Festival.

I use the profiles as templates against which I can measure this
year’s runners – and pinpoint those with the strongest chances of
winning (when measured against the profile).

If a horse entered into a big race closely resembles the profile of
recent winners as they went into the race then it is not
unreasonable to expect him to perform like them?

What does the profile say?

Having run a statistical analysis on previous renewals of the
Champion Hurdle the evidence strongly suggests there are 6 key
elements in the profile of the likely race winner.

Ten out of the last 11 winners were aged between 6- and 9-
years old but I’m not sure I completely trust the stat. Only 3
horses older than 8 have won since 1951 – so they are hardly
prolific. In the last 6 renewals of the race 5-year-olds have
run with credit – producing one winner and a quartet of horses that
got really competitive. The winner is most likely to be 5- to 8-
years old. Binocular meets the criterion.

Festival form is a major plus point. Eight of the last 11
winners of the Champion Hurdle had previously won at the Festival.
Binocular meets the criterion.

Ten out of the last 11 Champion Hurdle winners had won either
a Grade 1 hurdle race or a Grade 3 handicap over hurdles prior to
lining up at the Festival. Binocular conformed to this trend before
his win in the Champion Hurdle last year. This year he’s won the
Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle. Binocular conforms on both counts.

Over the last decade ten of the 11 horses which won the
Champion Hurdle did so after having had 10 hurdle runs or more. In
terms of total career runs – be it on the turf flat, on the all
weather, in bumpers, over hurdles or over fences – no Champion
Hurdle runner had run more than 30 runs and managed to put in a
competitive run in the Champion Hurdle. Binocular meets the
criterion – on both counts.

Nine of the last 11 winners scored a victory in their final
preparation race before Cheltenham. And this trend has history – 23
of the last 27 winners all conformed to the ‘won last time out’
trend. Binocular won last time out – but it wasn’t impressive and
what did he beat? His victory has an ‘on-paper’ feel to it as
opposed to the stamp of real quality.

Ten of the last 11 winners had earned a pre-race Racing Post
rating of at least 156. Binocular has done that – but only just as
far as this season is concerned.

Bottom Line: Binocular measures up to most of the profile criterion.
This shouldn’t come as any surprise. He’s already won a Champion
Hurdle after all. But his last time out form contains holes. Even
his Christmas Hurdle form only just scraped in over the RPR
threshold of 156.

Given that Binocular has avoided all the major players he’ll be
facing in March, even in the races he’s won, and given that this
year’s renewal of the Champion Hurdle looks particularly strong, the
7/2 about Nicky Henderson’s reigning Champion looks on the short
side to these eyes. Maybe he shouldn’t be as big as he was last year
– but I certainly think he should be bigger than he is.

At the prices there are more attractive Champion Hurdle bets… and
I’ll get to that subject next time.

Between now and then….

Between now and the Festival we also have the resumption of the
Champions League to look forward to. For me the knockout stages are
when the competition really gets going.

Last season I managed to twist a 33 point profit over the duration
of the tournament – using the Champions League Profit Service. So
far this season the advice the service has supplied – which I act on
to the letter – has delivered the best part of a 10 point surplus
and I’m looking forward to growing that bottom line again over the
next fortnight.

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Until next time, be lucky.

Nick Pullen
www.HorseRacingFocus.co.uk

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