Myth-Busting: The World Hurdle

Oscar Whisky (left) is a leading contender for this year's World Hurdle

In his latest blog piece, Simon Rowlands picks apart flimsy trends in the World Hurdle.

"A first-two placing in the Cleeve Hurdle in the same season has led to 80.4% of rivals beaten and an IV of 3.22 in the big race. A win in the Long Walk Hurdle in the same season has led to 85.1% of rivals beaten and an IV of 6.04."

The absurdity of imagining that a race "trend" can be established by reference to a small number of winners of that race has been flagged up on these pages several times previously. Doing so ignores the majority of the available data and implies that trends magically affect winners and winners only. 

But such "trends" won't go away. 

Wondering if I had been missing something, I tried tackling Cheltenham's World Hurdle by these means and came to the conclusion that it is very advantageous to be called Baracouda, Inglis Drever or Big Buck's in the race. Between them, those names have a success rate of over 80% this century. 

Unfortunately, no horses of those names have been entered in this year's race, so I looked at other measures favoured by some of those who champion "trends".

"Reject five-year-olds" but in other respects "the younger, the better" in the World Hurdle, we have been told. It is true that five-year-olds have not won the race - first contested in its current form in 1972 - but also that very few have tried. 

Approximately 5% of the runners this century have come from this lowest age-group, and they have provided a trio of thirds and a fourth, with a % rivals beaten of 71.8, easily the best available. Five-year-olds also provided the third in 1997 and 2000 and the neck runner-up Le Coudray in 1999.

It is a great shame that no five-year-old of any consequence seems likely to take part in the race this year, as this is one myth that looks there for the busting. 

Otherwise, "the younger, the better" has credibility, but only a little. Six-year-olds have beaten 54.6% of their rivals for three wins this century and an Impact Value of 1.28. But horses aged seven, eight and nine have overperformed by either % rivals beaten or IV (or both) and the picture is far from clear

The fact that "French-breds have won seven of the last 11 runnings" of the World Hurdle owes an awful lot to the existence of four-time winner Big Buck's, quite a bit to the existence of dual winner Baracouda and a little to the one-off winner My Way de Solzen

But could there be something in supporting French-breds more generally? Is their breeding more suited to a championship race requiring so much stamina? Maybe. 

French-breds have beaten 56.7% of their rivals (IV of 1.97), Irish-breds have accounted for 51.0% of their rivals (IV of zero) and British-breds have beaten 40.2% of their opposition (IV of 1.82), with sample sizes of 30 or more in each case. 

As an aside, it is worth being sceptical about any "stats" which appear to tailor timescales to suit their ends. What do you think are the chances of "seven out of last 11" being "eight out of last 12" if you go back one further year? In this sort of context it is close to nil, and, lo and behold, there was not a French-bred winner in evidence immediately before the preferred watershed. 

Sounder advice, perhaps, comes in the form of the recommendation to concentrate on the Cleeve Hurdle and the Long Walk Hurdle as "key guides" to the World Hurdle, though you would not have to be Sherlock to figure this out by other means (both are high-grade staying hurdles, like the World Hurdle itself).

A first-two placing in the Cleeve Hurdle in the same season has led to 80.4% of rivals beaten and an IV of 3.22 in the big race. A win in the Long Walk Hurdle in the same season has led to 85.1% of rivals beaten and an IV of 6.04. Big Buck's used both races as preps in recent years. 
Reve de Sivola - the winner of both the Cleeve and the Long Walk this term, and a French-bred for good measure - comes out of this particular statistical sleight of hand very well. 

Oscar Whisky could be seen as being compromised by having previously run in a Champion Hurdle (only one in eight World Hurdle contenders have done so this century, with %RB of 36.8 and IV of zero), though it didn't stop him being beaten just a neck by Reve de Sivola in the Cleeve last time.

There are, undoubtedly, better ways of making a selection than through crude trends. Where Reve de Sivola is concerned, it is also worth noting that a Timeform rating of 162 - which he has posted on his last two starts - would seldom be good enough to win a World Hurdle, but that it would have got him placed in the race all but once this century.
He can be backed at 2.26/5 for a first-three finish on March 14.

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