Tanya Stevenson
Tanya Stevenson's Racing UK Blog
Saturday 30th November 2013
Racing faces significant challenges with small fields

There continues to be much written about small fields, with a particular focus on Novice Chases and top grade races.

Let me emphasise this. The problem is not going away, involves much more than people might think and urgently needs fixing.

So far in November 35.5% of races have had fewer than eight runners! 

Compare that with the 31% in 2011 and 30.5% in 2010. 

The sport is fast approach the 1400th odds-on favourite for the year - that’s 15% of races or on average just over one per meeting.  The content of each separate meeting needs reviewing in relation to the proximity of similar races, and who could run in them.

Last season before the Cheltenham Festival the average field size in Grade One races was 6.35. 

In relation to the Long Distance Hurdle we are looking at the pool of horses intending to run in the World Hurdle.  Over the last 20 years the average field size for the World Hurdle has been 14.15 runners, 7.36 of them were over 20-1 and 2.68 were 66-1 or over. Take to the extreme the actual number of runners minus those that are unlikely to win (those appearing at Cheltenham for the thrill of it), 14.15-2.68 = 11.47 runners. 

So every year races such as the Long Distance Hurdle are trying to attract horses from a pool of roughly 11 quality horses!  No wonder over the past ten years the average field size for the Long Distance Hurdle is 6.4. 

Complacency is always dangerous and small fields with odds-on favourites are far from attractive. The Levy is only gained from betting on the sport - this is the challenge for racing as other sports become more alluring. 

The problems won’t fix themselves!

Thankfully the Hennessy Gold Cup is rich in runners, which means finding the probable winner is particularly difficult. Closer scrutiny on the form and frailties of Our Father, Invictus and Rocky Creek make them opposable at the price. The trio who I want to side with are Super Duty, as he’ll be out in front from the off, Highland Lodge as he could put in one of his exceptional runs and Lord Windermere, who will stay.  If pressed I’ll go for Super Duty. 

My talkback will be silent come 2.05 as the team behind the scenes who are on Melodic Rendezvous for the Champion Hurdle also have some allegiance with Cockney Sparrow.  What a race for the StanJames.com Fighting Fifth as well as we welcome back My Tent Or Yours at Newcastle.

As you know he is part of my big hopes for the Cheltenham Festival. Nicky Henderson’s success with seasonal debutants has been mixed, so I won’t be firing into My Tent Or Yours at odds-on!  It’s a watching brief with the expectation that Melodic Rendezvous will win on this occasion.  

My selections for tomorrow are Mister Marker, who could well go on to be my pick in the Eider Chase next year if he runs well in the Rehearsal Chase at the same venue.  Then Anay Turge, who impressed when putting up a very competent performance at Cheltenham at the Open Meeting.  Nigel Hawke has found an ideal opportunity in the Bet365 Handicap Chase.

From the O2 to Betting Shop Manager of the Year, to the House of Commons, and I was lucky enough to be an invitee to the Peter O’Sullevan Awards and now Newbury on Saturday highlights a whirlwind life, but a lucky one. 

Last Saturday evening was an introduction to the bands You Me At Six and Thirty Seconds To Mars - not something I’ll be in a rush to repeat. The latter, led by Jared Leto, are in a different league to their supporting act. As a heads up, parking is very costly so it may be best if ever the O2 is your intended destination to go by train.

With eardrums pounding the next job was to be part of an octet adjudicating the Betting Shop Manager of the Year. It was as rewarding as ever, and I’m looking forward to meeting up with winner Aidan Connelly again on the Morning Line. 

Tuesday’s visit to the House Of Commons was to celebrate the work of the Retired Greyhound Trust. All the volunteers, the unsung heroes, those who ensure our canine warriors are given a long and deserving retirement, received deserved recognition.

An incredible £131,000 was raised at the Sir Peter O’Sullevan lunch. It was a privilege to be invited.  I hot-footed it to the gym, and then back home to continue research and stats on small fields, odds-on favourites and various other bits and pieces, the fruits of which you can read below. 

Tanya’s Saturday tips:

2.40 Newcastle: Mister Marker at 11-2 with SkyBet

3.35 Newbury: Anay Turge at 5-1 with SkyBet

Tanya's Pointers:

Hennessy Gold Cup:

Our Father is only one from six when favourite

Liam Treadwell has a 31% strike rate over chase fences for Venetia Williams this season

Leighton Aspell has had three wins from six rides for Emma Lavelle this season

Nine of the last ten winners of the Hennessy were priced no bigger than 10-1 

Fifteen of the last 20 winners came from the first four in the betting

Sixteen of the last 20 winners finished either first or second on their most recent run

Eleven of the last 15 winners had run no more than seven times over fences

Three of the last four winners of the RSA Chase to run in the Hennessy have won. Lord Windermere took the novice staying crown in March.

In relation to Rocky Creek over the last 20 years seven winners of Ascot’s Reynoldstown Chase have run in that year’s Hennessy Gold Cup and only One Man in 1994 completed the double.

In relation to Rocky Creek and Invictus over the last 20 years 14 winners of Ascot’s Reynoldstown Chase have gone on to run in any Hennessy. Only two have won, One Man in 1994 and Carruthers in 2011. 

From 83 runners over the last ten years eight of the last ten winners were aged 7 or younger

The horses to carry top weight to victory in recent years are Burrough Hill Lad in 1984, Trabolgan in 2005 and Denman in 2007 & 2009

Other races

Nine of the last ten favourites have won the Long Distance Hurdle, seven of them were odds-on

Paul Nicholls's last nine runners in 3.35 Newbury have resulted in four winners

Nine of the last ten winners of 3.35 Newbury were priced no bigger than 7-1

Eight of the last ten winners of the Fighting Fifth Hurdle came from the first two in the betting

Nick Scholfield has ridden Melodic Rendezvous six times to five wins and a second

AP McCoy has ridden My Tent Or Yours seven times to five wins and a two seconds

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