Racing UK

Tanya Stevenson

Field sizes have reared their ugly head again

19 December 2014

There is a danger of repetition here in this column but I see that field sizes have hit the headlines again. This problem isn’t going to go away as it stands.  While many grumble, the harsh reality is that things will only get worse before being helped to improve. 

The most worrying statistic wasn’t that 47% of National Hunt handicaps in December have had seven or fewer runners, it was that 18% of race have had five or fewer runners.  Or 20%, if you include non-handicaps. November wasn’t much better as overall the number of races with five or fewer runners flirted around the 19% mark.  Put these under the microscope now as there is an urgent need to unravel the reason why this is happening.

These figures hit home hard so hopefully they may give cause to all vested interests to come together to find better a solution. 

The initial problem which has been highlighted plenty of times before is that there are more fixtures put on as the horse population dropped.  Yet the difficulty, and to some extent, unwillingness, to reduce the amount of races or indeed fixtures isn’t helping matters. 

Winters haven’t been harsh enough to let weather help remove fixtures from the jumps schedule, and now the proactive nature of our sport results in these races being replaced and staged at a later date. Then there is all-weather meetings, which are added added or there are bumpers for jumpers meetings.  

This is a story which looks set to develop further.   

I note Kempton’s starting price overrounds at a recent meeting are coming under scrutiny. I acknowledge this but consider greyhound racing, where the starting price percentages are at a steady constant of at least 4% per runner.  A high tolerance threshold is needed to bet against those prices, and we whine as soon as it hits 2% per runner in racing.  

There has to be an understanding the betting ring is a different dynamic now. Many of those standing on pitches have an umbilical cord to the exchanges. Instead they are fixated in being able to lay a bet and hedge it back on the exchanges. 

On Thursday the 1.40 at Towcester returned an overround of 123%, which is nearly 3% a runner yet there was no mention of it in the media. 

Around 15% of our races in November and December contained an odds-on favourite thus making it not viable for bookmakers to bet each-way.  The same scenario occurred in the International at Cheltenham where over half the ring traded win only.  And the variation of the prices on those offering each-way varied enormously.  Gregory Hughes, who was betting each-way, decided to offer the same prices as those win only but he was on his own so understandably took a good proportion of the money.  On questioning him after he stated that he came out of the race unscathed. Full credit to him.  Those surrounding him were disappointing in what they had displayed on their board.

What concerns me more is the 2% a runner in the Relkeel Hurdle, which was win only though I acknowledge at some point adding up the best prices bookmakers went overbroke.  They don’t help themselves. 

I’m sure the investigation will be thorough enough to delve deep into the core of the problem of field sizes, which has many strands.  The increasing amounts of odds-on favourites, the shrinking field sizes, the actual best prices offered through the duration of the betting, the numbers of bookmakers betting at the course, their strength, and the attendance are just for starters.

As for the racing I’ve backed Bayan win and Swing Bowler each-way in the Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot, while my main bet is Malibu Sun.  With Ben Pauling in such rich form and the horse’s impressive win at Leicester latest he deserves his chance at Ascot.  

Tanya Stevenson’s Saturday tip:

1.50 Ascot: Malibu Sun at 9-2 generally available

Tanya Stevenson's pointers:

1.50 Ascot - BGC Partners Handicap Chase:

Ben Pauling and Nico De Boinville have teamed up for four winners from their last seven runners.

2.25 Ascot - JLT Long Walk Hurdle:

Six of the last ten favourites have won the Long Walk Hurdle.

Five of the seven Long Distance Hurdle winners since 2003 to have come on to run in the Long Walk Hurdle have won, today Medinas.

Lizzie Kelly has ridden Aubusson to three victories from just five rides.

Reve De Sivola is attempting to win his third straight Long Walk Hurdle.

Daryl Jacob has ridden Reve De Sivola 18 times to four wins, five seconds and five thirds.

Eight of the last ten winners of the Long Walk Hurdle had finished no worse than second on their most recent run.

3.00 Ascot - Mappin & Webb Silver Cup Handicap Chase:

Easter Day has won both his starts at Ascot.

Houblon Des Obeaux has run at Ascot four times winning twice, second once and third once.

Hey Big Spender has not won in six tries in December.

Brendan Powell has ridden Hey Big Spender four times and won on him three times. 

3.30 Ascot - The Ladbroke:

 All of the last nine winners of the Ladbroke had finished no worse than third on their most recent run. 

 Only one of the nine favourites have won the Ladbroke.

Only one of the nine winners of the Ladbroke were aged older than six - 2002 Chauvinist. 

The only Irish winner of the Ladbroke since 2001 was Cause Of Causes trained by Gordon Elliott in 2012.

Harry Fry has had four winners from his five Ascot Hurdle runners.

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