Archives for February 2021


Attracted by the 2021 $20 million Saudi Cup and an amazingly rich undercard, I watched a lot of horse racing over the weekend on TVG and Fox Sports.  Maybe the on-air expert handicappers were having a run of bad luck, but overall the value of their picks was, to be charitable, lacking.

This made me reflect on the wondrous landing of Perseverance Mars rover several days earlier.  The rover, whose mission is to search for evidence of ancient life on the Red Planet, touched down on the Mars surface some 293 million miles from Earth.  The rover was programmed to be entirely on its own because the 11-minute communication gap between home base and Mars prevented NASA from directing the landing remotely. 

Why is it that such an amazing technological feat can be achieved whereas skilled horse-racing handicappers, with a vast amount of past-performance data upon which to develop models, struggle to pick winners?  The answer lies in the fact that missions like Perseverance Mars rely on the most advanced engineering knowledge and the laws of mathematics and physics.  By contrast, handicapping horse races falls more into the domain of art rather than science.

Plenty of math whizzes and computer scientists have over the years put their skills to work handicapping horse races…and some have done well.  However, even the most quantitative approaches to handicapping are highly probabilistic.  Indeed, there are many ways to win or lose a horse race that can’t be accounted for in a mathematical model. 

What would happen if the brainpower and scientific know-how of NASA engineers and scientists were put to work handicapping?  I suspect that the effort would produce an above-average outcome but would come nowhere near the accuracy embodied in the Mars landing and exploration.  The rocket scientists would be confounded by inexplicable race results just like the rest of us.

Copyright © 2021 Horse Racing Business


WellChild is a national charity based in Cheltenham, England, focusing on in-home care for seriously ill children. WellChild’s projected income decreased by 60% as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Compounding the financial shortfall, the threat of COVID-19 to in-home caregivers and a surge in demand from families needing such care for their children were devastating.

Also owing to the pandemic, corporate sponsors of sporting events and the arts curtailed or eliminated their participation, at least temporarily.  Magners, which had sponsored the prestigious Cheltenham Gold Cup jump race in 2019 and 2020, in December 2020 declined to renew in 2021 even though the company had originally agreed to a 3-year partnership.  (Magners is an Irish cider brand.)

The Jockey Club of Britain owns and operates the Cheltenham Racecourse and the four-day Cheltenham Festival, which cards top-flight races. After losing the Magners sponsorship so close to the 2021 Festival, the Jockey Club took up the cause of improving WellChild’s financial position. As a result, the entire Festival for 2021 is now The Festival Supporting WellChild. Moreover, on March 19, 2021, the feature race of the entire event will be run as the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The objective is to foster awareness of WellChild and to raise money for its noble cause.  While the Cheltenham races will not have spectators, they will be watched by several million people on ITV Racing, both on television and online streaming.

Colin Dyer, CEO of WellChild, commented:

“This has been a challenging year for our organization and the families we support, many of whom have felt hidden and isolated more than ever before. However, we have responded at every turn to ensure that families have access to the support and equipment they need to thrive at home.  This partnership will bring a much-needed boost to our organization after a challenging period and will help to ensure that we are ready to respond again in 2021 and beyond.”

Sir Anthony McCoy, who won the Gold Cup twice, said: “What WellChild does is just so important and I’m really pleased that the best four days in our sport are being put forward to help.  Racing is a charitable sport, full of generous people and I’m sure they’ll get right behind this.”

The Jockey Club turned a very bad situation for itself (losing a title sponsor and running a Festival without fans) into an opportunity to give a much-needed boost to an organization that so many struggling families depend on.

Well done!

Horse Racing Business 2021

Ireland Set to Dominate at Cheltenham Festival 2021

The Cheltenham Festival is the highlight of the year for UK steeplechasing fans. The best jumpers from both sides of the Irish Sea clash over four days of top-class racing.  Competition is fierce among the leading stables, while there is also the side issue of the Prestbury Cup–the battle between Great Britain and Ireland for most winners during the meet.

Ireland currently has a firm grip on the award after winning 17 of the 28 races at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival.  Early indicators are that it will be retaining the trophy with well over half of this year’s festival favorites trained in the Emerald Isle.  The strength of the Irish challenge was underlined at the February Dublin Festival, where trainer Willie Mullins won six of the eight Grade 1 races.

Mullins is currently the most successful trainer in Cheltenham Festival history with 72 winners.  He saddled four winners on the final day in 2020, claiming the prize for top trainer at the meet for a record seventh time. His horses will figure prominently in Cheltenham day 1 tips this year, starting with Appreciate It in the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Mullins’ stable will be represented by Energumene in the Arkle Chase, having already won the Irish equivalent at Leopardstown.  That sets up a fascinating clash with Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin, the leading British hope and unbeaten in three races over fences.  Henderson will saddle reigning Champion Hurdler Epatante in the feature race on the opening day.  The mare bids to retain her title but faces a strong challenge from Ireland’s leading mare Honeysuckle, an impressive winner of the Irish Champion Hurdle for Henry de Bromhead.

UK Bookmakers will be bracing themselves for another Mullins four-timer on day 2.  Gaillard Du Mesnil, Monkfish, Chacun Pour Soi, and Kilcruit are all expected to start as favorites.  The second day will feature a make-or-break appearance for dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll.  His connections have indicated that the horse may be retired if he does not show any sparkle in the Cross Country Chase.  A victory could trigger an attempt to equal the legendary Red Rum by securing a third Grand National triumph.

Tiger Roll is trained by Gordon Elliott, who could have the shortest-priced horse of the week on day 3 with Envoi Allen. He has not been seriously tested over fences so far and is already being talked about as a future Cheltenham Gold Cup winner.  The third day features the Stayers’ Hurdle and a duel between 2019 winner Paisley Park and market rival Thyme Hill. They have clashed twice already this season with one victory apiece.

The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the climax of the Festival on the closing Friday. This is the blue riband event for steeplechasers over 3 ¼ miles.  Al Boum Photo has won this race for the past two seasons for Willie Mullins and bids to emulate Best Mate, who won in 2002, 2003 and 2004.  Mullins had been trying to win this prize for twenty years prior to Al Boum Photo’s 2019 victory.

The 9-year-old has enjoyed a perfect preparation, following the same route as in the previous two seasons. The two horses to emerge as potential threats this year are A Plus Tard and Royal Pagaille.


By Harvey Mayson, who is a free-lance sports writer based in Scotland.

Horse Racing Business 2021