JUMP RACING AT ITS BEST: THE CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL

The Cheltenham Festival is a four-day steeplechase event held at the historic Cheltenham Racecourse in England with the scenic vista of the Cotswolds hills in the background (click here to see the panorama).  The Festival attracts some 260,000 people and the Racecourse draws 700,000 visitors annually.  The Festival dates for 2017 are March 14-17.

Cheltenham Racecourse, about 95 miles from London (toward Oxford), is one of 14 racetracks owned by the British Jockey Club and it dates to the early 19th century.  The Cheltenham Festival is a social and racing extravaganza that attracts such blue-ribbon sponsors as Bentley, Guinness, Ryanair, and Netjets.

Cheltenham describes itself as follows:

“The Festival epitomises and encompasses everything that is great about Jump racing, whilst delivering an unbelievable occasion as the finest horses, jockeys, owners, and trainers battle it out for the highest racing honours.”

The feature race of the entire Festival is the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup Steeple Chase held on the final day, which has a card of seven races in all that can be wagered on at Cheltenham Free Bets offers.  It is contested at a distance of 3 miles, 2 furlongs, and 70 yards.  The race has a purse of £575,000 (about $704,000 U. S. dollars).

Post time for the Gold Cup is 10:30 AM in the Eastern Time Zone of the United States.  Currently, there are 29 horses entered and the favorites are Cue Card, Native River, and Djakadam.

If you have been to Saratoga Race Course, you are likely to have watched a jump race, which is normally scheduled as the first race on the day.  Imagine a full card of jump races each day for four days, that’s what it is like at the Cheltenham Festival.  In the United States there are a number of one-day steeplechase events but they don’t have the draw of the Cheltenham Festival, as jump racing is far more popular in Great Britain and Ireland.

Jump racing is a rural tradition and an ambiance that takes one back to a bygone era when the horse was central to people’s lives and there were few competing sports to watch.

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KENTUCKY DERBY HISTORY: GATEWAY TO THE TRIPLE CROWN

Since 1919, the recognized beginning of the American Triple Crown, there have been 98 Kentucky Derby winners with the opportunity to complete the sweep by winning the Preakness and the Belmont.  Not all the Kentucky Derby winners went on to contest the Triple Crown—Swaps and Spend A Buck, for example–but most did.  Of those, 12 came away victorious.

Two trainers—James “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons and Ben A. Jones—account for a third of the Triple Crown champions, as each man trained two winners.

Fitzsimmons won the Triple Crown with Belair Stud’s (owned by William Woodward Sr.) Gallant Fox in 1930 and Gallant Fox’s son Omaha in 1935.  Fitzsimmons-trained colts won two-thirds of the Triple Crown races in 1939 (Johnstown, Derby/Belmont) and 1955 (Nashua, Preakness/Belmont).

Jones won his Triple Crowns with Calumet Farm (owned by Warren Wright) colts Whirlaway in 1941 and Citation in 1948, both ridden by Eddie Arcaro.

The current active trainer who has come closest to equaling Fitzsimmons and Jones as two-time Triple-Crown-winners is Bob Baffert, of American Pharoah fame in 2015.   He has sent three other colts to the Belmont with a chance to become Triple Crown champs—Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998, and War Emblem in 2002.  In the Belmont, Silver Charm was second, beaten three-quarters of a length, and Real Quiet was nipped by a nose.  With Baffert still training top-level colts, he has a “puncher’s” chance to join the rare company of Fitzsimmons and Jones.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business

The series on Kentucky Derby history began on February 20 and ends on May 1.

BLACK EDGE

One of the hazards of wagering on horse races is that the average bettor is not privy to non-public information that often bears on whether a horse has a chance to win a race.  Owners, trainers, grooms, and other insiders can see for themselves if a horse is doing well, or they may hear something pertinent, perhaps from a veterinarian.

A bettor can employ the most sophisticated handicapping software and crunch a plethora of public past-performance data to model a race, but the output will be worthless if a key variable available only to insiders is omitted, such as a horse is off its feed or is nursing a bad tendon.  The same holds for sports betting; an injury to a star athlete, unknown to the public, can compromise the chances of a bet on his team being a winning wager.

In horse racing and sports betting there is no equivalent of the Securities and Exchange Commission to protect a bettor.

Yet one wonders how much insider trading laws and the SEC really act as deterrents.  I am reading a riveting book (if you enjoy investing topics) called Black Edge, by Sheelah Kolhatkar, about the insider trading criminal scandal associated with the hedge fund SAC Capital that sent people to jail or ruined their reputations and careers.

One of the traders at SAC Capital classified information about companies into three categories:

  • White edge is public information such as an SEC filing or a research report.  This is the horse (or sport) bettor’s equivalent of past-performance data obtainable from, say, the Daily Racing Form.
  • Black edge is “obviously illegal”—for example, information about a publicly traded company’s earnings before they are released or knowledge that a pharmaceutical company’s potentially blockbuster drug is failing in FDA trials.
  • Gray edge is information that is not clearly white edge or black edge, perhaps an offhand remark that a corporate executive made at a private dinner with a stock analyst.

The SAC Capital trader who developed this color-code system to guide his associates said about buying or selling securities based on black-edge information: “If you do one thing wrong, you’re in jail and your life is ruined.  There is no trade that’s ever worth it.”  (Obviously, some at SAC Capital did not heed this advice and greed prevailed.)

In securities investing, an investor has the assurance that the SEC is policing the practice of trading on secret information, but as cases like SAC Capital show, the investor also can see that insider trading goes on all the time, particularly with respect to gray-edge information.  In horse racing, or sports betting, there is no government organization looking out for the bettor…and thus he or she knows that wagers made using insider information are rampant.  The horse-race bettor is under no illusions.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business