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Grade One Hurdle Races

Grade 1 Hurdle Races

Grade 1 races are the highest class of National Hunt race and in terms of Grade 1 hurdle events there are currently 16 on the racing calendar. These are:

Race Name Racecourse Distance Date
Long Walk Hurdle Ascot 3m 1f 17/12/11
Christmas Hurdle Kempton 2m 26/12/11
Finale Juvenile Hurdle Chepstow 2m ½f 27/12/11
Challow Novices' Hurdle Newbury 2m 5f 31/12/11
Tolworth (32red) Hurdle Sandown 2m ½f 7/1/12
Supreme Novices' Hurdle Cheltenham 2m ½f 13/3/12
Champion Hurdle Cheltenham 2m ½f 13/3/12
Neptune Investment Management Hurdle Cheltenham 2m 5f 14/3/12
World Hurdle Cheltenham 3m 15/3/12
Triumph Hurdle Cheltenham 2m 1f 16/3/12
Spa Novices' Hurdle Cheltenham 3m 16/3/12
Liverpool Hurdle Aintree 3m ½f 12/4/12
Anniversary 4-Y-O Novices' Hurdle Aintree 2m ½f 12/4/12
Sefton Novices' Hurdle Aintree 3m ½f 13/4/12
Aintree Hurdle Aintree 2m 4f 14/4/12
Fighting Fifth Hurdle Newcastle 2m 24/11/12


As we can see of 16 races, 10 of them occur at the two main meetings of the year – the Cheltenham and Aintree festivals.

In this article I am going to see if we can find any patterns or trends in these races. This piece was collated before the first Grade 1 hurdle race in the 2011-2012 season (the Fighting Fifth), as I wanted to look at the previous 10 complete seasons.

Market factors (ALL RACES) – in the past 10 seasons, these races have seen the favourite win 38% of all races, with the top three in the betting providing 66% of the winners. To help give us some comparison here are some market stats for other types of race so we can compare:

Race type Favourite win% Top three in betting win%
All hurdle races 37% 70%
Novice hurdles 43% 76%
Handicap hurdles 28% 59%


As we can see the win percentage for favourites is just above the average figure, but for the top three in the betting it is slightly below the average. All in all, the market is a pretty good guide for Grade 1 hurdle races. However, there are some interesting figures when we split these Grade 1 events up:

Races Favourite win% Top three in betting win%
Cheltenham festival 28% 53%
Aintree festival 41% 52%
All other courses 41% 78%


The win percentage for favourites at the Cheltenham festival is very low at 28%. Of course, this figure is relatively easy to explain due to the following two reasons. Firstly racing at the Cheltenham festival is as competitive as it gets, and secondly the field size average for these races has been 17 – making it much harder for the favourite to succeed. The field size average for the races at ‘all other courses’ is only 8 – this again should help to explain the high figures for favourites and the top three in the betting. The Aintree figures are slightly ‘weird’ with a good percentage of favourites winning, but second and third favourites have had a very poor time of it.

These figures neatly illustrate why there is a need to dig deeper when looking at raw stats – looking at overall stats gives you a good starting point, but you need to look at data in much more detail in order to make it worthwhile. The old adage of ‘damn lies and statistics’ is a fair one. Going back to the stats split I looked at, let us look at the profit/loss figures for each of the three – when I say profit/loss I am using Return on investment (ROI):

Races Favourite profit/loss (ROI% Top three in betting profit/loss (ROI%)
Cheltenham festival -20.1% -20.2%
Aintree festival -1.5% -44.3%
All other courses -10.4% -2.2%


As I mentioned earlier, the Aintree stats look ‘weird’ and these ROI figures confirm this. It might simply be down to a smallish sample size, but regardless of the reason, the Aintree figures should be treated with caution. The Cheltenham figures show favourites are not great value and clearly despite bigger field sizes, which should see better prices, these winning prices have not been big enough compensate for the low strike rate. The all other courses’ figures are certainly worth a second glance. A loss of just 2.2% on the top 3 in the betting combined gives punters an excellent starting point. Indeed here is an interesting market comparison for these races outside the two main festivals. Just to reiterate the six races combined are the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, Long Walk Hurdle, Christmas Hurdle, Finale Juvenile Hurdle, Challow Novices' Hurdle and the Tolworth Hurdle. The following table is quite illuminating:

Market rank Wins Runners SR% Profit/loss ROI%
Top 5 in betting 45 232 19.4 +£11.92 +5.1
6th or bigger 1 136 0.7 -£95.00 -69.9


These races certainly look market biased and one’s focus should be on the front end of the betting.

Longer distance hurdle races (3m+)

Having looked at market factors in all Grade 1 hurdle races, I want to now look in more detail at the longer distance races – those 3 miles or longer. My main aim was to see if I could find an edge in these races. My feeling was that breeding might give me an edge and here are my findings for ‘country of breeding’ stats:

Breeding Wins Runners SR% Profit/loss ROI%
French bred 17 103 16.5 +£7.35 +7.1
British bred 9 93 9.7 -£5.23 -5.6
Irish bred 7 216 3.2 -£122.51 -56.7
Other countries 1 17 0.0 -£8.00 -100.0


Irish breds have accounted for 50.3% of all runners but they have only managed to win 20.6% of all races. They have proved very poor value. French breds on the other hand have an excellent strike rate and you actually would have made a profit backing all of them ‘blind’. The placed stats for French breds are better than the rest as well so there is some confidence behind these findings.

Races with no age restrictions (4yo+ races)

When looking at age stats you need to split the data once again, and with the majority of the Grade 1 hurdle races open to 4yos and older I wanted to see if there was any edge age-wise. Here are the results split by age for the 4yo+ Grade 1 hurdle races:

Age Wins Runners SR% Profit/loss ROI%
4 2 56 3.6 -£45.13 -80.6
5 29 332 8.7 -£112.86 -34.0
6 36 423 8.5 -£56.75 -13.4
7 20 227 8.8 -£30.25 -13.3
8 12 131 9.2 -£90.15 -68.8
9 5 55 9.1 -£33.51 -60.9
10 or older 1 58 1.7 -£43.00 -74.1


Despite 8 and 9 year olds having marginally the best strike rates, their losses have combined to produce returns of -66%. In other words 66 pence lost for every £1 wagered – not a very positive outcome! 6 and 7 year olds have produced the best results in terms of returns, although the figures are slightly skewed by the fact that a few big priced winners have come from those age groups. What is clear is that 4yos and horses 10yo or older – horses at either end of the age spectrum are best avoided.


Summary of the positives

In the 6 races outside the two main festivals - Fighting Fifth Hurdle, Long Walk Hurdle, Christmas Hurdle, Finale Juvenile Hurdle, Challow Novices' Hurdle and the Tolworth Hurdle – focus on the top 3 in the betting as backing all runners would have almost broken even.

French breds have a good record in long distance Grade 1 hurdle races (3 miles+).

In the Long Walk Hurdle favourites have an excellent record, as do French breds. Also look for horses that finished in the first three LTO, preferably having run at Newbury or Ascot LTO.

In the Christmas hurdle favourites have won half of the races in the last 10 years, while 90% of the winners have been priced 7/1 or shorter. Take a note if Noel Meade saddles a runner as he has 4 wins from just 5 runners in the past 10 years.

Summary of the negatives

In the 6 races outside the two main festivals - Fighting Fifth Hurdle, Long Walk Hurdle, Christmas Hurdle, Finale Juvenile Hurdle, Challow Novices' Hurdle and the Tolworth Hurdle – avoid horses 6th or bigger in the betting market as they have provided just 1 winner from 145 runners.

Irish breds have a poor record in long distance Grade 1 hurdle races (3 miles+).

In 4yo+ Grade 1 hurdles avoid horses at either end of the age spectrum - 4yos and horses aged 10 or older.


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