Generally speaking, National Hunt horses are a little hardier than their Flat counterparts and consequently hold their form for longer. However, prolonged periods of bad weather can throw even the National Hunt formbook into disarray.
Freezing temperatures, ice and snow in January and February often lead to numerous fixtures being abandoned, so that trainers’ plans for their horses are thwarted and need to be changed over and over again.
A case in point in recent weeks is the 2011 Champion Hurdle runner-up Peddlers Cross. After an unsuccessful spell over fences last season, trainer Donald McCain is keen to find out if Peddlers Cross is a bona fide contender for the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, but has had little luck in finding a suitable race for him.
The 8-year-old was due to make his seasonal debut in conditions event over 2 miles 4 furlongs at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, but following the abandonment of the meeting was rerouted to the Champion Hurdle Trial, over 2 miles, at Haydock on Saturday. He was also entered in the Grade 2 limited handicap at Ascot on Saturday, as a contingency, but with both meetings succumbing to the weather, the Cheshire trainer is left with few viable options.
Mr. McCain had originally ruled out the Cleeve Hurdle, over 3 miles, at Cheltenham on January 26 on the grounds that he was reluctant to step up Peddlers Cross straight from two miles to three, but the current cold snap may have forced his hand. Indeed, if the cold weather continues for any length of time, Mr. McCain is not the only trainer who’ll have difficulty in finding suitable opportunities for his horses and physically transporting them to the races when they do occur.
From the punters’ point of view, the situation is exacerbated by the fact that gallops, even all-weather gallops, need to be harrowed on a regular basis to keep them free from ice and snow. Horses are often held up in their home work so when racing resumes large fields of partially fit runners, some of whom, like Peddlers Cross, may be racing over unsuitable distances, are not uncommon.
Determining the fitness of selections after a prolonged period of cold weather is as difficult, if not more so, than determining the fitness of selections at the start of the season. The safest approach under these circumstances, as it is at the start of the season, is to suspend betting activity until reliable form is reestablished.
However, by putting in a little extra work and looking beyond the bare bones of the form, it is possible to develop profitable betting angles after an enforced break. A quick look at the trainer statistics in the Racing Post will help you to identify trainers whose horses are winning after the break and it can pay to concentrate on them whilst they hold an advantage over their peers. In terms of individual horses, concentrate on those who have demonstrated in the past that they don’t need much getting ready, by winning on their seasonal debut or after a similar break, preferably more than once.