The 3-day Sprint Cup Festival takes place from September 6 – 8 this year at Haydock Park, long regarded as one of Britain’s most attractive racecourses. The feature race, the Group 1 Sprint Cup, is the last top-level sprint race of the year and the 6-furlong dash normally brings a world-class field with Championship honours at stake.
It is one of the most valuable sprint races in Europe with a prize fund of over £260,000. Last year’s winner, Harry Angel, cemented his status as the best 3yo sprinter of 2017 although he found the Diamond Jubilee Stakes too hot to handle this year. Even so, he is the heavy favourite but should you back him blindly or follow the trends?
Using Trends to Narrow the Field
The main issue with the Sprint Cup is its relative openness. Only 7/21 favourites have won it, and 10/21 winners have been outside the top three in the market. However, only one horse has won the Sprint Cup in the last two decades from outside the top seven in the betting. Aside from 25/1 winner Invincible Spirit in 2002, no horse has won at SP odds of longer than 14/1.
This doesn’t seem like much, but it can immediately help reduce the field once the runners have been announced. History is not kind to 6yo+ horses as only two have won the race in the last 20 years. Trends are very useful when attempting to narrow down a field, especially a week or so before a race when the field is still rather large.
With a total of 17 runners, it could take quite some time to try and analyse each entrant one by one. Instead, I will use a few trends to eliminate non-contenders and work from there.
- 11/12 winners were aged 3, 4 or 5.
- 11/12 winners had at least three runs that season.
- 11/12 winners had their last run within the previous 56 days.
- 10/12 winners had at least four wins on the Flat.
- 9/12 winners had an OR of 111+.
- 9/12 winners had 4+ runs over 6 furlongs.
- 8/12 winners had at least one win in a Group 1-3 race.
A simple way to use these trends is to visit the Racing Post website and press the ‘X’ beneath a horse’s name if it doesn’t meet a trend. When I did this using the above, I was able to narrow things down to the following list of contenders:
- Sands of Mali
- Sir Dancelot
- Sioux Nation
You will notice that the red-hot favourite, Harry Angel, does NOT meet all of the criteria. He doesn’t meet the trend for season runs as he has only had two. He returned from a 207-day break to defeat Brando in a high-quality five horse race but started poorly at Ascot in June, failed to recover, and was eased up when the win became impossible. Harry Angel also does not meet the 56-days since last run trend.
The thing is, Harry Angel did not meet all of the trends last year either! Admittedly, the only trend he didn’t tick was the ‘Four wins on the flat’ as he only had three before his 2017 Sprint Cup triumph.
At what point do you ignore trends? Do you cherry pick them to ensure they fit your needs or back whatever horse comes up regardless? In an incredibly open race at the York Ebor Festival, Eddie found that four horses met the trends. In the end, one of then won at odds of 65.3 on the Exchange. Ignoring trends on that day would have been a costly mistake!
Let’s Look at Our Contenders
Before we go any further, do you remember when I pointed out that only one horse has won at odds of 16/1+ in over 20 years? Sioux Nation is 25/1 and is unlikely to attract enough market support to cut his odds to 14/1 or lower. He is also in poor form with four races in a row where he has not even placed.
Sands of Mali is a 16/1 shot and has had a couple of wretched runs recently. He was 16th out of 20 runners at Deauville last time out, and before that, he finished 12th from 13 runners in the Darley July Cup at Newmarket. He is outside the 14/1 trend but is close enough to suggest he may be backed in a couple of ticks by race time.
On the surface, backing Sands of Mali seems like a waste of money yet he isn’t without a chance. Before those two poor runs came three excellent ones. A second place in a Group 1 at Ascot’s Commonwealth Cup (beaten just half a length) and victories in a Group 2 at Haydock and Group 3 in Chantilly. Crucially, Sands of Mali is one of only four course and distance runners in the field.
Sir Dancelot is the only other contender and is in excellent form with consecutive Group 2 wins at Newbury and Goodwood, and a Group 3 win at Newmarket two races before that. He found U.S Navy Flag too good at the Darley July Cup but ran on well and finished a creditable fourth. At 8/1 he represents good value. Also, 16/21 winners finished in the top three in their previous race, so Sir Dancelot even ticks that box! The main concern is that his last three wins were all over 7f; perhaps 6f is too short for him?
It is probably a risky decision to eliminate last year’s winner Harry Angel from contention, but he fails to meet some of the trends and does not necessarily represent value at 5/4. From my analysis, I was able to narrow down the field to just two contenders. Sands of Mali has won a few races from the front so could be worth a shot at 16/1 if he recaptures his early season form.
Sir Dancelot is a clear threat to Harry Angel. He is good value but tends to race from midfield or slightly further back before making a late surge. In a 6f race, he needs a better start or else the line may come too soon.