Crunching the Punchestown Festival Numbers

Willie Mullins’ bid to win the UK Trainers Championship produced some bizarre stuff, from Vroum Vroum Mag’s late withdrawal on Saturday to memes featuring the Irish Champion and Paul Nicholls in various battle poses, but one of the stranger elements were the public pronouncements of support for Mullins from other Irish handlers like Noel Meade and Gordon Elliott, writes Tony Keenan.

It seems a departure from our national pastime of begrudgery but is worth pointing out that both, one the last Champion BM (Before Mullins), the other his biggest rival, have plenty to gain from Mullins going nearly all out to getting the double up.

Those gains could be realised at Punchestown this week, a meeting Mullins has dominated even more than Cheltenham in recent times, which could have a different feel to it this season. The likes of Meade and Elliott will be hoping for a Punchestown that resembles Fairyhouse last month where Mullins had just two winners over the three days and that is not an unrealistic expectation with the champion having fired plenty of darts at Sandown, Perth and most notably Aintree recently; he had 34 runners at Liverpool this year having had an average of just 5.5 per season since 2003.

With this in mind, let’s look at the record of the trainers at the Punchestown Festival since 2008; I’ve chosen that year as the starting point as it’s basically the beginning of the modern era of Irish jumps racing when Mullins won his second trainers’ title and hasn’t relinquished it since.


Trainer Winners Runners Strikerate Level Stakes A/E
W. Mullins 88 461 19.1% +41.30 1.08
J. Harrington 17 166 10.2% +74.80 1.32
E. Bolger 16 78 20.5% -10.5 1.10
N. Henderson 11 75 14.7% -17.63 0.84
C. Murphy 6 49 12.2% +1.75 1.27
P. Hobbs 6 26 23.1% +25.17 1.32
T. Mullins 6 54 11.1% +10.00 1.28
H. De Bromhead 5 82 6.1% -46.88 0.57
E. O’Grady 5 79 6.3% -48.5 0.81
G. Elliott 5 70 7.1% -8.00 0.68


Mullins has Eclipse-type dominance over the field at this fixture though the three chasing him up do well albeit that the bulk of Enda Bolger’s success has come in the specialist discipline of banks races. Jessica Harrington has a good record though her big level-stakes profit is largely down to a single 50/1 winner in Walk To Freedom; that said, she does get more than her share of big-priced upsets at the meeting with 10 of her 17 winners returned 10/1 or bigger.

Furthermore, she has her team in good order at the moment and has had a notably good season with her bumper horses in Ireland where they are 8/39 (20.5%) with a level-stakes profit of 18.61 points and an actual over expected of 1.07. Nicky Henderson – who resides with Harrington over the week – also over-achieves in terms of winners, though they seem a touch overbet; and Phillip Hobbs is a better English trainer to follow in terms of profitability.

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There are plenty of trainers with negative records at this meeting and that’s not to knock them; unless you’re Willie Mullins, a trainer can’t have their horses in form all season. Gordon Elliott’s record is mediocre but Noel Meade’s is downright miserable; he’s 4/150 (2.7%) with a level-stakes loss of 98.25 points and an A/E of 0.3. Other negatives are Mouse Morris (1/64, -43 points, A/E 0.21) and Paul Nolan (2/64, -31.5 points, A/E 0.37). Tony Martin also does poorly historically (3/87, -74.17 points, A/E 0.35) but I would be dubious about that continuing with the form he’s been in lately; after operating at just short of a 5% strikerate between last September and the end of February, his return has improved to 13.7% since the start of March.

Returning to Mullins, it’s notable that as at Cheltenham he does well with his short priced runners. Backing all of his at even money or shorter would have led to 22 winners from 32 bets and a small profit of 1.49 points. I’m more interested in his second (and third and fourth…) strings however and below are the numbers of the Mullins runners ridden by Ruby Walsh and all other jockeys, leaving out bumpers as these races are confined to amateurs in Ireland. As with all other figures here unless otherwise stated, they go back as far as 2008.


Jockey Winners Runners Strikerate Level Stakes A/E
Ruby Walsh 40 137 29.2% +6.75 1.01
Other Jockeys 31 243 12.8% +16.09 1.13


Ruby has a much better strikerate than the others and actually shows a profit which suggests, amazingly, that even the fancied Closutton runners are underbet at this meeting but the rest of the jockeys have a better level stakes profit and actual over expected. Having spent most of the season avoiding each other, the end-of-term nature of this fixture means Mullins often runs a number of his horses in the same race here and there can be value in opposing the first string.

There will be years when this goes belly up such as 2014 when such runners were 0/31 but last season you would have got the lot as they went 7/35 and I think they’ll be profitable again in 2016 with the picture complicated by so many of the Mullins horses having had an atypical preparation for this, running at the likes of Aintree.

Certainly a trip to Liverpool can be a less than ideal preparation for Punchestown as we see in the figures for horses having had their last run at one of the earlier spring festivals:


Track Winners Runners Strikerate Level Stakes A/E
Cheltenham 70 430 16.3% -117.37 0.88
Aintree 20 246 8.1% -131.39 0.66
Both 14 110 12.7% -30.9 0.85
Fairyhouse 57 763 7.5% -170.54 0.88


Cheltenham does best in terms of strikerate which is no surprise as Punchestown falls perfectly for those coming directly from Prestbury Park in terms of time between the meetings. If fancying one that ran at Aintree, it should probably also have run at Cheltenham as horses that haven’t do poorly here. It’s worth pointing out that only three horses have attempted to win at Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown since 2008: Sprinter Sacre, On The Fringe and Lac Fontana with the first two being successful. There could be four such horses this season alone with On The Fringe back to try for the double treble and while Mullins has Yorkhill, Douvan and Annie Power lined up.

One knock you sometimes read about Punchestown is that it’s only end of season form and it tends not to work out; rather than accept this argument as true I decided to look into it by analysing the Grade 1 winners at both Cheltenham and Punchestown since 2010 – I would have gone back to 2008 but got too tired!


Track Grade 1 Winners Median SP Average Field Size Won Grade 1 Subsequently Ran Grade 1 Subsequently
Cheltenham 74 6/1 13.5 58% 88%
Punchestown 67 11/4 8.1 57% 85%


We see that the Punchestown winners are easier to find in terms of starting price though that’s clearly a product of smaller field sizes. The record of the Grade 1 winners from both festivals competing and winning at Grade 1 level subsequently seems a sensible if rudimentary method of comparing where the form works out best and while Cheltenham comes out best it is only marginal. There have been some wild-priced Grade 1 winners at Punchestown over the years like China Rock and Spirit Of Adjisa that have never reproduced that form again but there have been plenty of upset winners like Follow The Plan and God’s Own that were well able to continue mixing it at the top table.

Tony Keenan

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