Exeter Racecourse

This month I am moving even deeper into the south west of Britain for a look at Exeter racecourse, home of The Haldon Gold Cup.

As before in this series of articles on British racecourses, I will look briefly at the track’s location, history, configuration and a couple of big races run at the track. I will also highlight some significant track stats.

History and Location

Exeter racecourse is located close to the Cathedral city of Exeter, in the picturesque English county of Devon. The racecourse is the highest in Britain, being 850 feet (260 m) above sea level.

The track, surrounded by heather and gorse, overlooks some of the most beautiful countrysides in Devon from its lofty position on the top of the Haldon Hill. To this day many locals still call it Haldon Racecourse rather than its official name.

The course has excellent transport links. For those coming on foot, a free bus service to the racecourse is provided from the city’s St David’s railway station and the Exeter City Bus Station each race day.

For racegoers coming by car, the course is located just off the A38 which runs from Exeter to Plymouth and is also just short drive from the end of the M5 southbound.

Horse racing has been part of Exeter’s history since the middle of the 17th century and the first race meetings were held after the restoration of the monarchy by King Charles II, whose love for the sport of horse racing has been well documented. The first official racing meeting at Haldon Racecourse was held in 1769.

Like many racecourses, its popularity has waxed and waned since the days of King Charles. However, the course managed to become the centre for National Hunt racing in this part of England. Hence why Haldon Racecourse would become known as Devon & Exeter.

Devon & Exeter was in the 1970s & 1980s seen as a predominantly summer-jumping venue with some fairly low-grade racing. Since the course was rebranded and the Devon part of the name was dropped in the early 1990s, the quality of the races has improved. There is no summer jumping at the course whose season now runs between October and May.

Between March & October, the course is the site of the Exeter Racecourse Caravan Club.

Infamously the racecourse was the location for the last duel to be held in Devon when a local doctor and judge faced off with pistols at dawn in 1833. In more recent years the course also saw the death of three-time Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Best Mate when competing in the Haldon Gold Cup in November 2005.

In 2007 the track became a member of the Jockey Club Racecourse Group which should ensure that that racing is safe for the foreseeable future in this stunning part of the country.

Track Configuration

Exeter is a right-handed, essentially galloping track with a circuit of two miles. Given its location, it’s not surprisingly a hilly and galloping course.

The going can be very heavy in winter and very quick after a spell of dry weather, as we saw in the autumn of last year, this is due to the track lacking its own artificial water supply.

The hurdles course is on the inside of the chase one but the home turn is used by both. The chase course features a steep downhill section on the very long back straight with an upward climb as the runners reach the turn for home. It’s a very undulating track but the effect of the undulations is mitigated by some long gradual bends.

The fences are not the biggest in the country so it’s an ideal track for a horse having their first start over the large obstacles, with both Desert Orchid and Best Mate making their debut over fences here.

The course is a good test of both horse and jockey, as the fences are not as evenly distributed as they are at other jump’s tracks. This is exemplified by the three fences that come in fairly quick succession after the runner’s head away from the grandstand. There is then a long break before four fences coming to the home turn. Three of these fences come fairly quickly before there is a gap of almost a furlong between the final two fences. The four-furlong home straight is on the rise all the way to the winning post.

There are seven obstacles to be jumped on the hurdles track. One going away from the grandstand, three more before the home turn and three in the home straight. There’s almost a furlong between the final hurdle and the line.

Despite the uneven distribution of the fences, the course is still considered a fair one by most racing professionals.

Races can be won from the front or by horses who come from off the pace.

Exeter's Big Races

There are a number of good races held at the track each season, including the 3m 7f Devon National which is held in February. However, the highlight of the season has to be the 2m 1f Haldon Gold Cup, which is held in November and has been won in the past by some great chasers, such as Viking Flagship, Flagship Uberalles, Best Mate, Edredon Bleu, Cue Card and Politologue. The 2018 renewal was won by Gods Own who had previously won the race in 2014.

The Devon National

The Devon National doesn’t have the kudos of a certain other National but can be a severe test of horse’s stamina on heavy ground and the runners having to negotiate 21 fences during this marathon trip.

First run in 1998,  the largest priced winner of the race is The Clyda Rover trained by Helen Nelmes who was sent off at odds of 22/1, when victorious in 2013.

Last year’s renewal was won Dawson City, trained by Polly Gundry and ridden by the now retired Andrew Thornton.

In recent years the most successful trainer in the race has been Jonjo O’Neill whose had 3 winners from 6 runners 50% +31.5 4 placed 67%.

Should the trainer have a runner in this year's race then it warrants maximum respect.

Exeter Stats

Let’s begin by looking at some general stats including favourite stats at the course since 2014.

The stats below are from Jan 1st 2014 to the time of writing (10/12/18) and cover all jumps meetings at the course. Once again, I am using the ever useful www.horseracebase.com for the stats.

The results below contain 518 winners from 4604 runners.

General Stats

Top 3 in the betting provided 73% winners from 34% of the total runners
top four last time out provided 58% of the total winners from 39% of the total runners.

Fate of Favourites

Now let’s look at the fate of the favourites.

On average favourites, including Joint & Co favs, win about 35% of all National Hunt races. How have favourites fared at Exeter in the period under research?

All Favourites have produced – 195 winners from 559 runners 35% -68.6 A/E 0.90 166 placed 70%

Breaking those results down into non-handicaps and handicaps and looking at last time out placings:

  • Non -Handicaps – 112 winners from 237 runners 47% -16.94 A/E 0.92 136 placed 72%
  • Handicaps – 83 winners from 322 runners 26% -51.66 A/E 0.86 166 placed 52%
  • Favourites that won their last race have produced – 63 winners from 163 runners 39% -20.38 A/E 0.91 107 placed 66%
  • Favourites that had finished outside the top four on their last start produced – 37 winners from 119 runners 31% -18.46 A/E 0.85 80 placed 67%

Trainers & Favourites

If you’re a favourite backer. Then the best trainers when the money is down are:

  • Evan Williams – 4 winners from 5 runners 80% + 6.13
  • Gary Moore – 4 winners from 6 runners 67% +5
  • Jeremy Scott -3 winners from 5 runners 60% +4.13
  • Nigel Hawke -3 winners from 6 runners 50% +3 5 placed 83%
  • Nick Williams -5 winners from 10 runners 50% +1.19 7 placed 70%
  • Victor Dartnell – 5 winners from 11 runners 45% +4.13 8 placed 73%
  • Emma Lavelle -5 winners from 11 runners 45% +7.75 6 placed 55%

Trainer Stats and Angles

Here are a few interesting trainer track stats. That will hopefully enable you to identify some winners at Exeter this season.

The top trainer at the track numerically is Philip Hobbs – 50 winners from 232 runners 22% -36.42 A/E 0.93 102 placed 44%

For those of you looking for a profitable micro angle for the trainer you do worse than look at his runners with the following traits:

Trainer: Philip Hobbs

Race Class: 4, 5 or 6

Race Type: Non-handicaps (chases & hurdles)

Best Position In Last Three Runs: 1st, 2nd or no previous form

These qualifiers have produced 19 winners from 39 runners 49% +28.51 A/E 1.39 26 placed 67% since the start of 2014.

Other trainers whose runners are worth noting are Harry Fry, Neil King and Evan Williams.

Exeter is Harry Fry’s local track so you would expect him do well here and you would be right.

Since the start of 2014 he’s had 27 winners from 74 runners 36% +44.8 A/E 1.27 45 placed 61%.

Digging a bit deeper 52% of those winners from 35% of his total runners had the following traits:

Jockey: Noel Fehily

Race Type: Non-handicap (hurdles & NHF races)

Producing the following results 14 winners from 26 runners 54% +46.38 22 placed 85% (each way +57.55).

Trainer Neil King hasn’t had many runners at the track but he boasts an excellent win strike rate – 6 winners from 14 runners 43% +22.11 A/E 2.28 11 placed 79% (each way +33.39)

Welsh trainer Evan Williams is another trainer who does well at the track.

Since the start of 2014, he’s had 16 winners from 60 runners 27% +39.13 A/E 1.87 22 placed 37%. Not only is he a profitable trainer but as the A/E figure indicates they are also under bet by the public.

Nine or 53% of his winners have come in handicap hurdles – 9 winners from 22 runners 41% + 43.88 A/E 2.74 11 placed 50% (each way +50.78).

Hopefully, you enjoyed this brief look at Exeter racecourse and some of the track’s key stats.

In next month’s article, I will be heading to the Midlands and Uttoxeter racecourse. The home of the Midlands National.

Until next time.

John Burke

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