Jumpers Bumpers: pulling the wool, or a useful addition to the programme?
If there's one compensation for the loss of so many Pointing fixtures this year since the third lockdown kicked in, it's that a majority would have fallen prey to the wet or the cold. There's little more dispiriting for fixture secretaries than to put in the hard yards, only to be thwarted by the weather.
In the professional game, the paucity of fixtures has resulted in some innovative fresh race programming by the BHA. Jumpers Bumpers have been running at Newcastle and Kempton to satisfy the demands of the betting industry, but they're also an excellent opportunity for trainers to introduce youngsters to racing without obstacles.
And judging from the results today and yesterday, there appears to be no shortage of young horses looking for a run. I can remember a time when there was a rush to the exit before the concluding Bumper, in which maximum fields in excess of 20 runners would be ridden by Cat B amateurs and conditionals. I should grudgingly acknowledge that the experience was not always a positive one for the horses, and the move for professional riders to displace amateurs was, by and large, a good one. For a long tome, the Bumper programme was supported by a great friend of racing, the late George Ward, whose Bonusprint and Tripleprint brands graced almost every big race in the Jumps calendar over 25 years.
Nowadays, however, the number of bumpers is so large that numbers per race have dwindled; can it really make sense to run such a race with just seven runners as occurred in Newcastle's closer yesterday?
If the object of the exercise was to satisfy a demand from bookmakers as well as trainers, then the 66/1 about Bricklagger in today's second Bumper from Kempton will have filled the odd satchel. Evidently the win was something of a surprise to trainer Emma Lavelle too, notching her 21st winner of the season at the expense of neighbour Alan King, whose Grosvenor Court, a 33/1 chance, finished second. But more often, it's an odds-on favourite that wins. Short-priced winners are commonplace.
However, some interesting patterns emerge if you analyse these races over time, which show that you can beat the bookie if you are selective. Several trainers are very well disposed toward these types of races, and a level stakes £1 bet has you ahead - quite a rarity if following a trainer's runners blindly. Check out the research here . For those that want to test the theory, Kempton will stage another Jumpers Bumpers card on Thursday.
In Ireland, schooling races are quite common, where horses can participate in a race without the scrutiny of regulators assessing whether they have put their best foot forward or not. It's an idea Point-to-Points would do well to emulate in the absence of any fixtures. Not only would it keep our owners and riders engaged with a sport in whose participation they have been constantly frustrated, but it would provide welcome revenue for hunts unable to run their own fixture through a lack of crowds.