Can scientists predict the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner?

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    How do you choose which horse to back? The jockey’s colours, the horse’s name or a sentimental reason are typical. But what about science?

    A group of racing fans — researchers Jane Williams, Dr Tim Parkin, Dr David Marlin and Yvonne Heath — has used an epidemiological (the study of disease patterns) model to predict Thursday’s Gold Cup winner.

    They previously used the model to forecast that 150-1 outsider At First Sight would perform well in last year’s Derby — it finished second.

    One of the researchers, Dr David Marlin, said that public reception changed after At First Sight proved their method worked.

    “People were sceptical that you could apply models to predicting racing,” he said. “But I had so many phone calls from happy punters after the Derby. We know these methods work for disease and injury, why not for this?”

    But Dr Marlin warned that National Hunt is “a lot less predictable” than Flat racing due to the jumps and inevitable falls.

    Factors analysed for the Gold Cup include age, birthplace, trainer, number of trainers, jockey, number of jockeys, breeding and form — particularly at Cheltenham.

    Ms Williams claimed that the importance of the horse’s rapport with the jockey is a better indicator of a horse’s likelihood of winning than his breeding.

    “Horses which are able to establish a long-term relationship with just one or two individuals statistically perform better,” she said.

    “Horses in this category are 40 times more likely to win than those with three or more jockeys.”

    So who should we be punting on? Like the bookies, the model has identified Imperial Commander and Denman as most likely to perform well.

    But if you want a lively outside bet, epidemiology suggests Weird Al, Albertas Run and Midnight Chase as having each-way chances.

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