Although the first day of the festival usually has at least two or three short-priced favourites, it’s important not to get carried away early on. There will be plenty of turn-ups and you want something left in your betting bank by the time they set off for the closing Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle. Take note: there were two shorties on day one last year, Benie Des Dieux at 10-11 and Apple’s Jade at 7-4, and both failed to deliver.
The festival is the biggest week of the year for bookmakers and they will be falling over each other to woo punters with special offers and concessions. Best Odds Guaranteed and extra each-way places are now commonplace, but there will also be a range of other money-back and free-bet offers floating around. Take advantage of this and visit our Free Bets page to compare the best offers before placing your bets.
At each of the last two festivals, three of the five handicap chases were won by horses from outside the major stables who were priced at 10-1 or less and were from the top three in the betting. A fancied runner from a smaller yard is always worth noting and the ones to watch out for this year are Hold The Note (Mick Channon) in the Ultima, Dashel Drasher (Jeremy Scott) in the Close Brothers and The Conditional (David Bridgwater) in the Kim Muir.
Gordon Elliott has a notably strong record with juvenile hurdlers, having won the Triumph Hurdle and the Fred Winter (now run as the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle) twice each in the last seven years at rewarding odds of 25-1, 10-1, 33-1 and 9-1. He landed both races in 2018 and last year sent out the runner-up in both at 20-1 and 14-1. Elliott has Aramax, Recent Revelations and Tronador in the betting for the two races at the moment, so watch out for them.
The festival hosts the most fiercely contested races of the season and the handicaps are particularly devilish puzzles to solve. Last year’s festival threw up two 50-1 winners and one at 66-1, so consider splitting your stake in some races and backing more than one horse to increase your chance of picking a winner.
Jessica Harrington is a trainer to follow at the festival, with her 11 winners from 89 runners showing a level-stake profit of £7.75. However, this figure improves significantly if you focus only on her runners sent off a 10-1 or shorter – there have been 32 of them and seven won, returning a level-stake profit of £25.50.
Whether you’re propping up the Guinness Bar, peering down from a box or glued to the television, take note of how horses appear to be handling the big occasion – some of them spoil their chances before even jumping off. On-course markets are shaped in the ten minutes leading up to each event.
Due to advanced training methods around the turn of the millennium trends got turned on their head. Time has passed by again, though, and ten-year-trends are on the comeback trail. After all, trainers are creatures of habit. The Coral Cup is just one example in which applying strict criteria can pay dividends. For instance, a quick glimpse shows hurdlers with no more than four runs that season have dominated in recent times – last year’s 28-1 winner William Henry had just the one coming into it. It’s a big help in whittling down large fields. If you’re unable to burn the midnight oil, then don’t miss Kevin Morley’s piece in the Racing Post each day highlighting standout trends.
If you fancy a horse, stick to your guns. The entire jumps season revolves around the festival and the form is all out there. There’s absolutely nothing worse than jumping off one due to overthinking things, or being afraid of a big price, only to see it hose up.
While odds are quite literally the hard numbers of betting, making the best of them is more art than science. Getting the best odds about your selections depends on several factors, including your own approach to betting and the types of horses you tend to back. As such, any advice that can be given has been earned from years of personal experience and your sweet spot will only be found through similar means.
Accordingly, it is always a good idea to watch markets and how they develop wherever possible. That goes for the evening before the Cheltenham Festival markets right the way along to comparing on-track Cheltenham betting with what is happening on the exchanges. As with anything in racing, the lessons drawn are all the better if you are familiar with the horses involved. That said, many of the factors in reading the markets boil down to reading the humans actors involved – to paraphrase a quote so beloved by horsemen, the horse cannot affect what price it is.
If bookies are offering prices now, what is in it for them? If someone wants to get a wedge on, when would they do it? What signs might be there that today is The Day, when it is all fancied to come together at Cheltenham? Judging the odds market is something that even the best bettors get wrong more often than other factors. You will back a few that go off five times the price and are never involved. The satisfaction of being an early adopter more than makes up for these moments, though, and even though it stings to see your 8-1 bet get chinned eight hours later as 15-8 favourite at the festival, the fact you read the market so deftly soon comes along as a bit of an anaesthetic.
A word of warning, though: do not mistake this cold comfort for any sort of compensation. It is surprisingly easy to find yourself looking for horses who will go off shorter than current odds, rather than those that actually represent good value. The two often overlap but are ultimately distinct. Never lose sight that winners are the currency of betting and that beating the market is comparable with nothing more important than grabbing a bargain in the sales.
Read more by purchasing Racing Post Betting Guide for the festival
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Packed with invaluable advice from the best writers in the business, this comprehensive guide has everything you need for the Cheltenham Festival. Key trends and stats, Paul Kealy's assessment of the big races and a day-by-day guide previewing the best action. Order your copy now.Read more