Big and getting bigger: Cheltenham Festival dominates top betting races
It is the week that dwarfs all others in jump racing and, according to the turnover leaderboard for 2018 revealed by Ladbrokes and Coral, the Cheltenham Festival is growing ever-more dominant in the minds of betting shop customers too.
In the first list of top 40 betting contests in the year since the two bookmakers merged, the festival accounted for a monopolising 25 entries. That is up from 20 in 2017 and 15 in 2013, when the figures were from Coral shops.
The growing appeal of top-quality jump racing with punters was emphasised by just ten of the top 40 races being Flat contests. That compares to 16 in 2017.
Its lure to once-a-year punters ensured the Randox Health Grand National remained at the head of the rankings, with the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup staying ahead of the Investec Derby in the race for second. It was one of six festival races to feature in the 2018 top ten.
The Investec Oaks, Coral’s 11th highest-rated race by turnover in 2017, plummeted to 36th spot.
"The popularity and importance of the Cheltenham Festival continues to grow relentlessly, with only three of the 28 races not featuring in the top 40," said Simon Clare, Ladbrokes Coral PR director.
"Now when we talk about mass market events, only the Grand National is bigger than Cheltenham Gold Cup day. All seven Cheltenham races that day are in the top 32.
"The two big underperforming Cheltenham races in 2017 in betting terms were the Arkle and Champion Chase because of the prohibitively short prices of Altior [1-4] and Douvan [2-9], but both races bounced back into the table in style last year, into ninth and 19th.
"Both races still featured strong favourites in Footpad [5-6] and Altior [evens], but at more customer-friendly prices."
He added: “The 2018 list also emphasised the mass market betting popularity of top-class jump racing overall, with 16 of the top 20 betting races of the jumping variety."
Among the 25 festival races to feature, the occasionally maligned Trull House Stud Mares' Novices' Hurdle, won by Laurina last year, came into the list at number 29, outperforming more established betting heats such as the JLT Novices' Chase, the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate and Pertemps Final.
Turning his attention to the Flat, Clare said: “All five British Classics made the top 40, although the Oaks slipped from 11th down to 36th, which reflected the lack of star quality in the line-up.
“The Arc, on the other hand, featured the biggest star of them all in the form of Enable, and meant the race came from nowhere in 2017, with the help of ITV coverage, to be the 11th biggest betting race of the year.”
“An even bigger World Cup casualty in betting terms was the Coral-Eclipse as the race clashed with England’s quarter-final against Sweden.
“The Coral-Eclipse achieved its highest ever position in 2017 in sixth place, but dropped to 66th in the 2018 list thanks to the unexpected heroics of the England football team.”
My favourite betting race
The Lily Agnes at Chester's May meeting
At this early stage of the Flat turf season not many two-year-olds have hit the track so it's relatively easy to get a handle on the form lines of those involved. With Chester being such a sharp course a low draw is nigh on a necessity, so there are some easy ways to whittle down the field. Watching horses fly round the Roodee is one of the best sights on the Flat and it's even better if you're on a winner!
County Hurdle, Cheltenham Festival
This may well have something to do with Superb Story’s win two years ago but regardless of that memorable financial result, I’ve always been a sucker for a decent punt on the County Hurdle. Until recent years the last race at the festival, it’s a contest that’s been lucky for me down the years and there’s nothing more satisfying than signing off Cheltenham week on a winning note. Whether it be the Greatwood in November, what was the Ladbroke at Ascot over Christmas or the Betfair Hurdle in February, one always catches the eye with the County in mind.
Grand Annual, Cheltenham Festival
A favourite race long before it was relegated to last race of the festival to replace the equally devilish County Hurdle. A race that demands two or three bets minimum such are the each-way rewards with four or more places paying, depending how the meeting has gone for the bookmakers. While Pearlyman (1986), Katabatic (1990) and Next Sensation (2015) have been the personal bullseyes there have also been plenty of hard-luck stories. If concentration is lapsing on day four, following the Henderson runners in a race recently commemorating his father has paid plenty of dividends, with Theinval in the last two years a case in point.
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