Weekender Ultimate Guide: essential advice from our top tipsters
Revered Racing Post tipsters, including Tom Segal and James Pyman, share their top tips on how to make your punting pay during Cheltenham
Festival form key
Festival form is the key factor I look for when weighing up potential bets over the four days of the Cheltenham Festival. Races at this meeting tend to be run at championship pace on good ground, and some horses are simply better equipped to rise to the challenge than others.
Horses who excel at their first festival tend to return year after year and perform well time and time again.The cream usually rises to the top at Cheltenham, and many of the best horses are prepared throughout a season with just one day in March in mind.
Spread your bets
Don’t be shy of backing more than one horse in a race. Most of the festival races are hugely competitive. This includes all the handicaps – they are hard to crack and punters who give themselves only one shot in these festival races are setting themselves a very stern challenge.
The chance of bad luck in running in maximum fields boosts the attraction of having more than one horse running for you. While having multiple bets on those at the head of the market may not prove cost effective, if you look a bit more widely there are usually plenty of runners with a chance who can be backed inexpensively given their big odds.
Be flexible on the day
Try to be quick to react to things that are happening on the track and be willing to adapt your decision-making accordingly. Don’t be tied down to your original thoughts, be flexible.
Last season Willie Mullins enjoyed plenty of success early on the opening day and his runners crashed in price for races later that day and week when the liabilities began to run up. It also quickly became glaringly obvious his string was in scintillating form.
Also look for form lines that are working out well and be quick to react. Have a look at who the winners of the races on day one have been competing against recently, and make a note if any of that competition is running later in the week. If they are, the form lines have been franked and the price is likely to collapse in order to reflect that. If you get in before everybody else, there is value to be had.
Those are just two examples, but this is a good way to stay a step ahead of the market.
Don’t go too soon
The most important punting advice I can give about the Cheltenham Festival is to not go too soon and to keep playing your game. Over the years I have often found myself in a bigger hole than I have needed to be after two days when the half-time whistle has only just been blown.
Four days is a long time and if things haven’t gone well coming into Thursday there is still plenty of time to resurrect matters. Keep playing your own game, don’t get sucked into the hype and things will probably improve. If not at least you can comfort yourself in the fact that you went down playing the game that has suited your style over the years.
Exactas key to success
When it comes to the handicaps I always like to have at least two horses on my side. That used to be my rule for nearly all the festival races, and although the Graded contests aren’t quite as competitive nowadays, the handicaps are as tough as ever and you really don’t want to leave yourself short in them.
It’s also worth throwing in a few Exactas. They are quite a good way of making money from small stakes. One of my most memorable punting moments was the first running of the Mares’ Hurdle when the two horses I backed, Whiteoak and Refinement, virtually dead-heated. The result went the way of the bigger-priced Whiteoak, meaning the Exacta paid £252 to a £1 stake. Since then I’ve never dared bet without it.
Placepots are profitable
Pace yourself and be selective with your bets – don’t feel forced to bet in every race just because it’s the festival. Have a crack at the Placepot and include plenty of lines – the rewards can be huge if favourites are unplaced. Take advantage of the exchanges. You have the option of reducing potential damage by laying off in running. Finally, don’t be afraid to back more than one horse in the handicaps, which are always ultra-competitive and often hard to whittle down. You might have the winner among two or three bets and still make a tidy profit.
Don’t let booze dictate
To paraphrase Arnold Schwarzenegger’s classic line ‘You should not drink and bake’ in the film Raw Deal, not boozing and punting at the same time is likely to save you plenty of money and a lot of hand wringing.
Cheltenham has become – if you so desire – a 24/7, four-day party and abstaining throughout is probably a horrific prospect for most people. Much wiser to place your big bets before the festival begins, when your reasoning should be more lucid.
And one of the shrewder ways to invest your cash is in the wagers the bookies hate. With Douvan (Champion Chase) and Altior (Arkle) long odds-on, it’s crying out for a couple of each-way singles and an each-way double.
Irish could have edge
The weather has meant that a lot of the big meetings in Britain this winter seem to have been run on not overly testing ground like the good/good to soft prevalent at most festivals. But In Ireland, soft and heavy ground has been the norm. Between October and February, 27 per cent of races worth £20,000 or more in Britain were run on soft or heavy going versus 38 per cent in Ireland.
I have a theory that this could give some of the Irish horses an edge in the handicaps. Many of the British horses who require better ground could have already shown their hand, while those with a good-ground preference in Ireland may have been unable to show their true abilities owing to the slow conditions they have been encountering.
Don’t get carried away
In betting terms, don’t treat Cheltenham differently to any other meeting throughout the year. Having a bet should always be because you fancy a horse to win, not because it’s a big race. For instance, if you can’t see an angle in the Supreme Novices’, leave it. There are still well over three days where you will find an angle in something. It’s great to get a winner at the festival, but a 5-1 winner there will pay the same as it does on a 5-1 shot at Plumpton on a wet Monday. So whatever your punting rules have been, stick to them, and don’t divert simply because it’s Cheltenham.
Speciality markets key
Betting at the Cheltenham Festival can be a long, hard slog and it’s a good idea to have a saver bet on something in the speciality markets that gives you an interest all the way to the way through to Friday.
This year, for instance, the 6-1 on offer with BetVictor for Ireland to win the Prestbury Cup and have more winners than the British-trained horses looks terrific value.
Gordon Elliott, who will be sending a massive team to Prestbury Park, is around 6-1 to be crowned top trainer, and that appeals as very good value too.
More expert advice on every race of the festival can be found in The Ultimate Guide, a 104-page special Weekender publication. Full of tips, cards and form, it goes on sale on Friday, March 3 and is priced at £3.25 (€4 in the Republic of Ireland)