Now in its 158th year, The Cheltenham Festival kicks off the National Hunt racing season this afternoon. And, now that you’ve curated the perfect racing wardrobe, got a handle of the experts’ parlance and secured your lodgings at the only hotel to be seen at this year — it’s time to place your bets on the winning horses that can pay for all of these extravagances.
Unfortunately, and rather obviously, there’s no surefire way to determine that your gamble is going to pay off. However, you can rely on a little more than simply selecting a name on the basis of superstition, the colour of a jockey’s jersey, or the fact a horse has a name that sounds a bit like your first girlfriend’s.
In order to get the real experts’ advice, we spoke with Glyn Warne, the Head of Antepost and International Racing at luxury bookmakers Fitzdares. Read on for his list of the five essentials to consider before putting your money down and limbering up your vocal chords for the famous Cheltenham Roar.
1. Trust the trainer
Horse trainers are rarely the stars of the track, a place where jockeys and horses usually revel in the spotlight, but it’s worth remembering that without their diligence and extraordinary talent, races such as this simply would not exist. The real unsung heroes, you might consider them the Oscar-winning producers of the of the racetrack.
According to Glyn, it is of paramount importance that you take note of which trainers’ horses are consistently on good form, and there are a handful of names he suggests you keep an eye out for. In the first instance, the master British National Hunt horse trainer, Paul Nicholls has an excellent strike rate of 39%, and has won 15/38 of his latest races.
Gordon Elliott also returns for the Festival this year, off the back of a stellar 2018 in which he scored the most winners at Cheltenham last year.
2. Find a judicious jockey
It’s the age-old question posed in the world entrepreneurial startups: do you bet on the horse or the jockey? But, according to Glyn, one cannot take precedence over the other when it comes to Cheltenham.
In his expert opinion, one man stands out from the crowd when you’re considering the best jockey to bet on this year: Ruby Walsh. The Irishman remains the all-time leading rider at Cheltenham and has unfalteringly excellent course form.
3. Ascertain course form
Cheltenham Racecourse is a stunning natural amphitheatre. However, it’s the undulations of the course, the test of the fences — and the fight to the finish up the legendary Cheltenham Hill that combine to test the true strength of any thoroughbred racehorse and rider.
“Cheltenham is unique, because of its steep hill at the end — which means that where a lot of horses struggle, others thrive,” explains Glyn. His favourite for the Gold Cup — the biggest race of the festival — taking place later this week is Presenting Percy, who has won twice at the Festival before.
Tiger Roll is another resilient competitor to watch, having won the Grand National last year and Cheltenham for three years.
4. Keep an eye to the ground
As far as the team at Fitzdares are concerned, this is the single most important factor to consider before placing your bets — and if today’s weather is anything to go by, then Cheltenham Festival is in for a soggy week.
But, Glyn stresses, the weather isn’t bad news for all of the horses, “some actually love a wetter ground, because they are able dig their hooves in,” he explains. “Native River won last year, largely because he could deal with the conditions best — he wasn’t the favourite, but a lot of money came on for him later thanks to this ability.”
5. Is the price right?
Often referred to as the odds, the price refers to the chance a horse has been given by the market to win the race.“When all is said and done, after you’ve taken all of the above into consideration, you need to look at the price of the horse” says Glyn.
Betting on the 2:1 favourite may not seem worth it, especially if you’re a bit of a risk-taker and the odds are low — however, if you do, statistically you should win around 33% of the time. Also worth bearing in mind is that, as a rule, jockeys who are in the top 10 world rankings tend to win around 90% of any given race.
Once you’ve given due consideration to all of the above, it’s time to grab your paper and weigh up your chances. Good luck!
Looking for a wider guide to the Cheltenham Festival 2019? Look no further…