The Cheltenham Festival

I have been meaning to write this post for a little while and I thank those who have prodded me in comments on previous blog posts. Firstly there are NO bets in this post. So if you are looking for any ‘tips’ or ante-post picks you will not find them here, not yet anyway.

The aim of this post is to briefly explain my approach to Cheltenham, why there are no ante-post bets and what you can expect on this blog.

However, I want to start with a moan.

I don’t like the way that Cheltenham engulfs National Hunt racing. I find it tiresome. I find it boring. I find it predictable and it annoys me.

This is not to be confused with my childish excitement as the best week of the year on earth gets nearer. Monday the 9th March is like Christmas Eve (as a child!) and it’s bloody exciting.

But, much like Christmas, we appear to start taking about The Festival earlier and earlier every year. Given the high class racing that generally takes place every weekend during the main National Hunt season there really is no need.

Maybe it’s best to use an example to demonstrate my annoyance.

Let’s pick a horse. A very good horse. A horse that will go down as a legend. He will have a race named after him. A statue will be built. 22 Grade 1s. Let me repeat that. 22 Grade 1s.

Hurricane Fly is his name and he is an equine machine. A one off.

Every time he wins another race, another Grade 1, attention switches straight to Cheltenham. Maybe it’s the people I follow on twitter or the things I read. Maybe, much like the thousands of race goers at Leopardstown, the majority of people can appreciate him, and his achievements, for what they are.

However Cheltenham looms large and, in this context, it annoys me. ‘Who will Ruby ride at Cheltenham?’. ‘Let’s dissect Jezki’s run’ ‘Barry gets a better tune out of him’ ‘His aim is Cheltenham, he wasn’t ready’ ‘He needed a stronger pace’ ‘He will over-turn the form at Cheltenham’. ‘Hurricane Fly is the lay of the meeting’ etc etc Just talk about the fact that he has just won his 22nd Grade 1, at the age of 11!

All of this before The Fly has even reached the winner’s enclosure. Ridiculous. He has nothing to prove and if Cheltenham has to enter your thoughts when trying to appreciate the achievements of the horse and the trainer (because yes it’s so easy to keep a horse at the top of his game for so long, I mean Henderson does it all the time with his decent chasers!!!) then I feel sorry for you.

This immediate fascination with Cheltenham after a brilliant performance from a horse happens regularly throughout the season. I think it is barmy and it irks me. I dare say I’m in a minority but I like to appreciate a horse for what it has just achieved. I like to savour the moment. I like to look at the result in isolation from The Festival, even more so when a horse is making history.

That is my moan over. I dare say I am unique in my view and given that I look at racing from day to day, week to week, that is maybe why. Cheltenham creeps up on me and it is a nice surprise come this time of year when it’s only a few weeks away.

Anyway, Onto the Festival 🙂

This section is dedicated to punting. My approach to betting obviously affects my approach to Cheltenham.

Firstly I am not a big ante-post punter. Indeed the only ante-post bet I have struck this season was on Hawkes Point at 14/1 and that was only a couple of days before the race. He went off at 15/2 so I got the value. It’s not something that has ever fascinated me.

I like to have as much information as possible when betting. That includes trends, race conditions (including the going), knowing all the runners, pace analysis, information on a horses latest run and most importantly profiling a horse (most important in handicaps for me. A horse may have a great record in races with fewer than 12 runners, but have never placed in a race with more than 16 runners, from 10 attempts say) It doesn’t suit my approach to back horses so far before the day they are going to run when I don’t have all the information available. That is just my personal opinion and approach.

I know lots of you will enjoy an ante-post flutter. Indeed having fun bets on a few horses at decent prices makes the spectacle all the more enjoyable I imagine. This is an area of the game that I probably should invest more time in. However for the time being I am comfortable with my approach. Indeed if you asked me now I wouldn’t be able to give you a strong fancy for the festival. I do want Many Clouds to win, that is for sure. Whether that pull on the heartstrings manifests itself into a bet only time will tell!

Cheltenham 2014

Last year was my first go at covering a Festival on the blog. Back then I don’t think many people were reading it. Mainly friends I guess and a few people on twitter. If you trawl back far enough through the posts you will be able to find them. Winners included Very Wood 50/1 (1/2 point EW), O’Faolain’s Boy and Lac Fontana. I made 45 points profit over the four days, two of which were complete blanks. However, I was happy enough with the week.

At this stage I don’t know what races I will cover. It will depend on what I fancy come the night, or two nights before. My approach to each race will be exactly the same as my approach to ‘Big Race Previews’.

The blog will be updated the evening before the next day’s racing. I anticipate that I will cover a minimum of 3 races a day, as well as advising some interest/fun bets. Of course I can’t wait to get stuck into the handicaps. I may not have a winner all week in them but it will be good fun!

I don’t think you should approach Cheltenham with the aim of making lots of money or backing lots of winners. That sounds negative but such is the competitive nature of the racing it’s tricky to find winners. Above all we want to enjoy the week. For me that means not losing too much. If I am about to watch a Championship race cursing or thinking about previous losses I will have failed.

Having reflected on it in recent weeks I know why I bet. I bet to solve the puzzle. The satisfaction from deciphering a race in unparalleled. Maybe it’s the recognition I like and the slight arrogance of knowing I’ve been proved right.  Having increased the blogging, and launched a service, I know there isn’t a better feeling than knowing others have successfully backed your selections. It makes the winners much sweeter. On the flip side it makes the losers much worse. I am still cursing that I didn’t advise backing Annacotty and Big Fella Thanks EW on Saturday. Those thoughts will have vanished come tomorrow!

To summarise

I can’t wait for Cheltenham to start, but at this moment in time it doesn’t dominate my thoughts. I struggle to think about one horse in isolation from its rivals and given there are still so many outstanding questions I would rather leave it. The tools I use (HRB profiling, trends, Geegeez Racecards/pace analysis) mean it is a lot harder and time consuming looking at horses this far out as well. A lot can change between now and the Festival. For example what if a trainer in form at the moment suddenly doesn’t have a winner between now and the Festival and goes into that week 0/30 say.

There will be comprehensive coverage on the blog during the Festival, covering those races that suit my approach and that I enjoy analysing and betting in. Basically, the more a race is dominated by exposed horses the better. There are much better judges than me when it comes to the Novice races.

I would snap your hand off to make +45 points again, but that will be tough, especially given that Very Wood accounted for about half of that profit. I would expect to be betting between 20-30 points during the week. I won’t be cursing if I lose it all and I will be more upset because I will have failed to solve the puzzle.

What about you?

I would love to hear about your approach to the week.  Do you give yourself a budget and just have some fun? Or is it a big profit making week for you which makes a difference come the end of the year? How have you done in the past?

And of course, if you have any ante-post picks please leave a comment and say why you fancy them.

I will start to gather my thoughts during February and start to get on top of the main trends. If anything does grab my attention you will of course be first to know.

So, that’s it for this extended contribution. Thanks for reading it all the way through.



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Do join in the conversation below, we're a friendly bunch.. all questions welcome, and do share your selections or thoughts

18 responses

  1. Just to say I agree with your opening paragraphs. There is far too much hype these days with EVERYTHING, and I feel it’s all about making money. Cheltenham’s ever-increasing profile is to the detriment of every other winter weekend, and I suspect the greater and greater prize money leads to horses being solely primed for that one race, there are clear examples of some horses only running at the festival and a.n. other meeting in their whole careers, whereas in the past they ran in great races and duels over several races and seasons.
    Call me a prematurely miserable old fart but I preferred growing up in the seventies and,digressing slightly, preferred news on the front page instead of this whole celebrity rubbish, football on the back pages, Paul McCartney was just an ex-Beatle who was now in Wings, jumpers for goalposts, sportsmen with characters who weren’t dictated to by PR and again, less hype over EVERYTHING in the endless pursuit of fame and money money money. Rant over, be lucky, making your own! P.S. Still a great meeting that doesn’t need the hype! 🙂

    1. A bit of hype is ok, it just appears to start earlier every year and dominate everything! I cant wait. It will be a great week yet again, hopefully I can come out in front but it isnt essential to enjoying the week.

  2. Probably the quietest four days for me bet size unless I found something at Sedgefield but really enjoy the racing and the buzz if I was busy at work I’d still take the four days off

    1. I like the idea of finding something at Sedgefield, especially when no one else is looking! Yes i will still look at other meetings to see if anything stands out, and they may help pay for the rest of the week! Agree about the racing and the buzz, it is a special week. Am hoping to go on the Friday this year.

  3. Cheltenham is an amazing four days i was lucky enough to spend three days there last year and its even better than you can imagine. You cant get a drink, you can hardly move but the atmosphere is truly amazing! Made even better when Silver Concorde Savello and Spring Heeled had won their respective races. Shame about Attaglance though always this year for that fella.

    Its not as much for the betting to be honest. In fact i didn’t have many bets whilst i was there. I always have separate betting banks for Cheltenham and all the major Festivals in fact. Normally i see punting as long term profit making business. But i approach the festival differently there I am not so much looking for value but winners’s.

    I am not big on ante post betting and the boat has sailed now on most of the horses and lot of the fancied horses will go off bigger on the day as the bookies want to attract customers. There can be some great bets on the morning of the big race!

    I tend to concentrate on the handicaps so am happy to wait for the night before the races when the best prices will be available!

    If i was looking for ante post bets now i would be looking at those horses who will be much shorter if the line up at the start of their respective races.

    For Example

    Supreme Novices Hurdle – Silver Concorde – won the bumper last year, handles the Cheltenham atmosphere, many horses don’t – think the late Oscar Whiskey – needs good ground! He is 16/1` now and will be 8s on the day.

    JLT Novices Chase – Le Vent DAntan – This is a really good novice chaser with a real engine and open to loads of improvement – He is being targeted at the race and if he was with Willie Mullins he would be a single figure price now already. His 20/1 for the JLT looks a good price as he will be a lot shorter come the day.

    Gold Cup – Road to Riches is about right price and has the ideal profile for the race. Lord Windermere last years winner has been underestimated by most pundits, was never put into the race for the Lexus last time and has only been trained with one race in mind all season. Needs good ground and loves undulating tracks – 16/1 is in insult I cant see him being out of the first three. A bit of a wild card at a big price is Unioniste – getting his act together over fences, open to a lot of improvement and in race where stamina will be at premium hes got it in spades. I am a big fan of dosage in these sort of races and all three of these horse have the right Dosage Index for the race.

    Thats it really….. with my best fancy at the moment being Le Vent DAntan.

    1. Some great thoughts. I agree about finding winners ahead of value, that is a very valid point. I agree you have to view the festivals slightly differently from day to day punting. Good luck with the horses you highlight, i will watch with interest.

    2. I totally agree with you Josh and the proof is in the pudding my friend, given the amount staked on the Festival today as opposed to the modest fayre we have on offer at Taunton & Southwell.

      I will wager that for every pound which is invested on races at the Festival today, a five figure sum will be bet on Taunton/Southwell events. Proof (if you needed it) that you are not alone in your thoughts Sir.

      Take care – keep up the good work.


  4. You are not alone in your views about Cheltenham. If it’s any consolation, I work in retail and last year I watched my manager put up a stand for easter eggs on 2nd January!

  5. Just a word about the Gold Cup and to re-iterate an earlier comment. Last year I urged all and sundry to back Lord Windermere each way as I had thought that connections were simply getting him ready for Cheltenham. The trip and going looked as though they would be ideal and 25/1 a temptation. Imagine my embarrassment for most of the race when he hacked round five lengths behind the rest of the field ….and my astonishment when he came through to win. I’m not sure if ‘Conti’ was ‘right ‘ that day and it could be a different story this year but ,as an earlier contributor noted, 16/1 is absurd. Lord Windermere has again, not shown his true worth yet but cometh the day, cometh the man…he is too big a price.

  6. I agree about the hype for Cheltenham starting earlier each year especially on Channel 4. Maybe it is because its their flagship broadcast but do they really have to assess the Festival credentials of the every winner from the previous August onwards!

  7. I agree with a lot of points mentioned. However an aspect of the situation that I think many people miss is the opportunity to be a bookmaker for a bit without risking a lot. If you look at all the shorties now(3/1 and under) there is a unique opportunity to lay them and wait and see who makes the festival for a start. Yes we love to see the fav’s win in style and hurt the bookies but when else do you get the chance to lay ante post at ridiculous prices. Wait for the day and cover your liabilities on drifters, bookie offers and exoctic multiples. I lost year on year betting on the festival, getting caught up in the hype from around December, betting on horses that I knew would shorten. However come February and the injuries, the wrong going, 1 bad run or a change of race and you’ve done your dough. Now I lay them jan/feb and enjoy the spectacle using any early returns i.e non runners to have a few no lose doubles, trebles etc. I also think bookies have caught on to the “bet at the other meetings thing” and the value has long gone. If anything there are lots of poor value bets at the other meetings during the week.

  8. Ptit Zig is being aimed at the JLT Novice – He is my top rated for both Arkle & RSA entered for everything! That’s my usual problem with ante-post Cheltenham – getting the right race, nightmare!

    But the entries are out for the above races & they are usually worth following outside of the festival. Interesting to note two of Saturday’s winners, If In Doubt & Generous Ransom are entered for RSA but I think are both being aimed at h’caps & if they should appear in the same race, Generous Ransom should be the one to be on?

    I usually look forward to the Triumph entries coming out – look for big stable horses yet to run, Soldatino was 80/1 prior to his debut before landing it, Zarkandar 33/s & then there was Une Artiste, entered for the Triumph ended up winning easy option of the Fred Winter @ 40/s. This year could be different though, Henderson already seems to have a very strong hand, wouldn’t surprise me if he or the owners of Peace And Co have a decent 2nd string at a better price.

    Cheltenham like Royal Ascot solid form you can follow for rest of season – ‘fun bets, serious notes!’

    And every year these days technology has moved on how am I going to play it? There’s never enough time even staring now, my trend spreadsheet wont be ready for another year or two but if anyone wants to follow @themastarata I’ll probably transfer my notes & ratings for each race to google docs & share them on twitter, these will be continuously updated from a preview to review kind of thing & could make for handy reference.

  9. I have a lot of sympathy with your argument Josh. One of the problems with making the Cheltenham Festival the prism through which we see everything – even a 10/10 record at Leopardstown and 5/5 Irish Champion Hurdles – is that everything else is considered a ‘prep’. Lots of people slam some of the lower trainers for non triers but what are we supposed to make when a trainer says “that’ll put him spot on for Cheltenham” or “the Gold Cup’s the long term target and he will come on for today”? Ah, not trying that hard today or not that fit then. To be fair to Paul Nicholls he will usually be quoted in the press beforehand explaining X will come on for the run etc, but not most of the others.

  10. As far as Unioniste is concerned, we need a weather oracle because, if the going came up heavy, he could outstay everything . Good to soft will favour all the others though. So a late February (and early March) fill-dike.

  11. When Cheltenham comes round I always work out on speed figures(because I am nuts about speed) and conditions and more important the Jockey Most of my picking of horses on the flat or over fences I use the speed figures and calculate according to grade of the race I never back odds on favourites or back anti post to me this is total waste of time; I do take in other calculation like going and weight and there last 4 running into account.

  12. Having never missed the Festival since i can not remeber been going each year on the first day wonder if anyone feels the same as I do they said the inside of the course was to wet & heavy to run the cross country race on so changed it to wednesday. That was acceptable but they appear to have kept i on the wednesday (Cheltenham racecourse) having purchased member tickets regular my friend only gets the Tuesday of for this week so both upset this race now seems set to be run on this day now set in stone will now obtain tats tickets for the tuesday from now on.

  13. Some interesting thoughts on Cheltenham, certainly its the best 4 days racing of the year for me, better than Royal Ascot.
    I certainly like to have some Anti-post bets, and although its inevitable some will not even make it, that’s all fair game when you can get 33/1 about a horse
    that runs at 6/1 on the day, well I think so.
    One thing I like doing is taking advantage of the bookies who tend to over react to runs on heavy going on flat tracks etc, nothing like the horses will see in March’
    For example most people think Dynaste proved he has no chance in the Gold Cup after last Saturday, as he didn’t stay, I disagree, I think he proved he did stay and with better going, and faster race pace will have a decent chance, So with NRNB in this race aI think 25/1 isa decent A./P bet, money back if he goes Ryanair, but i think on the day nearer 10/1 as people look to oppose Silvianao, who to be fair has a favourites chance, Also think Lord Windermere who goes well at the festival will again show his present odds (16/1 ), are based on heavy ground run in Ireland are way too big.

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