The Early Bird: A Guide to the Cheltenham Festival 2017

Best Strategies for Betting

The 2017 Cheltenham Festival may still be a few weeks away, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any bets on the table. With online bookmakers beginning to pitch their odds and offer promotions, early bird punters can take advantage to get the best bonus deals and betting value.

In this guide to the upcoming Cheltenham Festival, we will give new bettors a brief overview of the event itself and then move on to the nitty-gritty of examining the key runners. The trials have all taken place and the favourites are beginning to emerge for the March meeting.

The Olympics of horse racing


Even if you are new to betting on horse racing, you are likely to have heard of the Cheltenham Festival. The annual meeting is essentially the Olympics of British and Irish horse racing, taking place over four days in March with an ever-increasing number of races; there were 28 races in total at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival. The most notable Grade 1 races include the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the World Hurdle, the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Champion Hurdle.

The most important thing that newcomers need to know about this festival of horse racing is that it is one of the biggest events in the gambling calendar. According to the official Cheltenham Festival website, it is estimated that more than £500 million is gambled over the four days, be it at on-course bookmakers or off-course betting shops and online sportsbooks.

Ostensibly, this looks like a lot of good business for the bookies. However, that isn’t always the case since punters in 2016 had managed to take a total of £50 million from the betting businesses by the start of Gold Cup Day. You win some, you lose some.

Rules of thumb 

With so many races and so many runners over the meeting, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by the Cheltenham Festival. Whether you’re a safe bettor who is going to back the odds-on favourite in every race, an ante-post punter who is looking to get the best odds before the event, or an each-way bettor who wants to spread their bets to cover their losses, you should always consider these general rules:

  • Cheltenham track is notoriously unique: environmental factors are key in the outcome of most sports, especially horse racing. The great thing about the Prestbury Park racetrack at Cheltenham is that is quite unlike any other course in the National Hunt racing calendar. Some of the key factors to account for are the uphill finish and the undulating terrain that makes obstacle jumping more difficult. As such, lightweight horses and horses with stamina tend to fare better.
  • Pace yourself: punters need just as much stamina as the horses at Cheltenham. This is a four day event with nearly 30 races in total, so you need to go steady by selecting your bets carefully and not trying to overcompensate if you lose a wager on the first day. The Gold Cup is arguably the key event at the meeting and it takes place on the last day – make sure you still have some bankroll left for the main attraction.
  • Don’t always follow the crowd: as well as refraining from betting for the bet’s sake, punters should form their own opinion instead of religiously following odds, trends and tips. There is no such thing as a certain winner at the Cheltenham Festival. In the past four decades, only 44% of horses at odds-on have won, resulting in an overall deficit if you had implemented a level-stakes bankroll strategy over that time. Sometimes not following the crowds can work to your benefit.
  • Pay attention to the Cheltenham trials: January sees the Cheltenham trials, a weekend which tends to give a good indication of which horses are going to do well at the Festival in March. This is especially useful for punters who are looking for an ante-post bet.

A few tips

Most punters have heard of the Cheltenham Gold Cup; it’s very much the blue riband event of festival and one of the most hotly anticipated races in the year with past winners such as Kauto Star and Best Mate amongst the most famous horses in racing history. This is just one of many races over the event, however, and we can guess that many bettors are unfamiliar with some of the low-profile races at the meeting. Here are some tips to help punters as they venture into the full 2017 Cheltenham Festival race schedule:

  • Check out last time out winners in handicap hurdle races: over the years, there has been an abnormal tendency for horses to win the Coral Cup and Fred Winter Juvenile after winning on their previous start. 9 out of 10 winners between 2006 and 2010, in fact.
  • Avoid young horses in the Champion Hurdle: In the past 30 years, this race has only ever been won once by a horse under the age of six. That was Katchit in 2008.
  • Don’t be afraid to back older horses in handicap chases: it is commonly believed that youngsters have the edge in races such as the William Hill Trophy, Cross Country Chase and Johnny Henderson Grand Annual. However, there are no real statistics to back this up with plenty of horses winning aged nine or over.
  • Seven, eight and nine in the Gold Cup: since 1990, there have been only three winners in this race which weren’t aged either seven, eight or nine years old.

Who to look out for in 2017

There are already a few hot names emerging for Cheltenham Festival success. So if you’re keen to get an early bird ante-post punt on, now is the time to assess the situation. The early favourite for the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup is Thistlecrack, an eight year old who had an impressive 2016 by winning three major hurdles and three major chases as well as taking the Best National Hunt Horse of the Year award. Punters can currently find odds of 15/8 for this horse at Betfair.

The trainer of Thistlecrack – Colin Tizzard – is running a strong team this year, with Native River second favourite (11/2) and Cue Card fourth favourite (8/1). Alary, Tizzard’s other horse in the running, is very much an outsider at 66/1.

Colin Tizzard isn’t the most well-known trainer in terms of Cheltenham Festival success. Willie Mullins is a trainer who has seen plenty of winners in the meeting before, although one of his top horses Annie Power and 2016 Champion Hurdle winner was withdrawn from contention last week with a leg injury. That leaves Mullin’s 2015 Champion Hurdle winner Faugheen as the early favourite in that race at 5/2.

Bag a bonus

As the countdown to the Cheltenham Festival 2017 continues, we’ll start to see more and more bonus promotions at online sports betting sites. There are already a couple knocking about and punters would be silly not to take advantage of them!

  • Ladrokes £50 bonus & £8 Cheltenham 2017 free bet: sign up with Ladbrokes and they’ll match your first wager with a free bet worth up to £50. Punters will also get a free bet worth £8 to use on an ante-post Cheltenham market.
  • Paddy Power non runner money back on Cheltenham 2017: punters will get their stakes back on any ante-post bet made on a non runner in the Champion Hurdle, World Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup.