The countdown is on to the most highly anticipated four days of jumps racing in the calendar with the Cheltenham Festival almost upon us.
A glittering array of superstars will be on show across the week’s 14 Grade 1s, with each day headlined by a different championship race – Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase, Stayers’ Hurdle and Gold Cup.
Each and every year – albeit with no fans on course this time around – millions of pounds are on the line as confident punters put on bets during Cheltenham Festival.
But while some people are experts when it comes to knowing which horses to back, many others are complete novices.
Here’s what you should look out for…
Cheltenham Festival betting guide
Cheltenham racecourse: The track used during the festival is a left-handed, undulating course. Fences are stiff while the final half-mile is uphill, although that doesn’t result in as many last-gasp changes for the lead as you might expect.
Regular racers: Horses that race prominently often perform well on the chase course.
New course: The last six furlongs of the course feature just two fences meaning stamina is arguably more important. Large races often see some horses go for home too soon, meaning those hold-up horses that delay their final charge often emerge victorious.
Cheltenham winners: Check the names of horses in the race to see if they’ve won at the course or on anti-clockwise courses. If a horse jumps to the right regularly, it will lose ground and reduce its chances of winning.
Cheltenham odds: If a horse has long odds, don’t be scared by it and jump straight to the favourite. On the opening day of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival, horses at 25-1, 33-1 and 50-1 all finished in the top three.
Top trainers: Most yards would savour having one Cheltenham Festival favourite. But Willie Mullins, who already has a record 72 festival winners to his name, is no ordinary trainer and is responsible for about half of the 28 ante-post market leaders.
In usual circumstances, Mullins would go head-to-head with another leading trainer in Gordon Elliot, but he will not play a part during this year’s festival – and for good reason.
Racing has endured a barrage of unwanted headlines after a photograph was posted on social media of Elliott sitting on a dead racehorse. The image was labelled appalling and abhorrent, with the damage compounded by a similarly distasteful video of jockey Rob James at another yard.
Gordon Elliot was, subsequently, banned for a year, six months of which were suspended.
Top jockeys: In recent years, Ruby Walsh has dominated at Cheltenham – riding the most winners over the four days a staggering nine times in the last 12 seasons. However, with Walsh now retired, this has opened the door for some new names to throw their hats into the top jockey ring.
In 2019, we saw Nico de Boinville crowned top jockey for the first time with three wins – Altior, Pentland Hills and William Henry. He’ll have the pick of most of the Nicky Henderson runners again this year – including the likes of Shishkin, a hot favourite in the Arkle.
Paul Townend, first-choice rider for Ireland’s 14-time champion jumps trainer Willie Mullins and favourite to be top jockey at this year’s festival, claimed the top jockey award for the first time last year.
Townend will again get first dibs on the Mullins runners and will also pilot most of the Ricci runners this year too – including bankers like Chacun Pour Soi and Monkfish. He’s also landed the Gold Cup for the last two seasons at the Cheltenham Festival with Al Boum Photo. Townend also rides other big chances like Appreciate It, Energumene, Gaillard Du Mesnil and Kilcruit – sure to receive plenty of support among punters.
Why is the meeting so important?
Considered jump racing’s Olympics, the Cheltenham Festival can define the season for horses, trainers, jockeys and owners. A good week can make a great season, while an empty trophy cabinet at the end of the meeting is deemed a failed season for others.
On the track, reputations soar and career-defining performances feature at every festival.
It is also a seismic week for betting turnover on racing, with many of the Cheltenham Festival’s biggest races often featuring in the end-of-year lists of bookmakers for attracting the most business.
How can I watch the racing?
ITV will show six races from each day of the Cheltenham Festival. Every race can be watched on Racing TV. Each morning ITV will also broadcast The Opening Show, which looks ahead to the day’s action.