The Ultimate Cheltenham Festival Q&A

It’s the Cheltenham Festival, and everyone has an opinion about the action about to unfold. But, no offence, not all opinions are formed equally…

Anyway, regardless of whether yours is a voice worth listening to or not, I put a call out to an ultimate ‘brains trust’ and they graciously rallied to the cause.

I really don’t know where to start with this collective…

There’s a five time newspaper naps champion, two revered national newspaper tipsters, three heads of racing trading for major bookmakers, two top class Racing UK broadcasters, the founding author of the Weatherby’s Cheltenham Festival Guide, and one of the most respected time-based pundits in Britain. Phew!

As if that wasn’t enough, I’ve also got four of’s finest to chime in. So, five questions, and here are the generous, and insightful, answers of those great and good of the game…

What is your Festival betting modus operandi? Many bets, or selective? Value in the shorties, or the longer grass?

Chris Cook, journalist/tipster for The Guardian (CC):

I bet when I form a strong view that the odds are wrong. That leads to quite a few bets at Cheltenham because, like the rest of us, I’ve been thinking about these horses and these races for months. I’m not averse to backing favourites but it’s more fun to find horses that have been overlooked for no good reason. 

Simon Rowlands, freelance journalist for Timeform, ATR, Irish Field (SR):
This has changed over time. I used to back and/or lay pretty much every horse in every race, particularly in the place markets, according to my tissue.

But I spend less time betting/compiling a tissue and more time writing these days so am obliged to be more selective: maybe three or four bets a day. A lot of my bets are in the 3/1 to 12/1 area, but sometimes longer for ante-post.

Sam Turner, tipster Robin Goodfellow for the Daily Mail, RUK broadcaster (ST):
I don’t pretend to know the maths but playing at short prices during one of the most competitive week’s racing of the year doesn’t appear a wise strategy. As I’ve got older I have played less and less at the short end of the market because I don’t like feeling a fool – that happens all too regularly in life already!

Having a chunk on a horse at a thin price which is beaten grinds my gears more than any 10-1 loser I’ve backed so I tend to steer clear of putting myself in that position. There are obviously occasions when a bettor feels compelled to bet at a short price as they may have the horse in question miles clear on their ratings or they believe it to be a superstar etc. I wouldn’t knock anyone for wanting to feel the ball on the bat occasionally and back a horse which they believe only has to go down to post and come back in one piece to draw.

However, statistics and common sense tell us how difficult it is to make the game pay playing day in and day out at short prices, and an even money winner is only ever really buying you a ticket to bet in the next race. I prefer to take a chance in races which offer a better rate of reward if, on the off chance, I may actually be proved correct!

It is a cliché, but any horse can win any race, you only have to look at the SPs of some of the Gold Cup winners in the last 30 years, so I prefer to look for chinks in the make up of the market leaders and if I can’t find one then I won’t play unless there is enough juice in an outsider to make it worthwhile.

Andy Richmond, full time punter and RUK writer/broadcaster (AR):

It’s easy to get sucked in by the buzz around the Festival and get tempted to play in every race but I find that I’m relatively more selective than that and like to pick my battles at Cheltenham. I’ve never really been a player at short prices (it doesn’t suit my mentality) although I can see the “value” argument in backing some of them. I’d rather play in the longer grass (or perhaps the rough) as you put it and find some at longer prices particularly in the handicaps. I’ll also be looking to play in-running quite a lot based on all the information that I have about the run styles and traits of horses.

Tony Calvin, freelance journalist for Betfair, RUK (TC):

One of the aspects of Cheltenham that I find very amusing is people suddenly trot out advice on “How To bet at the Festival”, as if it is different to punting on everything else for the rest of the year. It’s bollocks. Do your homework, identify the horses that are overpriced, and try to get the best odds, allied to the best place terms. The latter is easier said than done, mind you.

Paul Jones, former editor of Weatherby’s Cheltenham Festival Guide, author, ‘From Soba To Moldova’ (PJo):

About 35-40 bets, mainly antepost so value hunting. 

Tony Keenan, and Betfair blogger, Final Furlong podcast contributor (TK):

I’m open to anything really. For one reason and another, I did very little ante-post before February with about four bets, three of which aren’t running, typically! That may be no disadvantage and I’ve ramped things up a bit the past few weeks with the ‘snow days’ helping in a big way. Over the weekend and since I’ve had about 20 bets and will have more this week.

I have no issue with betting two or three in a race at reasonable prices and while I haven’t bet on any of the favourites yet that’s not to say I won’t; none of them, bar Might Bite, make huge appeal at present but they won’t be the same price next week and that could change things.

A lot has been made of waiting for the day and seeing what the ground is like and having the extra place offers available but I’m not waiting if I can bet something now at 14/1 that’s going off 8/1 on the day. The edge there is too much to hold off for an extra place that will likely be at a fifth the odds anyway; many good judges reckon a quarter the odds the first four is better value anyway. 

Paul Jacobs, five-time newspaper naps champion, and broadcaster (PJa):

I mainly like to bet ante-post. I understand it is the preference of very few but grabbing the value and laying back on the exchanges for the minimum of a free bet is the way I like to play.

I love to lay short price favourites (see below) and laying them for a place as well as the win has often been a profitable avenue to go down.

I think the handicaps are terribly difficult at all the big festivals, but that is more than made up for by the deep liquidity available 48 hours beforehand on the exchanges, they embarrass the fixed odds bookmakers to the max and crucially will never refuse your wager!

My traditional way of betting is to rarely run with the herd. I was on a couple of festival panel previews and was gobsmacked at the selections/views of certain members. Remember if the herd is always right, then there would be no bookmakers to take our bets. It’s a huge generalisation, but the theory holds true.

Chris Worrall, Mr Stat of the Day (CW):
Take each race as separate entities, find something I like and if I’m happy with the price : back it. If not, leave it! A fairly simplistic/obvious approach, but one that suits my way of “working”. I don’t feel nor advocate the need to have a punt in every race.

‘Ronnie’ Whelan, Head of Trading, Skybet (RW):

My normal MO is to look for the longer priced horses but I won’t be frightened getting stuck into some short ones if they look like value. The main thing for me is to be flexible and not be frightened to change my mind. I remember one year, I was going into the festival thinking I was going to take on some of the favourites in the big races but by race day they looked better value than I was expecting and ended up backing some of them.

Ian Marmion, Trading Director, BetStars (IM):
If the favourites win, I’ll be behind on the week. I’ll throw plenty of darts at bigger prices and am likely to be shouting for a couple or three in every race.

Chris Poole, Head of Trading, BetVictor (CP):

I treat Cheltenham races like any race, if I think something is too big I will play it whether that’s 4/5 about something I think should be 4/7 or a bet at bigger prices. I don’t give myself price restrictions but obviously it’s hard lumping on favourites that my employer has laid for fortunes! I don’t have a number of bets in mind at the start of the week, but would be in excess of 20 on the week I would imagine.

Rory Delargy, freelance journalist at Irish Field, William Hill Radio (RD):
I love to try and unpick the handicaps from when the weights are released, but that is a decidedly masochistic approach, and there is no doubt that it’s easier to make money by concentrating on the Grade 1 events where the merits of the runners are more easily established.

Andy Newton, Mr TV Trends (AN):
It’s the Cheltenham Festival, so, as we all know, a lot of the discipline can often got out of the window here. Being I’ll be there it’s hard not to have some sort of an interest in most of the races – no matter what the betting market is saying – and even in the races with the hot-pots in, there’s always a bet to be had!

I like to have a few trebles and accas before the action starts, especially once the NRNB offers are in place. Yes, we all know not all the shorties will win, but there is a good chance 60-70% of them will, so it’s just finding those. If you get lucky and the first few in your accas go in, then this also gives many trading out opportunities too.

Oh, I will always try a placepot each day: the pool size is always massive and it’s a bet that can give you an interest in 6 of the 7 races each day.

Nige Keeling,’s resident news and weekend preview guy (NK):
Several £1 Lucky 15s (not for everyone I realise) perming 3 bankers (Altior, Buveur D’Air and Apples Jade this year) with several others, including Getabird, Cause Of Causes and Laurina. Sounds obvious but follow Mullins, Henderson in Championship races – Elliott/Russell in handicaps. Keep an eye on De Bromhead chasers.


Which shortie(s) are you keenest to take on?

CC: If the rain doesn’t come, conditions will be different for Getabird and perhaps he might be vulnerable in the Supreme. Presenting Percy looks a bit short in the RSA, so long as Monalee isn’t diverted into the JLT. 

SR: I have laid Samcro for the Ballymore and Politologue for a place in the Champion Chase. Laying shorties has tended to be a reasonable policy at the Cheltenham Festival over the years.

ST: I think the lads at Timeform produced a stat that 106 horses have undergone the same Cheltenham preparation as Altior – ie absent from the track for nearly a year, one prep run then on to a Championship race – and only one has won. Those keen to put the fork into Altior on the back of that research should remember the sole winner which defied the statistic was Riverside Theatre trained by Nicky Henderson so it obviously can be done by a master trainer, but at 8-11 or 4-6 I would rather not pay to find out.

AR: I suppose it depends on your definition of “shorty” but of those likely to start at 2/1 or less then the one that I would be keenest to take on would be Getabird in the Supreme. The race has more depth than the betting suggests and he looks a little short on experience over hurdles for a race of this nature.

TC: I never bet short on horseracing – though I am happy to play at 10-11 on rugby handicap lines – and my pet hate is reading an article or watching TV where the people involved tip every single favourite, especially when they make no reference to the price. And, believe me, some tip every single favourite and take the short-term route and take their audience for idiots. It’s excruciating. What that normally tells me is that they haven’t done their homework. But, back to the question. I’m keen to take on most, if not all, of the favourites in some way, most obviously each-way or without.  I can’t see Apple’s Jade getting beaten in the Mares, but no way would I back her at 4/6. No thanks.

PJo: Getabird is the only shortie I want to take on of those under 5/2.

TK: Them all, probably! I want to take on Footpad, Altior and Apple’s Shakira but that’s not because of any huge flaw in them; they merit their position at the head of the market but I just prefer their rivals with Petit Mouchoir, Min and Mr Adjudicator/We Have A Dream all reasonable prices.

I’m not really keen to take on Buveur D’Air or Apple’s Jade but Might Bite is one I will be looking to back and he has scope to shorten from the 4/1 available now.

PJa: The Ballymore is a graveyard for market leaders, all the way back to the great Denman, turned over at 11/10. I am not saying Samcro cannot win, but he has yet to experience an undulating track of this nature and a race run at a championship pace. On the plus side he is a superbly efficient operator at his obstacles and clearly has a motor, but so did Neon Wolf, Yanworth (jockey error), Nichols Canyon, Pont Alexandre, So Young, Rite of Passage and Aran Concerto along with Denman – all beaten fav’s in this race.

I am also critical of the respective prices of Buveur d’Air and Faugheen in the Champion Hurdle. On my private ratings the winning run of Faugheen in the Morgiana is the equivalent of or better than anything the champion has run to in the past 24 months, yet one is 8/15 and the other a top priced 13/2.

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Of course, you have to forgive ‘The Machine’ two below par efforts, but if Mullins has him back in the same form as his Punchestown demolition job then 13/2 is a wholesome bet to nothing each-way.

CW: If I had to pick one of the “superstars” to be overturned or who I don’t think offers enough value right now, it’s probably Altior.

RW: Keen to be against Getabird as think the race is more competitive than the betting suggests. Although not a super shortie, I think Apples Shakira is too short for the Triumph at 7/2. Looks to be a host of good juveniles against her.

IM: Ultimately it will depend on what price they end up on the day but, assuming current prices prevail, Buveur D’Air and Apples Jade are the two that look bombproof. I’d be keen to have all the others as good losers.

CP: I don’t think Getabird has done enough to be so short in the Supreme and Un De Sceaux is far from bombproof in the Ryanair. I would have put Laurina (Mares’ Novices’) in the mix but the right people have been backing her down from evens!

RD: I’m fairly neutral on the really skinny ones, but would be against the likes of Grade 1 favourites Sam Spinner and Santini. I actually like both horses a lot, but I think they may struggle from an experience point of view, and the Albert Bartlett, in particular, is a race which favours those with a lot of previous practice. I’m getting colder on Might Bite by the day, too, but am struggling for a solid alternative, at least until I get a thunderbolt on Friday morning.

AN: With quite a few this year, there are plenty of options. I’m not too keen on Getabird in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – the opening race of the Festival. I was at a preview night recently and spoke to Rich Ricci (name drop) beforehand and, although he likes the horse a lot, I got the impression he thought his lack of experience might find him out. Yes, they have a cracking record in the race, but with only two runs over hurdles he might just be one of those horses that turns out to be the best in the race – but in time. Don’t forget, Sprinter Sacre was third in this race and look what he went onto do!

NK: I’ll be taking on Samcro (On The Blind Side and Next Destination – Henderson and Mullins) and Footpad (Petit Mouchoir – De Bromhead).


What’s your idea of the best value bet at this stage?

CC: The 8-1 about Tully East for the Plate is pretty good, though that’s a race where I like to find something at an each-way price once the final field is known. Cause Of Causes at 11-4 for the cross-country is bigger than I would care to lay. 

SR: Native River is a good each-way bet in the Cheltenham Gold Cup; Sam Spinner should be shorter than he is now in the Stayers’ Hurdle.

ST: Samcro clearly looks a special talent, but the brightness of his star appears to have blinded some. I may well be searching for the cream to accompany my humble pie after the running of the Ballymore but I don’t believe Samcro is a five-times superior horse to Next Destination so at 5-1 or bigger I will be backing the Mullins beast each-way.

AR: Couple that I tend to think have been rather forgotten about in their respective races are Rathvinden (NH Chase) and Kemboy (JLT). The former runs in a race that has plenty who are quoted in single figures at the moment but which may have other Festival targets, and as a second-season chaser with plenty of experience he fits the profile of several recent winners of the race. Many will be put off by the fact that he has failed to complete in his last two starts but he’s won a Grade 3 and finished second to Death Duty in the Grade 1 Drinmore. A tough, hardy sort with a good pilot in Patrick Mullins he looks the sort for the four-miler.

Kemboy wasn’t quite up to winning at Graded level over hurdles but he’s looked the part over fences in a couple of outings so far winning well last time out despite giving his supporters a scare at the last. Apart from that he jumped well and is headed to the JLT where I’m surprised to see him still available at around 20/1 in another race where plenty quoted have other targets at the Festival. His trainer Willie Mullins has dominated the race winning the last three races with short price favourites (looks to have another one this year) but Kemboy looks to have been a little forgotten about in my eyes.

TC: I will tell what I have backed, but most have been a while ago, so the prices have largely gone. All are NRNB, bar my exchange win-only bets on the same horses, obviously.

Tue: I am on Wicklow Brave each-way and without the favourite in the Champion Hurdle; Paloma Blue NRNB each-way in the Supreme.

Wed: Duke Des Genievres EW in Ballymore; Dounikos EW in RSA, and I have been backing Special Tiara everywhere since his third to Min in the Dublin Chase, I expect to be shafted by soft ground there, though.

Thu:  I am on Balko Des Flos and Penhill small in the Ryanair and Stayers respectively.

Fri:   I have had a fair old pop at Djakadam win-only on Betfair, and at 33s NRNB for the Gold Cup. Talk of his demise is premature I feel, and expect some headgear on when we next see him.

PJo: Edwulf each way at 25/1 for the Gold Cup.

TK: I don’t have a standout value bet at this stage and have instead just been tipping away at level stakes with most of my bets. The Bigmartre/Terrefort combo in the JLT looks a reasonable bet especially with that race looking likely to cut up.

PJa: I have been waiting for Bacardys to step up to three miles and always believed he would be aimed at the RSA, but his fencing has been somewhat erratic in two novice events. With a fast pace assured in the Stayers Hurdle on soft ground and so many doubtful stayers in the prevailing ground, headed by Supersundae, he looks a live-wire each-way play at a double figure price.

CW: Hmm, this is tough, but I’d probably side with Black Corton at around 8/1. However, in keeping with thinking Altior might not perform as expected, there are a couple of 16/1 e/w shots in the Champion Chase : Great Field & Special Tiara.

RW: Although it has been getting shorter because of the recent weather I like Summerville Boy in the Skybet Supreme. Also, although it could go for the Ballymore I think White Moon at the general 25/1 is a bigger price than it should be for the Albert Bartlett.

IM: I think the 10/1 about Politologue for the Queen Mother is nap each way material. He was firmly put in his place by Altior last time but he didn’t like front running and Nicholls’ horses were in dreadful form at the time.

CP: I like Ballyoptic at a price in the RSA: I know he has been disappointing at times this season, notably at Kempton over Christmas; but he was a 160+ hurdler at best, stays very well and looked far more professional at Wetherby recently. I have doubts about a few of the lower priced runners.   I also think Apples Jade is an absolute moral in the Mares’ and over-eager firms on day one may make her as big as 4/5, which is massive value despite being odds on.

RD: Value is subjective given the state of the market and the NRNB concessions. I’d fancy Apple’s Jade in whatever race she runs in, as long as it’s not the one she’s being aimed at, while her stablemate Shattered Love is a big price in the JLT given she’s got the nod and has both a brilliant attitude and form in the book. She ran a stinker last year, but I hope that was ground related, and she’s matured noticeably since.

AN: Barring accidents, I think we can all agree that Buveur D’Air will win the Champion Hurdle. OK, of course, he’s not going to be a value bet in most people’s eyes, but another horse in his race can be. His stablemate MY TENT OR YOURS (place only market) looks a cracking option to place and despite the favourite being in several accas I’ll also be having a place bet on My Tent Or Yours here.

Yes, My Tent Or Yours is now an 11 year-old, but Henderson will have him primed to the max for one last big run. Let’s also remind ourselves he’s been second in this race a staggering three times, while his overall Festival record reads 2-2-2-2 after also running second in the 2013 Supreme Novices’.

Let us also remind ourselves he’s raced 20 times over hurdles and been placed in the top three a massive 19 times!! That’s a staggering 95% strike-rate of running third or better in his 20 career hurdles races!!!

NK: Flying Tiger 16/1 County Hurdle


Is there a handicap lurker you have your eye on? If so, what?

CC: Viconte Du Noyer (33/1) is a big price for the three-miler on Tuesday. I think things have conspired against him this season. If he gets back to the best of his form from last season, he’s got a right chance. 

SR: Sorry, but I have not looked at the handicaps yet. That is one area in which I try to keep my mind clear and study when the 48-hour declarations (an excellent initiative!) are known.

ST: I will be interested to see if Gordon Elliott allows The Storyteller to take his chance in one of the handicaps as he caught the eye in the Flogas Chase at Leopardstown – a race which could well produce a couple of Festival winners this year. Sire Du Berlais could also be an interesting one from the same stable now he has been confirmed for the Martin Pipe [Gordon Elliott’s boss back in the day].

AR: There are plenty of those although some may have been over plotted and will struggle to get into their respective races with the “qualifying” weight getting higher and higher in Festival handicaps.

Of the few that I’m keen on in handicaps perhaps the two most interesting are Malaya for Paul Nicholls in the Fred Winter and Whiskey Sour for Willie Mullins in the Martin Pipe. Both those respective yards have good records in those races with Malaya finishing a good second to Redicean last time out in the Adonis and Nicholls has won this with similar types before.

Mullins actually has 15 entries in the Marin Pipe so guessing which of his will run is hard enough but Whiskey Sour looks to be one that fits his modus operandi in the race having won it in the past with strong stayers in Don Poli, Sir Des Champs and Killultagh Vic. A strong and useful stayer on the Flat he was lucky to win a Grade 1 at Leopardstown but his 4th to Samcro in the Deloitte Hurdle reads well and like many of the Irish winners he will be making his handicap debut with the longer trip sure to suit.

TC: I think another Cheltenham “failing” in people is they make hard and fast decisions too far out, without knowing the ground, opposition, pace, to name just three things. So, while you can think a horse is well treated, on balance I think you should wait, unless the price is bang wrong (as it was when Coo Star Sivoila was 25/1 in one place for the Ultima after his Exeter win). Thus, I haven’t really had a good look at the handicaps. But Snow Falcon, entered in four races, interests me off a chase mark of 149 if they go down the handicap route.

PJo: Rather Be (10/1) in the novices’ handicap chase on the opening day.

TK: Despite snow delaying play, I haven’t gotten to all the handicaps yet but I like Any Second Now in the novice handicap chase on Tuesday. On his four chase runs, he’s been placed behind Monalee, Invitation Only and Footpad, all of whom are among the favourites for their respective Grade 1s. He’s a graded novice in a handicap and this step up in trip should suit him.

PJa: I wanted to be on the right side of Tobefair in the Pertemps, but I have just found out he is a non-runner, so I need to do more investigation re-handicaps.

CW: A lurker? If 14/1 or so is classed as a lurker in these competitive events, then I’d suggest Kalondra in the Close Brothers Chase. If I was to look at something longer from an E/W perspective, then I’d suggest Les Arcaux in the Fred Winter.

RW: I wouldn’t describe it as a lurker but like the look of Mister Whitaker in the Brown Advisory Plate. A bit more of a lurker, (although I have no idea if this is De Bromhead’s plan!) is Avenir d’Une Vie in the Grand Annual. It looks well handicapped if it can cope with the hustle and bustle of the race.

IM: I thought Mohaayed ran very well for Dan and Harry Skelton in the County Hurdle last year. He ran poorly in the Greatwood on winter ground in November but started 7/1 that day. On Spring ground – even if it’s soft – and off only a 2 pound higher mark I can see him outrunning his 33/1 odds.

CP: Currently needs plenty to come out, but Diese Des Bieffes looks very well in to me in the Martin Pipe. The Lanzarote was red hot this year and is up only 2lb for a solid 5th. I’d imagine the excellent Mitchell Bastyan will keep the ride.

RD: I’ve had my eye on Mall Dini all year, and still believe he ought to have won the Kim Muir last year. He’s been primed for a repeat and has taken the eye on all outings for Pat Kelly this winter. He gets in this year’s race on last year’s mark, and Kelly doesn’t miss the target often.

AN: A horse on the opening day I like the look of is the Paul Nicholls-trained Movewiththetimes in the Close Brothers Novices Handicap. The Nicholls camp took this race in 2009 with a horse called Chapoturgeon so know what’s needed, while it’s also a contest top owner JP McManus loves to target – he’s had a winner, 2 seconds and a third in recent years. This horse gets in with a mark of 142, which looks fair to me, but more importantly he’s got plenty of experience of the Cheltenham fences – in fact, all of his three chase runs have been here! Ok, he’s yet to win over fences, but he’s run well to be 4th, 2nd and 3rd behind the likes of North Hill Harvey, Finian’s Oscar and Kalondra.

NK: If Minella Daddy gets in the Ultima, he’s on a tasty mark. Currently 25/1 (soft ground a plus – Flemensfirth).


Can you offer one piece of advice for betting at the Festival?

CC: As ever, don’t bet more than you can afford to lose and make sure you’ve got enough left by the end of the week for a long-range shot at the Grand National!

SR: Play to your strengths, as with all betting, and remember it is perfectly possible to enjoy top-quality racing without feeling obliged to have a bet.

ST: I worked out recently that I’d been visiting the Festival for 30 years and it is no exaggeration to say there has been a fair amount of change in that period. While the day-to-day landscape for bettors can be tricky with restrictions and account closures, Cheltenham offers the opportunity to return to a time long gone as firms crave our business for four days before pulling the shutters down once more.

Extra places, a quarter the odds all races, best odds guaranteed and money back offers are all on the table to tempt us . . . and so they should!

I am not advocating a gung-ho, scattergun approach, but these four days offer us bettors a major chance for life-changing bets to be landed and, to whatever stake small or large, it could make sense to group a few horses together across the week in multiple bets.

I like to try and find horses for the multiples which have a decent chance of making the frame without necessarily holding an obvious chance of winning as three to four double-figure placed horses grouped together can produce a terrific yield and, with the extra place terms on offer, this is a realistic target.

For example, a one pound each-way yankee with four 10-1 placed horses at a quarter of the odds returns nearly £400 without a winner – just imagine if you did hit the jackpot! (£21,000 – I’ll save you working it out!)

In my humble opinion, for many bettors the daily grind of trying to chisel out a profit month after month can be extremely wearing so there has to be the chance of a big payout to reinvigorate the process.

As we are all aware, these bets are tough to land, but with some selectivity, planning and thought – and the 48-hour declarations will surely help a great deal in that process this year – it can be done, so start plotting!

AR: With so much emphasis on the Festival these days you could spend a large proportion of the day reading, watching and listening to previews, Podcasts and such like and in a way it’s far too easy to make the whole meeting more complicated than it is, and crowd your mind and judgement with too many opinions and facts. So by all means use some of the respected judges as “sounding boards” but try not to devour every piece of information out there, otherwise you will enter the meeting confused and disorganised. Trust your own judgement in effect. 

TC: As per my comments above. Treat it like any other meeting. Don’t deviate from your norm.

PJo: With the more compressed weights these days, look at top half dozen in the weights in the handicaps in the main.

TK: Be flexible in your thinking. There is nothing like the Festival for people getting ingrained ideas in their head but the markets which have been pretty much set for weeks now are going to look different on the morning of race day and by off-time. Changing your mind can be a good thing.

Consider Un De Sceaux in last year’s Ryanair. He had been a solid 7/4 shot in the weeks before the meeting before being available at 3/1 on the morning of the race. The reason – that Willie Mullins would not train a winner in the first two days, despite having Douvan in the Champion Chase – was hard to predict. He was bet back into 7/4 and punters who hadn’t considered backing him going into the meeting got a surprise opportunity to play at a value price.

PJa: The market place has never been stronger with so many bookmakers chasing our buck. They will be throwing themselves at us to grab our shekels so if you are betting on the day take advantage of the introductory offers, each-way best terms and anything else they care to throw our way; they are simply desperate for our hard earned so make them earn it!

CW: Don’t go balls deep on Day 1. It’s easy to get carried away with the excitement and lose your entire betting bank in 3 hrs! The old adage of not being a sprint is fully in operation here. Conversely with proper bank management, 1, 2 or 3 losing days won’t mean you can’t still claw it back on day 4.

PS The caveat here is that I do most of my punting on Class 5/6 sandpigs! 😉

RW: Two pieces of advice! One is to watch back the races from last year’s festival. It is amazing how often your mind plays tricks on you and races and certain performances look a lot different from how you remember them. Secondly, I personally think the handicap hurdles are very hard to crack. I try to leave them alone and concentrate on the Graded races and handicap chases.

IM: Do your business early as that’s where most of the value will be. Don’t be afraid to back a few in each race especially in the big handicaps and keep an eye on the concessions. Extra places are worth their weight in gold!

CP: I would keep a close eye on the “Ante Post” races later in the week which will all be NRNB with every firm by the start of next week. The firms are very wrapped up with the day and often fail to react quickly enough in these later races: ground changes, form lines that are looking stronger or even horses that clearly won’t be running as already declared for another race. For example, I would wager when the declarations come in on Monday for Wednesday’s Ballymore that plenty leave the runners in Friday’s Albert Bartlett betting, even though they’ll be ineligible to run. 

RD: Don’t spread your bets evenly over the four days. Tuesday is very punter friendly, while Thursday and Friday can be absolute carnage for even the most clued-up punters. Pick your battles in advance.

AN: Pace yourself – we’ve 28 races to get through over the four days so you don’t want to peak too early. Ok, you said only one bit of advice, but another is not to be afraid of having 4 or 5 bets (if the price allows) in the big handicaps. These days you can get monster prices on the Exchanges with the horses priced 20/1 or bigger, so really these inflated odds give you more leeway to fire a few more darts at the race. Oh, and as you probably know, I love the trends. Cheltenham is a great meeting for trends and stats so be sure to check them out. For example, did you know that the last Champion Hurdle winner aged in double-figures was Sea Pigeon in 1981?

NK: Get busy on Day One. It’s the easiest day for backing winners. Don’t be afraid of getting on the shorties if you fancy them. Doubles, trebles – perm them together if you like. Go easy on the final day. Notoriously tricky. Half a chance in the Triumph and Gold Cup, the rest a bloodbath!


Post Script: Tony Stafford, weekly columnist at and veteran of Fleet Street (also racing manager to Raymond Tooth, whose Punjabi won the 2009 Champion Hurdle), adds his lateral perspective to proceedings:

1 What is my Festival betting modus operandi, many or selective? Value in the shorties, or the longer grass?

When this series of questions goes out on Thursday, March 8, it will be a notable exact 50th anniversary for me. March 8 1968 was the day I first experienced the Festival, travelling down in the car with my dad and a couple of friends including my soon-to-be Best Man. In those days the Supreme was known as the Gloucestershire Hurdle and run in two divisions.

That year, two noted Grand National adversaries of the following decade won the two divisions. King Cutler, trained in Co Durham by Denys Smith, won Div 1 under Red Rum’s first regular rider, Brian Fletcher; and L’Escargot, ridden as ever by Tommy Carberry won Div 2. My dad was encouraged to back the winner by a certain Greyhound Express journalist and that made the ride back down the A40 all the more pleasurable. Ironically both Fletcher and Carberry died last year, the former with in many ways scant recognition of his major part in the Red Rum legend, but Carberry four-square credited with the two Gold Cups, one Grand National and some other epic perfomances by the light-blue-hooded “Snail”.

As the father of Nina, Paul and Philip, Tommy’s legacy continues. Of the other four winning riders that day, three, Frank Nash, who also died last year, ‘Kit’ Stobbs and John Crowley were professionals, while a certain Mr M Dickinson won the amateur riders’ race. Whatever happened to him?

As the years go by, selectivity has been the chief option, but when the big handicap fields come along there’s nothing quite like a small-stakes “hunch” bet and even some Placepot, Trifecta and Exacta perms. The decision on that branch of the “investment (sic)” is generally taken later than ideal, but this meeting absolutely is the right time to try to win big for smallish stakes.

The concept of value is always interesting. Died-in-the-wool favourite backers of the old school greet “value”-seekers with the homily – “you can’t eat value”, but there’s always some inner satisfaction when you can say: “I got 20-1 and it started 7’s” even when they still finish out of the money.

Since the full-on Mullins era got into top gear, there has been an exceptionally-strong performance for many of the short-priced horses in non-handicaps. When we get to this late stage of proceedings, most of the price-contraction has happened. But while the day-to-day on course betting markets are driven by, rather than being an influence on, what’s happening on the exchanges, at Cheltenham we still get dozens of layers with satchels full of year-long saved funds to be risked. I’d like to say that there will always be someone willing to stick his head (and a few grand) over the parapet, so if you’re going short, stay patient. For outsiders, scour the lines of bookies for the sticking-out bigger odds, and always monitor the Tote as this is one of the rare occasions in the betting year when, in most big handicap fields, it will offer a considerable edge.

2 Which shortie(s) are you keenest to take on?

When the exchanges started, I remember writing that I believed anyone laying a horse should be required to purchase a lower-grade bookmaker’s licence. Nowadays, with full disclosure to the authorities, malicious (e.g. “crooked”) laying is quickly (one hopes) spotted and the culprits dealt with, so a fair proportion of my initial misgivings have been addressed. But then there are still day-to-day instances of outrageous last-minute fluctuations, both in and out. With all that in mind, I’ve always been emotionally “delicate” about the concept of backing a horse to lose. So if you are asking about “taking on a short-priced horse”, my version would be to back something against it. Samcro, in the Ballymore Novice Hurdle, has all the gloss of an Irish banker, with apparent extra gears available whether he goes the minimum or further. Still I’ll go each way with ON THE BLIND SIDE, hoping if Samcro does prove unbeatable, I could still get most of my money back should Alan Spence’s horse finish second or third.

3 What’s your idea of the best value bet at this stage?

Best value – KALASHNIKOV. The Schweppes Gold Trophy – now the Betfair Hurdle – has been going for more than 50 years. In the first half of its existence there were a fair number of abandonments, but only two have been lost in recent times. Of the 46 winners, only four spotted more than the 11st 5lb Kalashnikov carried to that amazing victory. The first two, Persian War, 11st 13lb in 1968 and Make a Stand 11st 7lb in 1997, won the race in each case in the month before authoritative Champion Hurdle success – so I was there for Persian War’s. The only others to carry more were Copeland (11st 7lb) in 2002 and Essex (11st 6lb) three years later. Add to that distinction the fact that this was his fourth hurdle race and followed a solitary bumper win the previous season. I cannot erase from my mind Kalashnikov’s position some way back three out and his sudden appearance at the head of the highly-representative line-up well before the last. He’d taken ten lengths and more out of most of the field in that short distance. No wonder the experts fear he lacks the necessary speed for two miles!  My bet of the week.

4 Is there a handicap lurker you have your eye on? If so, what?

As a close watcher of the horses, I’ve had a strong belief that their latest promising performer, Oxford Blu, will appreciate the configuration of the track and come home fast in the Fred Winter Hurdle. But more considered (so less biased) deliberation has landed me on something else in the same race. I always liked the French dual Group 1 winner Chichicastenango, probably initially because of his name. So when a few years later he produced Vision D’Etat, I took notice, especially when that colt made the Prix du Jockey Club his fifth successive win. He then won his Arc trial but lost his unblemished record when fifth in the big one, more than three lengths behind Zarkava. He still managed to win a Ganay, a Prince of Wales (Royal Ascot) and a £1 million pot at Sha Tin before retiring the winner of 10 of 17 starts. As a stallion he’s already produced one sensational jumper, De Bon Coeur, who on the reopening of Auteuil on Sunday strolled to a 10-length Grade 3 win, his ninth success in 10 starts, having fallen when well clear in the other.

I’ve had my eye out for progeny of Vision D’Etat’s and sure enough, lurking Oxford Blu is Vision D’Ete, winner of the third of three novice hurdles, by five lengths in a 20-horse field at Cork in December. Owned and trained by Noel Meade, he’s either been shrewdly limited to those runs to protect the mark – 3lb below Oxford Blu – or has had something wrong with him. At time of writing there is some 33-1 available and with the non-runner, no bet concession the norm these days, I recommend betting like men as it will not matter if he’s a no-show. But make sure you save on Oxford Blu. I’ve spent my life going off big-priced winners on to losers of every magnitude, long- or short-priced.

5 Can you offer one piece of advice for betting at the Festival?

My piece of advice for betting at the Festival. Dig out as much money as you can spare before going down to the Cotswolds. Buy three coats, all with at least five pockets, so that if it’s cold (overcoat), wet (smart raincoat) or warm (sports jacket), you are covered. If the weather looks indeterminate, take all three – obviously difficult if you are not travelling there by car, but no problem if you have the resources to take your “man” with you to do the valeting.

Divide the money into four equal piles, to accommodate all four days. Leave the remaining three piles in somewhere secure – your digs should have a safe, if not it’s probably not safe! – and take the first day’s ammunition with you. One-seventh goes in each of the five coat and two trouser pockets. Get your man to sew numbers on the respective pockets and as each race arrives, empty them religiously. A man purse should be carried for extraneous expenses and at no time be allowed to corrupt the sanctity of the week’s 28 individual betting pots. The worst way, you’ll have some nice clothes to take home when you slink away broke after 28 losers, but with the satisfaction that your bank lasted the whole meeting. Of course, if you manage to back a winner or winners, just where to put the proceeds is another problem. Maybe you’ll need to find your way to the gents’ outfitters again. Of course if you are not a “gent”, but a lady racegoer, I’m sure you’ll have no problem either in managing your money or backing winners and above all knowing where to secrete it for safe keeping for the rest of the week. Enjoy!


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