Cheltenham Festival betting plays a large part of a punters’ mindset during the National Hunt season, and plots and plays are often planned weeks and months in advance as punters seek that big win as they dissect the form and assess the displays throughout the season of the big-race candidates as they go about their respective preparations for their Festival targets each March.
From the early days of the season in early-October, every trainer sets their hopes on their stable stars as the likes of Willie Mullins, Paul Nicholls, Nicky Henderson and Gordon Elliott chart the paths their stable-stars will take throughout the season before hopefully pitching up at the ‘greatest show on turf’.
And sometimes punters can steal a march on the layers by identifying and getting on early-season hopes where the ante-post market could provide some significantly longer odds on a particular fancy. Of course, there are risks attached with taking such a gamble at an early stage of the season.
If the horse gets injured, for example, or loses their form then that early wager could be wasted or the available odds lengthened considerably from the earlier markets; but if the converse were to happen and the early season fancy continues to run well and rack up further successes, then those odds could shorten and make that early wager look even more attractive.
The ante-post market may have cleaned out several bookmakers had the great ante-post punt of 2015 come to fruition. On that occasion, punters lumped on early on a strong day-one Willie Mullins foursome that would have created massive liabilities for the likes of bet365 had all four won.
As it transpired, bookies breathed a massive sigh of relief as Annie Power – the last of the four to run following earlier wins for Douvan, Un De Sceaux and Faugheen – crumpled on landing over the final flight having looked in command of the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle to audible cries of anguish from punters not only on course, but also around the country as countless ante-post slips bit the dust.
The first day of the Cheltenham Festival is often the punters’ favourite, and the early exchanges between punters and bookmakers can set the tone for the rest of the week. If the punters have a good first day, Cheltenham Festival odds for the rest of the meeting can shorten as the layers seek to shore up their losses.
Starting with the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on Tuesday, one of the biggest betting events of the year as punters look to get off to a winning start, the Arkle Chase and the Champion Hurdle both provide significant additional competitive betting heats.
On day two, the action is dominated by the Champion Chase and the RSA Chase, both of which will have generated plenty of ante-post interest throughout the season; and the winner of the latter could well be subject to early support for the following season’s Gold Cup. Indeed the RSA Chase can prove an excellent clue to future seasons’ Blue Riband.
Day three: The Stayers’ Hurdle, JLT Novices’ Chase and the Ryanair Chase provide further competitive betting heats on day three, and the World Hurdle has thrown up some scintillating performances from the likes of Thistlecrack – one of the biggest winners for punters in recent seasons – as well as staying greats such as Big Buck’s, Inglis Drever and Baracouda.
And on day four – the final day of the Cheltenham Festival – centre-stage is taken by the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and for many punters the culmination of months’ worth of ante-post wagers in the premier chase of the four-day Festival.