Cheltenham Festival is the highlight of the entire jumps season, and it is now time to form a plan for profitable betting on what can be a frenzied four days in Gloucestershire. Without a level head and a clear strategy it can quickly turn into a betting disaster, with big fields of the very best horses going head to head at a fast pace over the uniquely undulating course. The bookmakers will be competing hard for the punters' pound, with numerous offers and enticing prices to tempt you in, so preparation is crucial. Here we tell you how to keep your betting in the black.
#1 Avoid the hype and gossip that flows faster than ever at this meeting
Cheltenham is a hotbed of gossip and false information, some of it often peddled in the mainstreammedia after scores of preview evenings in the lead up to the Festival. The astute punter is far betteroff using his eyes in the formbook rather than listening to the tales that fly about. Whether it is"the Irish banker of the meeting" which appear at least once on each of the four days, or the unexposed bumper performer who is the "aeroplane who works better than anything in the yard", you are better off calmly looking at the runners with a dispassionate viewpoint, looking for value and staying well clear of second hand tips.
#2 Stay away from the short priced obvious contenders
The Festival has funded many a bookmakers new Mercedes, and some of the most timid players throughout the year are willing to stand things for their maximum in the most competitive races of the season. The track at Cheltenham is unique, with the racing often on much quicker ground than the form for the past nine months (especially so in 2016 where it has seemingly been heavy or soft ground for the entire winter). They also go an overly fast pace from the tape in all the races, with competition for a good place intense among the jockeys and the track actually quite narrow and sharp in places. In short, things are ripe for an upset, with a lot of hype shortening up the public horses at the front of the market. This season Min, Douvan, Annie Power are all key to the Festival for many punters, and there prices compressed accordingly and ante post punters are already on the backfoot after the long odds-on Faugheen was withdrawn recently from the Champion hurdle with a suspensory injury.
#3 Watch the races from the past few years at the Festival
One thing I have learnt from the last 25 Cheltenham Festivals I have watched, is that form from the meeting works out again and again. Some horses peak at this time of year, others are laid out for the day by their astute trainers after running half fit for the preceding months, but for whatever reason it does produce runners (especially in the fiercely competitive, big field handicaps) that consistently perform well at this meeting. Take the time to watch the replays from the past few years, note down horses that have run well or won, and follow them again in 2016.
#4 Favour the hold up, patiently ridden horses in the big handicaps
So often at the Festival, races change dramatically late on as the runners hit the stiff uphill finish having gone off much harder than is within their comfort zone. Look out not just for horses who are suited by being dropped out and coming through late, but also side with jockeys with a proven track record at finessing tricky characters through as the complexion changes. Paul Moloney, Paul Carberry, Aidan Coleman and of course Ruby Walsh are all great judges of pace and riders to keep on side of.
#5 Get your accounts primed with every bookmaker and take advantage of all the free offers
With betting, the price is everything. Punting on every race at the Festival regardless of price is a route to the poorhouse. During this week, the normally timid layers puff out their chests and take on all-comers, duelling with their rivals in the morning and often betting to tiny or non existent margins (at around 100% or even less).
It is vital that you shop around and find the best price available about your fancy. Also get all the betting done in the morning each day as the on-course layers will be betting a lot tighter later on as they have huge expenses to cover and literally have to win several thousand pounds to break level on the week. Make sure you have accounts set up and funded with every bookmaker possible, and take advantage of all the offers, free bets and cashback over the 4 days. Typically the firms offer 1/4 the odds a place on all races, and this can offer up some excellent each-way value in the Championship races where the fields are small and few holding realistic claims.
Finally make sure you use my free and exclusive bettingexpert Guide to the 2016 Festival, with tips, previews, free bets and unique features to help find those illusive winners.