In 2017 the market leaders failed to win four of the Festival’s showpiece events
The biggest names in British and Irish jump racing descend on Prestbury Park in mid-March for the four-day Cheltenham Festival and this year’s highly-anticipated meet is almost upon us.
In last year’s four Championship races, which are run at 3.30pm on each day of the Festival, none of the favourites at SP prices were able to land the prize and with a betting exchange, like Smarkets, you can choose to lay - or sell - a horse, indicating that you think it will not win - read more about lay betting on an exchange.
Looking ahead to this year’s showpiece events, there will be some more short-price fancies who you could decide to lay if you think the field might cause an upset.
The feature race on the opening day is the Champion Hurdle, a race in which last year’s winner Buveur D’Air is expected to go off an odds-on favourite (ante-post price at time of writing 1.63, or 61%). Last year he won it at an SP of 5/1 (6.0 in decimal odds), but Yanworth was the 2/1 (3.0) favourite and ended up seventh in what was a particularly strong renewal of the race, with several top-tier names like Footpad, My Tent or Yours, Sceau Royal and Petit Mouchoir in behind Buveur D’Air.
Nicky Henderson’s red-hot favourite is due to line up against Willie Mullins’s Faugheen (8.6 / 12%), the 2015 winner of this race, who returned from a near two-year break in November and won impressively in the Morgiana Hurdle, before failing to land a pair of races at Leopardstown when sent off the odds-on favourite. If ‘The Machine’ can return to the form of the November win then he could push Buveur D’Air close.
Wednesday is Ladies Day at Cheltenham and the showpiece at 15:30 is the Queen Mother Champion Chase, where another odds-on fancy is likely to top the market. Henderson is again the trainer, with Altior (1.85 / 54%) looking to maintain his unbeaten record (12 wins out of 12) over hurdles and fences.
The Ricci family-owned pair Min (4.7 / 21%) and Douvan (7 / 14%) are Altior’s likeliest rivals, and it was the latter who was emphatically beaten in last year’s running. Douvan’s starting price of 2/9 (1.22) was extremely short, but he had not been beaten for three years and won at the Festival the previous two years. However, layers would have been happy as the Mullins horse, like Yanworth in the Champion Hurdle, could only manage seventh.
There’s unlikely to be a clear favourite in this year’s running of the Stayers’ Hurdle on the Thursday, but there was 12 months ago and 5/6 (1.83) fancy Unowhatimeanharry failed to live up to the hype, finishing third behind the late Nichols Canyon.
The top of the ante-post market is congested and it seems that any of Sam Spinner (6.2 / 16%), Supasundae (5.8 / 17%) and Yanworth (6.2 / 16%) could start this year’s renewal as favourite.
On the final day of the Festival it’s the Gold Cup, a chase run over three-and-a-quarter miles for the meet’s most coveted prize.
A sterner test over the longer trip, odds-on favourites are rarer in this race when compared to the Champion Hurdle and Champion Chase. Last year Djakadam was the 3/1 (4.0) favourite and although not disgraced, the Mullins horse came home fourth behind Sizing John, currently third-favourite for this year’s contest at 8.2 (12%).
Might Bite, who memorably veered off-course after going over the final fence miles clear in last year’s RSA Chase before regaining his composure and winning by a nose, is the current favourite at 5.5 (18%), ahead of Colin Tizzard’s Native River (7 / 14%).
Other hyped horses expected to go off at short prices, meaning your risk/reward ratio is better were you to lay them, include Samcro (expected to run in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle on Wednesday), Footpad in the Arkle Chase (Tuesday), Apples Jade in the Mares Hurdle (Tuesday), Un De Sceaux in the Ryanair Chase (Thursday) and Laurina in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle (Thursday).
Of course, there’s plenty of good reasons the aforementioned horses are at the top of their respective markets and they could well deliver this year, but given the quality of the fields at Cheltenham, there’s usually a shock in store and laying the favourite - essentially backing the field - might be a profitable tactic.