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Use The Cheltenham Festival To Inform Your Future Betting



So probably the most anticipated four days of racing the Cheltenham festival is almost upon us. No doubt you have been bombarded by stats, facts and figures – some of which very worthwhile I am sure. However, the Cheltenham festival is a tough meeting to profit from for many reasons, but perhaps one in particular – it is so darn competitive! All the horses are trying; there are many races with big fields (usually the handicaps), but even the races with smaller fields are tough because they contain top class horses that are of similar ability. As a spectacle in terms of horse racing I don’t think you can beat it, but from a punting perspective I tend to use the festival to inform my future bets. The type of horses I look for first are horses that under perform at the meeting. If I can find a genuine reason why that might have been, then hopefully I am going to get some value out of them on their next start. I am more hopeful when my reasoning is not picked up by the racing press – assuming of course my reasoning is sound – but clearly if I have spotted something valid that others have not then the price will not be affected and potentially decent value is on offer.


What is interesting is that if you backed every Cheltenham festival runner since 2007 on their very next start you would have roughly broken even to Betfair SP – well made a small 0.4% loss to be precise. This seems a great starting point due to the vast number of horses who raced again after Cheltenham – over 5000 to be precise. Hence we should be able to find some profitable angles from this promising initial starting point:


Finishing position in the Cheltenham festival race – my first port of call was to look at whether the finishing position at the Cheltenham festival made any difference in terms of future runs. I remembered some research I had done in the dim and distant past where horses that won at the festival made a profit on their next start. In fact, the situation still holds true – as there were 90 winners next time out from 288 qualifiers (SR 31.3%) for a profit to BSP of £44.30 (ROI +15.3%). Indeed, if you include horses that finished second or third at the festival as well as the winners you increase the overall profit keeping the ROI roughly the same – the top three finishers next time out produced 208 winners from 864 runners (SR 24.9%) for a BSP profit of £120.40 (ROI +13.9%).


It is also worth mentioning that you could have also shown a return of just over 5p in the £ if focusing next time out on all runners that finished outside the top 10 at Cheltenham (assuming they completed the course) ……….. and finally for this particular ‘angle’, horses to avoid seem to be those that fell at the festival – their record next time was very poor with just 26 wins from 227 runners (SR 11.5%) for a hefty loss of £109.68 (ROI –48.3%).


Course next time out – with the Aintree Grand National festival so close to the Cheltenham festival, there have always been a significant number of runners whose next race comes at this big Aintree meeting - 1313 runners to be precise going all the way back to 2007. Of these runners though around only 10% go on to win at Aintree, but despite this, such runners have made a BSP profit of £181.55 (ROI +15.3%). However, I personally would not advocate backing these runners ‘blind’ despite the long term ‘profits’ – the reason for the profit is simple; a few big priced winners. Scoring on average just once in every ten races is going to test your resolve as a punter, especially if the occasional big priced winner fails to turn up relatively quickly. One could accrue some painful losses, so if you take this approach you have to be able to cope with the potential downsides. Interestingly horses going to other top Grade tracks have produced profits there too. Horses running at Ascot next time have produced some very good figures thanks to their 30 winners for a BSP profit of £71.64 (ROI +52.4%).


Horses that ran at Kempton next time have won 24.6% of their races for return of 17p in the £, meanwhile over in Ireland horses that ran at Fairyhouse have produced returns in excess of 44p in the £. Again though, as with Aintree, the strike rate at Fairyhouse is modest so that needs to be taken into account.


Days off the track since their Cheltenham festival race – it seems a long time ago now when I, and I guess several others, were profiting from ‘quick returners’ to the track – for me my successes came mainly on the flat/all weather, but quick returners in National Hunt races weren’t bad investments either. Those days are long gone in general, but ‘days off the track’ is something that most punters and bookmakers look at and take into account. Personally I still prefer to back horses that have run relatively recently, while I am wary about horses that have been off the track for several months and tend to avoid them (that is both flat and National Hunt). Having said that I am aware that there is a new school of thinking that horses are more fragile now than they used to be and hence they need to have longer breaks between races. It is a breeding issue as I understand it, but that is as far as my knowledge pretends. All things being considered, it seems extremely worthwhile to see whether ‘days off track’ was a factor for our qualifying horses – be it one way or the other. I have collated the data in the following table: 


Days off track



SR (%)

Profit/loss to BSP


1 to 14




- £28.21


15 to 28




+ £231.94

+ 14.0

29 to 42




+ £28.70

+ 2.3

43 to 56




+ £9.10

+ 1.6

57 to 100




- £16.78

- 14.7

101 to 180




- £20.38

- 28.3

181 or more




- £222.46

- 18.4


First thing that strikes me are the strike rates – sorry about the pun! Those off the track for more than six weeks, including those off for more than six months, win more often than those returning to the track than any other grouping. Is that due to the fact that most of the horses have such a tough race at the festival they need a really decent break? Having said that, despite that strike rate those runners have still lost around 20p in the £. The highest profits have come from the 15 to 28 day bracket – a significant profit, but a few big priced winners have skewed the figures somewhat. All in all, this picture to me is all a bit confusing and hence using days since the festival is something I tend to avoid.


Market position in the Cheltenham festival race – looking at the market position of horses that ran at the Cheltenham festival is a good indicator of strike rate next time out. To show this, let us compare horses that started in the top 6 of the betting at the festival compared with those that did not. Horses that were in the top 6 of the betting at Cheltenham went on to score 21% of the time on their very next run, compared with horses that were 7th or higher in the Cheltenham betting who won just 13% next time. Having said that when you compare profits/losses there is little in it (just a couple of pence in the £ in terms of return on investment). It is worth noting that favourites at the festival have not proved good investments next time out despite a strike rate of near to 28%. These runners would have lost you £53.37 (ROI –18.9%). Indeed also worth noting is that it made no difference how they ran at the festival either – losses for winning favourites next time and beaten favourites were virtually identical.


At this juncture I wish to go back to something I mentioned in the first paragraph of this article, which was looking for horses that have under-performed at the meeting – one systematic way of approaching this idea is to simply look at horses that were near the head of the betting at the festival, but finished down the field. For argument’s sake let us look at horses that were in the top six of the betting at Cheltenham but finished 8th or worse. Hopefully most people would agree that these should represent horses that have under-performed. The results make interesting reading – on their next start there would have been 709 qualifiers for this ‘system’ of which 130 won giving us a strike rate of 18.3% – a promising starting point. Backing all such runners would have yielded a BSP profit of £120.23 (ROI +17.0%). Now, again we do have some biggish priced winners scattered in there, but at least with a solid strike rate this seems at the very least to be a group of horses that require close scrutiny. If one would have made a ‘blind’ profit backing all of them, one would hope matters could be improved with some more digging. As I said earlier, if you can find a valid reason for this ‘poor’ performance that has gone under the radar of the majority of the betting fraternity, then you should be on to a profitable path.


Change in class from Cheltenham festival run – for change in class stats we can only focus on UK racing as Irish racing do not categorise races in the same way as the UK in terms of class of race. This still leaves us with over 3500 qualifiers to look at so a decent number of runners. The table below breaks the data down and shows some interesting patterns:


Class in change



SR (%)

Profit/loss to BSP


Drop in class




+ £34.59

+ 1.5

Same class




+ £113.80

+ 12.5

Up in class




- £138.09

- 26.4


Due to the high class racing at the festival it should not come as a big surprise that the majority of horses dropped in class on their next run (roughly 61%). As we can see the horses dropping in class have by far the best strike rate, as well as making a small, if unspectacular profit. Horses racing in the same class have produced the best returns, but with a relatively modest strike rate; horses upped in class have a poor record - a strike rate of less than 6% and fairly substantial losses. Personally I ignore all horses upped in class and tend to focus in the main on horses dropping in class.


Other stats to note – for this final section of the article I am going to share with you a variety of stats connected with these ‘after the festival’ qualifiers:


1. It is best to avoid horses that have failed to win a race in the season when they have their next run – be this later in the ‘current’ season after the festival, or on seasonal debut the following season. (Clearly horses making their seasonal debuts in the following season are yet to win a race!) Horses with this specific stat have produced 398 winners from 2603 runners (SR 15.3%) for a loss of £390.93. This looks worse when you compare the returns of horses that have registered a win in the season – they have produced a profit of £372.85.


2.  Horses that start odds on when racing in their next race after the festival have made a small profit. Indeed horses with an industry SP of 1/2 or shorter have won over 86% of their races and returned a profit of 12p in the £ (to BSP).


3. At the other end of SP spectrum profits have also been made next time out. Horses starting bigger than 20/1 (industry SP) have returned a profit of 31p in the £ (to BSP). Be aware though these horses win around 1 race in 45.


4. Horses that race on the flat next time rather than National Hunt are the exceptions to the rule, but of the 186 who have run on the level, 32 have won producing a profit of £46.58.


5. Horses that have won at least once in their last five runs are better investments than those who have not as the table shows:


Won at least once in last 5 runs



SR (%)

Profit/loss to BSP






+ £208.79

+ 5.6%





- £226.87

- 17.4%


So there we have it – hopefully this article has at least made you think a little, and that following Cheltenham festival runners on their very next start is worth further consideration. As I stated at the beginning, our initial starting point with all runners showing a tiny loss overall is a good one. Couple this with a bit of blood, sweat and tears, and surely profits can be made year in year out. Of course past data is past data, and we cannot simply assume similar patterns will occur this year, or in the years to come. However, I personally think they will – over the years I have noticed strong trends in festival races as well, which gives me greater belief.   



David Renham  

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