Festival Trendspotting: Betting and the Market

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The next instalment deals with betting and the market. Each year at Cheltenham the traditional battle between bookmakers and punters takes place - a tussle that last year was close with both favourites and outsiders going in throughout the four days.

Naturally, should favourites and second favourites deliver throughout the meeting then layers can be in for a hammering, though a run of big-priced winners would see the bookies leaving the track on good terms with themselves. Well, during the last 10 years the results have been as follows:

Bookies v Punters

FAVOURITES - Cheltenham Festival 2010-2019

Market Position W-R%£1
Favourites 74-25329 -12
Joint/Co-favs 3-427%-27

Overall, favourite backers didn’t fare too badly in following the clear jolly blind at the festival, with just a -£12 loss - in fact, they came out in front at the 2019 festival. That’s not bad compared to other major festivals such as Aintree where the clear favourite returned a -£56 loss since 2010, while Punchestown a few weeks later showed -£48.

The application of a few simple rules, however, may steer punters towards the right side of profit when dealing with festival favourites, such as the race distance.

Clear Favourites Over Different Trips

Distance W-R%£1
2m-2m1f 27-84 32% -10
2m4f-3m 33-117 28% -10
3m1½f+ 13-48 27%+6

Clearly, the market leader came out better over longer trips, with those over 3m1½f+ rewarding punters. Elsewhere, favourite backers may want to stick fields of up to 23 runners (69-205 +£14), as the more competitive fields of 24 runners saw the favourite strike at only 5-48 (-£27), while those that went off favourite/joint-fav last time out delivered at Prestbury Park to the tune of 57-157 (+£10). Finally, there was also more value in festival favourites that arrived via Ireland (36-107 +£4), rather than domestic runners already in Britain (38-145 -£15).

As for clear favourites in various race types, the list below highlights some interesting numbers.

Favourites W-R%£1
Non-handicap 61-158 39% +10
Handicap 13-95 14%-23
Chase 39-128 30% +11
Hurdle 33-116 28% -23
Bumper 2-9 22% -1

Siding with clear favourites in non-handicap events appeared best, while chases were also kinder to the market leader. In fact, by combining the two - clear favourites in non-handicap chases - then a return at the festival since 2010 was 31-78 (+£14). There were nine qualifiers under this rule at the 2019 festival, and four obliged in Hazel Hill (7-2), Defi Du Seuil (3-1), Tiger Roll (5-4) and Altior (4-11) for a total return of 4-9 (+£3). While the profits were nothing special, it still highlights the areas where favourites struck more often, and punters fancying a clear favourite in any non-handicap chase at the 2020 renewal can have reason to feel confident.

SECOND FAVOURITES - Cheltenham Festival 2010-2019

Numerous systems and strategies have come and gone down the years regarding backing second favourites as a value option to the jolly, but following them overall at the Cheltenham Festival returned a hefty loss.

Second favourite W-R%£1
Non-handicap 18-143 13% -43
Handicap 12-85 14% 0
Chase 17-117 15% -16
Hurdle 12-103 12% -24
Bumper 1-8 12% -2

If there was an area in which second favs didn’t do too badly, then it came in handicaps where they broke even over the last 10 years here. As always, a touch of digging can point to the right area, such as the state of the ground.

Second Favourites On Different Ground

Ground W-R%£1
Soft (good to soft/soft/heavy) 17-106 16% 0
Good (good to firm) 13-120 11% -60

Rain could be a sign of encouragement for second favourite backers, as they appeared to take advantage of any mistakes the favourite made on softish ground, though they were put in their place when it came up quicker.

Another tactic could be in looking out for second favs without a victory during their last three runs, as they connected at Cheltenham for a return of 12-45 (+£39), unlike those with a win during their last three runs at 18-183 (-£82). The final pointer surrounding second favs is where they ran prior to Cheltenham, as those that came via Cheltenham, Haydock, Kempton, Leopardstown and Naas produced a combined tally of 20-91 (+£30).

BIG-PRICED WINNERS

14-1 to 18-1
The festival threw up a bucketful of big-priced winners over the years, with those in the 14-1 to 18-1 range striking on 37 occasions for an overall -£90 loss. However, ignoring those that won during their last three runs helped produce a profit at 16-233 (+£19). Another tactic showed that backing 14-1 to 18-1 runners that raced at Cheltenham on 2-4 occasions previously struck at 14-179 (+£49). When looking for any of the aforementioned qualifiers, then another positive would be if they raced during the last 26 to 60 days (28-393 +£84).

20-1 to 28-1
A similar pattern could be found with the bigger 20-1 to 28-1 winners that popped up at the festival since 2010 to the previous 14-1 to 18-1 range, as those that arrived without the “sexy form-figures” proved more profitable. Indeed, runners that started 20-1 to 28-1 who arrived having not finished fifth or better during their last three runs - for instance 606 - struck gold here at 4-37 (+£57). The final pointer came via the track visited prior to Cheltenham, with Leopardstown providing an ideal pointer for eight 20-1 to 28-1 winners here (8-94 +£84) - four of whom were trained by Willie Mullins.

33-1 or bigger
There were 21 winners at 33-1 or bigger at the festival during the last 10 years, and seeking a method to find one in 2020 will be no easy task, but there is hope for those able to check a detailed list. For instance, any runner lining-up for a Graded hurdle/chase in the 33-1 to 66-1 range at the off that fills the following criteria could be worth a look - avoided Listed race last time, 0-6 runs at the track, never won at festival, first to seventh last time, as they struck here at 16-359 (+£266). In fact, backing them each-way returned a further 28 placed runners for a total return of +£353. Good luck!

Totepool betting

Forecasts

Forecast punters looking to hit it big during the festival by naming the first two past the post will have numerous opportunities of some juicy Tote Exactas to be paid throughout the four days. There are a number of strategies that can be used in different races, but for those looking to keep it simple via the first two in the market wouldn’t have fared too badly in recent years.

Clear favourite and second favourite

Year Number of winning forecasts (fav & 2nd fav)£1
2019 £32.30; £11.80; £12.30; £10.80; £19.10; £25.30+£67.60
2018 £10.80; £4.20; £14.40; £40.30+£21.70
2017 £15.40; £5.30£5.30
2016 £9.30; £5.50; £9.80; £21.40-£6.00
2015 £14.90-£43.10

It’s interesting to see that by simply placing the first two in the betting into a forecast would’ve returned an overall profit during the last five festivals. The trend in favour of punters accelerated more so during the last two renewals, as there was only one winning forecast involving the first two in the market at the 2015 festival, before four winning combos in 2018, and then a whopping six payouts in 2019. If that trend continues, then 2020 could reward followers of such an approach.

As for specific races in which the clear favourite and second favourite came out best, then the Golden Miller Novices’ Chase on day three has bragging rights with four payouts in six years - last year, Defi Du Seuil (3-1F) beat Lostintranslation (4-1) for a £10.80 dividend.

Trifecta

As for striking gold by perming the first three in the betting for a tricast, then they proved more rare, popping up just 11 times during the last five festivals, though similarly with forecasts, there was more success in recent years.

First three in the betting

Year Number of winning trifecta (first three in betting)£1
2019 £33.50; £77.10; £83.50+26.10
2018 £22; £296.70+132.70
2017 £472.70; £16.90; £109.80; £18+431.40
2016 £58.10-109.90
2015 £50.30-135.70

The highest payout for perming the first three in the betting for a trifecta since 2015 was £472.70 in 2017, but that was relatively small compared to the three overall highest payouts since 2015:
£29,918 National Hunt Challenge Cup (2017)
£24,736 Kim Muir Handicap Chase (2017)
£23,748 Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle (2019)

Placepots

One of the most exciting bets to have at the Cheltenham Festival is the Placepot, as it can pay out sizeable dividends for a small outlay. With big competitive fields across the four days, there are usually one or two juicy payouts throughout the week, as witnessed on the opening day 12 months ago when a monster £91k dividend was paid out courtesy of just one favourite being placed in six races.

However, it didn’t stop there, as the final day provided another tasty £11k payout. The Gold Cup itself played a part in the dividend, with the first three home returning 12-1, 22-1 and 18-1. The final day in 2018 also paid out a whooping £32k, courtesy of the County Hurdle (33/1, 50/1, 7/1 & 16/1), Foxhunter Chase (25/1, 50/1, 14/1 & 66/1) and Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (11/1, 33/1, 9/1 & 10/1) throwing up numerous big-priced placed runners.

Placepot dividends – last five years (2015-2019)

Day one: £91,283, £23, £437, £39, £212 (average: £18,398)
Day two: £42, £37, £3,255, £36, £1,280 (average: £930)
Day three: £2,439, £97, £58, £62, £240 (average: £579)
Final day: £11,701, £32,089, £1,677, £1,681, £103 (average: £9,450)

With the final day paying out in excess of £1k on four consecutive years, it could be worth digesting some of the following handy pointers to do battle for the concluding Placepot of the 2020 meeting…

"Placepot Pointers” for the final day (last 10 years)

1.30: JCB Triumph Hurdle

Of the 30 placed runners during the last 10 years…

26 made the top two last time
26 were Irish/French-bred
25 won 1-3 hurdles in UK
23 came via Ascot, Cheltenham Kempton & Leopardstown
22 won 50% or more of their British/Irish hurdle runs
22 ran in a Grade 1/Grade 2 last time
19 were trained by N Henderson (7), W Mullins (5), G Elliott (4) & P Nicholls (3)
16 were officially rated 138-145 (28%) - others were 11%
Avoid runners yet to have won a hurdle in UK: 1-29
Avoid females: 2-15

Placed runners breakdown of odds:
Evens to 9-2: 6-14
5-1 to 8-1: 11-27
9-1 to 20-1: 10-53
22-1 to 33-1: 3-20
40-1 or bigger: 0-47
Favourites/joint place record: 4-10
Second-favourites place record: 6-12

PLACEPOT TIP: Stick with Irish/French-breds.

2.05: Randox Health County Hurdle (Handicap)

Of the 40 placed runners during the last 10 years…

37 won a maximum of three handicap hurdles
33 had 0-2 previous runs at Cheltenham
31 either won/beaten under 1l or were beaten 5.05-30l last time
29 ran in a handicap last time
25 were officially rated 134-141
21 were trained by W Mullins (10), P Hobbs (5), N Henderson (3) and D Skelton (3)
18 came via Leopardstown (10), Cheltenham (4), Kempton (4) - 6 came via Newbury, but only at a 10% place-rate

Placed runners breakdown of odds:
13-2 or shorter: 1-8
7-1 to 11-1: 12-44
12-1 to 20-1: 13–66
22-1 to 33-1: 10-81
40-1 or bigger: 4-60
Favourites/joint place record: 2-12
Second-favourites place record: 4-9

PLACEPOT TIP: Note any runner arriving from Leopardstown.

2.40: Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle

Of the 30 placed runners during the last 10 years…

28 were officially rated 135-152 (21%) - others were 4%
27 ran during the last 26-75 days - be wary of runners that raced during the last 25 days (1-24)

27 ran over 2m4f-3m last time
27 were non-French bred
27 ran in a novice event last time
22 ran in a Grade 2 or Grade 3 last time
18 were placed via W Mullins (5), N Henderson (4), G Elliott (3), C Tizzard (2) H De Bromhead (2), N Twiston-Davies (2)
17 arrived via Cheltenham (5), Clonmel (4), Leopardstown (4) or Haydock (4)

Placed runners breakdown of odds:
11-4 or shorter: 4-8
10-3 to 6-1: 3-13
13-2 to 16-1: 12-53
18-1 to 33-1: 9-51
40-1 or bigger: 2-56
Favourites/joint place record: 5-10
Second favourites place record: 3-11

PLACEPOT TIP: Stick with those that ran in novice company over 2m4f-3m last time.

3.20: Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup

Of the 30 placed runners during the last 10 years…

26 ran in a Grade 1 or Grade 2 last time
26 ran in a non-handicap last time
25 were French or Irish-bred
25 were 6-9yos
24 won during their last three runs
24 were placed via W Mullins (6), N Henderson (5), P Nicholls (3), J O’Neill (2), A Martin (2), N Twiston-Davies (2), D Bridgwater (2) & C Tizzard (2)
23 had 0-4 runs at Cheltenham previously
22 ran over 2m7½f-3m1f last time
23 won or didn’t complete last time out (33%); others were 7-54 (13%)
19 were officially rated 166-182

Placed runners breakdown of odds:
10-3 or shorter: 3-11
7-2 to 8-1: 16-30
9-1 to 18-1: 6-29
20-1 to 50-1: 5-42
66-1 or bigger: 0-17
Favourites/joint place record: 5-10
Second-favourites place record: 4-11

PLACEPOT TIP: Be wary of runners beaten 1-30l last time.

4.00: Foxhunter Chase

Of the 30 placed runners during the last 10 years…

28 were 8-11yos; those older were placed only 2-42
26 were non-British breds (only 4-41)
21 won (18) or were beaten under 1l last time (3)
19 were trained by P Nicholls (3), E Bolger (3), P Rowley (3), W Greatrex (2), J J Mangan (2), C McBratney (2), N Twiston-Davies (2), R Sweeney (2) & Miss K Morgan (2)
10 arrived via Leopardstown (7) or Doncaster (3)

Placed runners breakdown of odds:
6-1 or shorter: 10-22
13-2 to 12-1: 4-32
14-1 to 22-1: 4-35
22-1 to 40-1: 6-55
50-1 to 100-1: 7-80
125-1 or bigger: 0-15
Favourites/joint place record: 6-12
Second-favourites place record: 4-9

PLACEPOT TIP: Concentrate on 8-11yos.

4.40: Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle

Of the 40 placed runners during the last 10 years…

38 were 4-7yos; those older were only 2-40
36 were officially rated 133-144
35 had 0-1 previous runs at Cheltenham
35 avoided a Class 2 race last time
34 were non-British bred
29 carried 11st-11st8lb
28 had 1-4 outings earlier that season
28 were trained by G Elliott (8), P Nicholls (5), W Mullins (5), N Henderson (4), J O’Brien (2), P Hobbs (2), N Twistor-Davies (2)26 never won a handicap hurdle previously
23 arrived via Kempton (7), Leopardstown (6), Clonmel (4), Haydock (3) & Sandown (3); those from Cheltenham were 0-18
17 made their handicap debut
Females were 0-12

Placed runners breakdown of odds:
7-1 or shorter: 8-19
15-2 to 14-1: 20-55
16-1 to 33-1: 10-104
40-1 or bigger: 2-55
Favourites/joint place record: 3-10
Second-favourites place record: 6-11

PLACEPOT TIP: Steer clear of runners from a Class 2 event last time.

Festival Trendspotting: Betting and the Market