Cheltenham Festival Free Bets & Betting Offers
Every year Cheltenham racecourse treats us to four consecutive days of thrilling National Hunt racing action. The world-famous Cheltenham Festival is truly in a league of if its own with no other jumps race meeting coming close to matching its quality or prestige. It is here where all the very best horses in the business meet and the huge stage has so often produced some incredible and memorable battles.
The Cheltenham Festival is obviously a huge hit among racing fans but it also manages to attract some people who would ordinarily show little interest in racing. For many visiting the racecourse itself, it is a great opportunity to dress up and enjoy some live sport with a truly electric atmosphere. The huge demand to be part of the action regularly sees more than 250,000 people visit Cheltenham across the four-day meeting.
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Cheltenham Festival Stats, Trends & Facts
Betting On The Cheltenham Festival
As well as betting on individual races at the Cheltenham Festival, all of which will have their own trends, you can also place outright bets. These bets will last the duration of the festival and because of this, they can often provide a great deal of excitement if the situation remains closely fought. Although your more casual punters would typically not opt for these wagers, they are widely available and can offer decent value with a little bit of research.
We will also briefly cover two non-race specific bet types that you may also want to consider. The first, Placepot, is ideal for any very ambitious punters seeking a big payout with just a small stake. The other, ante-post betting, cannot provide such huge returns but they can often provide much better value for money than you will find on the day of a race.
Although much of the Cheltenham Festival is steeped in history, the Prestbury Cup is a notable exception. First launched in 2014, it paved the way for a more formal battle between British and Irish trainers during the festival. Whichever nation bags the most winners over the 28 races is declared the winner, adding a well-spirited sense of rivalry to the meeting. The cup itself, presented to jockeys and trainers belonging to the winning side, contains some of the racecourse turf, allowing them to take a piece of Cheltenham back home with them.
Although it is still early days in the history of the Prestbury Cup, it is the Irish who made the brightest start. Between 2016 and 2021 (inclusive) Ireland took home the cup each time and in 2021 they did do in devastating fashion. From the 28 races up for grabs, the visitors won a massive 23, leaving the Brits with a measly five. Unlike many big flat racing meetings such as Royal Ascot, trainers from the rest of Europe or America rarely feature at Cheltenham so it is usually a head-to-head contest.
For the Prestbury Cup, a horse is considered to be Irish or British depending on where it is trained. Rather than betting on the dominant country though, you can instead simply pick which individual trainer will claim the most number of races. Given Ireland’s early Prestbury Cup dominance, it should be little surprise that between 2013 and 2021, the only two men to win this award, Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliot, are both based in Ireland.
Frequent favourite Mullins, who led the way seven times during this period, was almost bested in 2019 as Britain’s Nicky Henderson also sat on four victories. Mullins narrowly edged it though as in the event of a tie, the number of second-place finishers is used to determine the top trainer. Between 1997 and 2008, three or four wins was always enough to win the award but in more recent years we have seen more dominant performances. Both Mullins (2015) and Elliot (2018) racked up an incredible eight wins in 2015 and 2018 respectively, with the former responsible for the most wins in festival history.
There are large parallels between the top jockey and top trainer award given that the best trainers will usually have the same jockey on all their best horses. Jockeys are not limited to just one trainer though so there will be some variation in the market. Ruby Walsh enjoyed a huge period of dominance, which saw the Irishman claim 10 wins in 11 years but since then (aided by his retirement soon after) things have been all to play for. In fact, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 saw a brand new winner each time including our first-ever female top-jockey, Rachael Blackmore in 2021.
Blackmore’s success was something of a surprise too as coming into the Festival, Paul Townend was the 4/11 favourite, followed by Jack Kennedy at 3/1. At some bookies Blackmore found herself trading at 16/1 so it was a lucrative festival for anyone sensing girl power would come out on top. For this market, and indeed all the other ‘top’ markets, you can place your bets before the festival starts or at any point during proceedings. Just bear in mind that odds can change dramatically even after a few races.
Finally, there is the option to bet on the festival’s top owner. Although the least popular of the markets mentioned so far, finding odds for it does not tend to be too difficult. Year on year there is not often a great deal of change with the same familiar names always likely to grab their fair share of winners. JP McManus is often the favourite as he has owned more winners in Cheltenham Festival history than anyone else (67 as of the completion of the 2021 festival).
As with all other top markets, in the event of a draw, the number of runners-up and then third-place finishes are used to find an outright winner. These are not betting markets that will end up as a draw so there is no danger of only receiving half a payout.
Many punters turn to the Tote when betting at Cheltenham, either as an alternative to the bookmakers or most often in addition to them. With the Tote, all the money from the stakes gets pooled together and all winners get an even share of the total prize pot. One popular Tote betting option is the Placepot, which can attract prize pots of up to £1m every day of the festival. This type of bet requires you to successfully pick horses that will place across the first six races of the afternoon.
If there are no winning players, the prize pot rolls over to the next day, as it would in a lottery. In 2020, two friends, who narrowly missed out on a £32,000 payout five years earlier, earned over £25,000 after they correctly predicted three winners, two runners-up and a third-place finisher. While a hefty amount, this is by no means an extremely large return for a Placepot bet, especially given the pair staked £10. On the opening day of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, the dividend stood at a huge total of £91,283 as strong Champion Hurdle favourite, Buveur d’Air, fell and wiped out 95% of the Placepot contenders in the process.
For the unfamiliar, ante post bets allow punters to place money before a sporting event is scheduled to begin and in horse racing terms it means before the final declaration of the runners has been made. This can mean placing your money a matter of days, weeks or even months before a horse race. The earlier you place your bet, the greater the risk as there is a larger window for a horse to suffer an injury, hit a patch of bad form, or have their owners or trainers set their sights on a different race. Unlike with bets placed on the day, you will not get your money back if the horse you choose turns out to be a non-runner. So, while risky, the big advantage of ante-post bets are that you will very regularly be able to take advantage of much larger odds than the ones available close to the race start.
For the 2021 Cheltenham Festival, there was a lot of media coverage regarding one punter who stood to win £511,000 from a £5 bet if his final selection came in. The last remaining choice was Envoi Allen, who by this time was the 4/9 favourite, but the Betfair customer originally backed him at 9/2 the previous year in what was a bet that stretched nine months. It is certainly an extra challenge picking a winner so far ahead of time but the extra payout for doing so can be huge so it is occasionally worth considering.
Some festivals end up being a roaring success for the bookies but this is far from a guarantee. Usually, when the big favourites end up prospering, the bookies stand to lose a lot of money. Annie Power’s late fall in 2015 spared the betting industry around £50m, much to their relief. This did not, however, spare them from suffering heavy losses for the festival as a whole. More misery followed a year later too as a series of favourite victories condemned the bookies to a combined loss in excess of £60m.
This was a historically bad two years for the bookies mind you and the year later they did bounce back with a £70m swing in their favour. A sizeable chunk of this was thanks to Champion Chase 2/9 favourite, Douvan, who despite looking like he was going to win it, ended up finishing seventh due to lameness.
Cheltenham Festival Key Facts
Having permanently moved to its current home of Prestbury Park in 1911, the Cheltenham Festival has seen a wide range of records set over the years. Some are there to be beaten while others look like they will still be standing for decades to come. Here we will focus on some of these current records and we’ll supply you with some of the most important facts about the widely celebrated festival.
- When – From Tuesday to Friday in early/mid March
- Where – Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucestershire
- Number of Races – seven each day, 28 in total
- Total Prize Money – £4,590,000 (in 2019)
- Oldest Race – Stayers’ Hurdle, founded in 1912
- Most Valuable Race – Cheltenham Gold Cup
- Most Gold Cup Wins – Golden Miller with five
- Most Overall Wins by Jockey – Ruby Walsh who rode 59 Cheltenham Festival winners in total over the years
- Most Wins by Jockey in a Single Festival – Walsh again who secured seven winners in both 2009 and 2016
- Most Consecutive Festival Wins – Quevega who won the Mares’ Hurdle six-times in a row (2009 to 2014)
- Maximum Capacity – A little over 70,000 on Gold Cup day.
- Average Daily Attendance – Around 65,000
- Value to Local Economy – Experts estimate that the Festival brings in at least £100m to the local economy
- Number of Invited Members of Press – Around 1000
- Number of On-Course Bookmakers – Approximately 250
Although we mentioned before that the Cheltenham Festival has featured at Prestbury Park (Cheltenham Racecourse) since 1911, its origins actually date back to 1860. In this year the so-called Grand National Hunt Meeting was introduced at Market Harborough before being moved to different locations on several occasions. Two of these locations included Warwick and Cheltenham, the latter hosting the meeting in 1904 and 1905 at the Prestbury Park site that had recently been completed. It was only when major improvements were made to the course though that the National Hunt Committee decided it was worthy of being a permanent home.
Having established itself as the home of jump racing since, over the course of the season, Cheltenham hosts 14 Grade 1 races and every single one falls during the Festival. You simply will not find so much high-quality jump racing action crammed into one single meeting anywhere else. In addition to this abundance of elite-level races, you also have six Grade 3 events and a range of competitive handicaps, ensuring that there is no lull in the entertainment. Although there is no such thing as a bad race here, the Festival does avoid putting all its best eggs in one basket.
Instead, what you will find is that there is a real balance of quality throughout the entire meeting. Each day features at least a trio of Grade 1 events plus a championship race that inevitably ends up stealing most of the spotlight. On Tuesday, the star event is the Champion Hurdle while on Wednesday the Queen Mother Champion Chase is the standout contest.
Moving onto Thursday and the attention is a little more split between two highly-anticipated affairs, the Stayers’ Hurdle, the leading long-distance hurdles race, and the Ryanair Chase (aka the Festival Trophy). Despite all this earlier quality, the Festival does have a climactic ending as on Friday, it is time for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. As the most prestigious and valuable race of the entire meeting, Cheltenham Racecourse attracts an even larger crowd for the final day.
Rather than having the major showpiece signal the end of the Festival though, there are three races after it. So if punters don’t end up picking the Gold Cup winner, they do a few last chances to beat the bookies. After this, the curtain firmly closes for another year, with punters left to count how much they are in the red or black.
Across all days, the first race begins at 13:30 in the afternoon. There is a 40-minute interval between all the events, meaning the last race of the day takes place at 17:30. The schedule was a little more compact in 2021 (35 minutes between races) but only because it was held behind closed doors. Although this was merely a one-off, there are reportedly plans for the Jockey Club to extend the festival to five days at some point in future.
Should the plans materialise, each day would feature six races, meaning two new races being added to the overall schedule. It is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility either as it was not that long ago that Cheltenham only held a three-day meeting. In 2005 the Festival extended to four days with the Ryanair Chase being the most significant new addition to the racecard. Any extra day added would be stuck onto the end of the existing schedule, meaning we would see action between Tuesday and Saturday.