The format of the Cheltenham Festival changed in 2005 with the addition of a fourth day and the development has had implications for ante post betting on the major races at the meeting that matters most. There are now more options for the best horses and the ones with scope are leading contenders over a range of distances and even in hurdle races and chases.
Consequently running plans are not known and that makes ante post betting even more fraught with danger. However, this year several bookmakers have offered non-runner no bet on all 28 races about a month earlier than usual. If you want to back a horse at fancy prices you now have the insurance of a full refund if the backed horse does not run in the specified race at the Festival.
With that in mind here are some outsiders to back ante post in the five championship races at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival:
Young horses and others over the age of 10 do not win the Cheltenham Gold Cup these days. In fact nine of the last 10 winners were aged 7, 8 or 9. The Gold Cup is a test of jumping and stamina and the best horse does not always win the race. Since 2006 7 winners have started at 7/2 or lower and there has only been one double figure odds winner. DJAKADAM has been in the shake-up for the last three years and can finally win the Gold Cup as a nine-year-old. The horse did not run up to form on his latest start but can get his head in front at the end of the 2018 Gold Up.
There are now familiar age trends in the Champion Hurdle and only two of the last eight winners were not aged between six and eight while five-year-olds have a poor record. A typical winner has already won a Grade 1 hurdle race and has not had a huge amount of races over the smaller obstacles. Four favourites have won over the last decade when three winners have been returned at double figure odds. WICKLOW BRAVE won the Irish St Leger on the Flat and ran well in the Champion Hurdle last season. The horse is trained by Willie Mullins and he knows how to win the Champion Hurdle.
YORKHILL is one of those horses with several options at the Festival but connections have now announced that he will be entered for the Champion Chase. The horse has figured in the ante post betting for the Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle but backing Yorkhill in those races would have been a wasted bet. That scenario illustrates the value of backing horse ante post with bookmakers who will return your stake if the horse is withdrawn. Yorkhill was disappointing in a big conditions chase in Ireland over Christmas so he is now being aimed at the two mile championship.
The championship race for long distance hurdlers is the most open of the four championship races. All but two winners in the last 10 years had run at the Festival and the age group was six to nine. Potential winners will not have had a busy schedule but there are only a few appropriate trials over the distance. The Cleeve Hurdle is an informative trial but a horse aged five has not won the stayers’ hurdle since 1972. LIL ROCKERFELLA was only beaten by the sadly departed Nichols Canyon in the race last year and can go one better this time.