Cheltenham Festival Betting Tips – 12th to 15th March 2019

Portrait of Black Racecourse

The time has come once again. The National Hunt season has already featured its fair share of thrills and spills by the time we head into March, but really all that has gone before has merely been an appetiser to the main course. That main course is of course the mighty Cheltenham Festival!

Featuring a bumper 28 races spread over four days, it is at this meeting where the champions of the season are crowned across each of jumps racing categories. Be they hurdlers or chasers, young or old, you can expect to see the genuine superstars of the game looking to light up the track at Prestbury Park. It is here where legends are made, bubbles are burst and many of racing’s most memorable moments have taken place.

Such is the quality of the racing, that this is a fine spectacle in its own right, but as ever a bet on the outcome serves to ramp up that excitement still further, and here we have a betting bonanza quite unlike any other. Get set for four of the very best days that this sport has to offer!

About the Cheltenham Festival

Race Leaders at Leopardstown Racecourse

Just as the majority of people will think of Royal Ascot when they consider the world of flat racing, the Cheltenham Festival will be at the forefront of the mind’s of the race-going public when it come to jump racing. The meeting in Gloucestershire is one of the standout weeks in the British horse racing calendar, seeing the best and the brightest descend on the Prestbury Park course for some of the best jump racing anywhere in the world.

The week is unquestionably building to the running of the Gold Cup, which is up there alongside the Grand National as one of the standout moments of jump racing during the year. Yet there are countless races throughout the meeting that are exciting and noteworthy, to say nothing of moments that take place off the course but that are just as iconic as the racing itself. There are few sounds in sport as spine-tingling as the Cheltenham Roar, for example, which accompanies the start of the week’s opening race.

Four Days of Brilliant Racing

We could delve into the history of the Cheltenham Festival and how the arrival of the Grand Annual Steeplechase to the racecourse is thought by many to be the defining moment for racing in the area, or how the introduction of the Gold Cup in 1924 cemented Cheltenham’s place in the annals of horse racing. Yet the races themselves have so much about them worth talking about that getting lost into a rabbit hole of history might not serve us well in importing the most useful information about the meeting.

The Cheltenham Festival offers racegoers and watchers four days of brilliant racing, with every day featuring top-class events to keep you entertained. It’s not even just limited to the duration of the Festival, either, with the more research-orientated of you having the opportunity to watch out for Festival Trials Day in January to see which horses are showing promise ahead of the main event.

Day One: Champions Day

The feature race of Day One of the Festival is the Champion Hurdle, but it would be misleading to suggest that that’s the only race worthy of your attention. There are seven races to be run during the day and they all offer something interesting to the watching public.

Day Two: Ladies Day

There’s barely a race meeting in the world that doesn’t have a Ladies Day, letting the glamour off the course take almost as much attention as the racing on it. The Queen Mother Champion Chase is the feature race of the day, though it’s a close run thing in many respects.

Day Three: St Patrick’s Day

Cheltenham’s links to Ireland go back many years but are best summed up with the popularity of St Patrick’s Day on the course. The Irish invasion is in full swing by Day Three, with the Guinness flowing and the party seemingly never-ending. The feature race today is generally considered to be the Festival Trophy, better known as the Ryanair Chase. The Stayers’ Hurdle is also considered to be an important race on Day Three.

Day Four: Gold Cup Day

As you can tell, the rest of the Festival absolutely has plenty of top-notch racing to keep you entertained, but there’s no question that the final day of the meeting is also the one that most people have spent the week looking forward to. Day Four is when the big one happens, with the Gold Cup garnering the attention of racing fans the world over.

Race List

As we mention above, The Festival has four days packed with the very best National Hunt racing to be found anywhere on the planet. Below is a full list of the races on each day along with some of the key details.

RacePrize MoneyAgesObstacles
Day One
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle £125,000 4 years olds + 8 hurdles
Arkle Novices' Chase £175,000 5 years old + 13 fences
Ultima Handicap Chase £110,000 5 years old + 20 fences
Champion Hurdle £450,000 4 years olds + 8 hurdles
Mares’ Hurdle £120,000 4 years olds + 10 hurdles
Novices' Handicap Chase £70,000 5 years old + 16 fences
National Hunt Challenge Cup £125,000 5 years old + 25 fences
Day Two
Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle £125,000 4 years old + 10 hurdles
RSA Novices' Chase £175,000 5years old + 20 fences
Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle £100,000 4 years old + 10 hurdles
Queen Mother Champion Chase £400,000 5 years old + 13 fences
Cross Country Chase £65,000 5 years old + 32 obstacles
Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle £80,000 4 years old 8 hurdles
Champion Bumper £75,000 4-6 years old none
Day Three
JLT Novices’ Chase £150,000 5 years old + 17 fences
Pertemps Handicap Hurdle £100,000 5 years old + 12 hurdles
Ryanair Chase £350,000 5 years old + 17 fences
Stayers’ Hurdle £325,000 4 years old + 12 hurdles
Stable Plate Handicap Chase £110,000 5 years old + 17 fences
Mares’ Novice Hurdle £90,000 4 years old + 8 hurdles
Kim Muir Challenge Cup £70,000 5 years old + 21 fences
Day Four
Triumph Hurdle £125,000 4 years old 8 hurdles
County Handicap Hurdle £100,000 5 years old + 8 hurdles
Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle £125,000 4 years old + 12 hurdles
Cheltenham Gold Cup £625,000 5 years old + 22 fences
Foxhunter Chase £45,000 5 years old + 22 fences
Grand Annual Chase £110,000 5 years old + 14 fences
Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle £70,000 4 years old + 10 hurdles

The Championship Races

Now that we know the rough order of the races over the two days, it’s worth having a closer look at them. Obviously twenty-eight races over four days is a lot to look at in-depth, so instead we’ll concentrate on the feature races for each of the days and then take a look at the other noteworthy races too.

Whilst race organisers would doubtless argue that every race during the Festival is of huge importance, the reality is that some are more prestigious than others. That has to be the case, of course, as it would be almost impossible for racegoers to cope with hit after hit on the racing front. Here’s a look at those standout races from the four days:

Champion Hurdle

The Champion Hurdle was run for the first time three years after the Gold Cup’s inaugural running and it took some time to truly establish itself as a race of some importance. Indeed, the 1932 running saw just three horses take part, which is suggestive of owners and trainers failing to immediately fall in love with it. It was cancelled during the Second World War, but when it returned it proved to be more popular with entrants and racegoers alike.

As with the Gold Cup, the success of certain horses can be seen as part of the reason that the Champion Hurdle began to gain in popularity. With an appropriate name for post-war Britain, National Spirit was taken to the hearts of the public when he won consecutive races in 1947 and 1948. Yet that was to be immediately overshadowed thanks to a hat-trick of wins by Hatton’s Grace between 1949 and 1951. When that was immediately followed up by three wins in succession by Sir Ken, the race was seen as one of the most exciting to watch by Cheltenham racegoers.

Dawn Run took the public’s imagination in 1984 when she became only the second mare to win the race, backing up her importance as a race horse when she won that most prestigious of jump races, the Gold Cup, two years later. The end of the 1990s saw another horse become a triple winner of the race when Istabraq saw out one decade and the start of another with three consecutive wins between 1998 and 2000. He might have won a fourth, but for the fact that the Festival was abandoned because of the foot and mouth disease in 2001.

The final leg of the Triple Crown of Hurdling after the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle and the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park, the Champion Hurdle takes place left-handed and lasts for just over two miles. Open to horses aged four and up, the weight information sees four-year-olds have eleven stone two pounds and those aged five and over eleven stone ten pounds, with fillies and mares getting a seven pound allowance. There are eight hurdles to be jumped during the event and it is run on the Old Course.

The Gold Cup

Where else to start but with the big one? There was a race with the same title that took place at Cheltenham in 1819, but it was a flat race ran over three miles and bears no relation to the race we know and love today. The jump race took place for the first time on the twelfth of March 1924 and the winning owners took home £685. Back-to-back wins for Golden Miller between 1932 and 1936 saw the race catapulted into the public imagination in a real way.

The story of the Gold Cup can, in many ways, be told through the various horses that have won it over the years. Three successive victories for the Irish-trained Cottage Rake after the Second World War began the Irish love affair with the race, for example, whilst the superiority of Arkle after it had been switched to the New Course in the 1960s solidified the public’s obsession with the event. Dawn Run’s victory in both the Gold Cup and the Champion Hurdle is noteworthy on account that it’s the only horse to win both races, whilst Desert Orchid’s win in 1989 remains a standout moment in Gold Cup history.

Six years before Desert Orchid’s triumph the top five horses to finish were Bregawn, Captain John, Wayward Lad, Silver Buck and Ashley House. Not a particularly exciting set of horses at first glance, but when you realise that every single one of them had been trained by Michael Dickinson you start to get something of an appreciation for why it was a year that went down in Gold Cup folklore. The modern generation of racing fans have had plenty to get excited about over the years too, with Kauto Star becoming the first horse to regain the Gold Cup when he won it in 2009, having lost out to stablemate Denman in 2008 after winning it for the first time the year before.

Raced left-handed over three miles and two and a half furlongs, the Gold Cup features twenty-two fences that must be traversed before horses can get to the finish line. It’s a race for horses aged five and over, with weight information of eleven stone and five pounds for five-year-olds and eleven stone ten pounds for those aged six and up, whilst mares are given a seven pound allowance. It’s far from the richest race in the sport, with a pot of £575,000 available in 2017 and £327,326 of that going to to the winner. Pat Taaffe’s three wins on Arkle and one on Fort Leney make him the race’s most successful jockey, though still coming one short of Golden Miller’s five wins as the most successful horse ever to win the race.

Queen Mother Champion Chase

Originally known as the National Hunt Two-Mile Champion Chase when it was established in 1959, it was renamed in honour of the Queen Mother in her eightieth birthday year of 1980. The Queen Mother had long been a supporter of the National Hunt and chasers in particular, so it was felt that the new moniker was a fitting tribute to her.

Whilst other races during the Festival had begun to take on sponsors much earlier in their existence, the Queen Mother Champion Chase resisted doing so until 2007 but has borne the name of one ever since. These have obviously changed over the years, with Seasons Holidays taking the honour initially before different betting firms began to take over.

The Queen Mother Champion Chase is considered to be the leading middle-distance chase in National Hunt racing, run over a distance of just shy of two miles. Run left-handed on the Old Course, the race has a weight of eleven stone ten pounds and a seven pound allowance for mares. It’s open to horses aged five and over and Badsworth Boy is its most successful participant, having won it three times between 1983 and 1985.

Ryanair Chase

Officially known as the Festival Trophy, the Ryanair Chase is the youngest of the feature races during the Cheltenham Festival. In 2005 the Festival’s organisers decided to add a fourth day to proceedings, with the Ryanair Chase being one of the races to find itself on the race card to fill the spaces that had opened up. A race with a similar style called the Cathcart Challenge Cup had existed before, but it was for first and second-season chasers only, so this new race was considered to be more inclusive.

When the race was run for the first time it was a Grade 2 offering, being upgraded to Grade 1 in 2008. It was also sponsored by the Daily Telegraph during its initial running, but the Irish airline Ryanair has been its main sponsor since 2006, which is why it is better known as the Ryanair Chase than its actual title. Run left-handed over two miles and five furlongs on the New Course, it’s open to horses aged five and over. When it comes to the weight information on the race, five-year-olds have eleven stone nine pounds, whilst six-year-olds and over have eleven stone ten pounds and mares get a seven pound allowance.

Stayers’ Hurdle

Is the Festival Trophy the feature race on Day Three of the Festival or does that honour go to the Stayers’ Hurdle? It’s a matter of some debate, with many considering them to be pretty equal in that regard. What we can tell you is that the Stayers’ Hurdle is the National Hunt’s leading long-distance hurdle event, which may well give it the edge over the Ryanair Chase for some of you.

Inaugurated in 1912 when it was run over three miles, the then-named Stayers Selling Hurdle was a weight-for-age selling event that saw the winning horse sold for £50. Interestingly, the event had some trouble settling onto the Festival’s roster and was dropped twice before eventually coming back in to replace the Spa Hurdle in 1946. When Ladbrokes took over sponsorship of the race in 2005 it also renamed it as the World Hurdle, with the Stayers’ Hurdle name coming back in 2017.

Raced left-handed on the New Course, the race is open to horses aged four and over and lasts for around three miles, with twelve hurdles to be jumped during that time. Weight-wise, four-year-olds have eleven stone exactly whilst those aged five and over have eleven stone ten pounds and fillies and mares get a seven pound allowance. In terms of horses that have won the race, none can come close to the four consecutive wins of Big Buck's between 2009 and 2012. Those wins also helped Ruby Wash establish himself as the race’s most successful jockey.

Other Notable Races

We’re not going to look at all of the remaining twenty-four races, but instead have a look a the other most notable ones from the rest of the Festival.

Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

Whilst the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle isn’t necessarily all that noteworthy in and of itself, it is very much important in the overall Festival because it’s the race that kicks the whole thing off. The famous ‘Cheltenham Roar’ is what can be heard when the starter gives the horses the order to go, signalling that the Festival is under way for another year.

Originally known as the Gloucestershire Hurdle when it was established in 1946, the race became known as the Lloyds Bank Champion Novices' Hurdle when the high street moneylender took on sponsorship duties in 1974. The present moniker came into effect when Waterford Crystal took over in 1978 and it has maintained the name ever since.

The race is for novice hurdlers aged four and up and takes place on the Old Course over a distance of just in excess of two miles. It’s run left-handed and the weight information sees four-year-olds have ten stone thirteen pounds, five-year-olds and over get eleven stone seven pounds and fillies and mares allowed seven pounds. There are eight hurdles for competitors to cope with during the race.

Cross Country Chase

Inaugurated in 2005 when the Festival had that fourth day added, the Cross Country Chase is a real slog for the participants. It lasts for three miles and six furlongs, with thirty-two obstacles needing to be overcome before the run-in. It was a handicap race when it was first established, switching to a conditions race in 2016.

Open to horses aged five and over, it is notable for the fact that it’s run on the Cross-Country Course rather than either the Old or the New. Two horses have won the race more than once at the time of writing, with Garde Champetre achieving it in 2008 and 2009 and Balthazar King repeating the trick in 2012 and then again two years later.

Triumph Hurdle

What’s interesting about the Triumph Hurdle that separates it from many of the other races that take place during the Cheltenham Festival is that it wasn’t actually established at Prestbury Park. First run at Surrey’s Hurst Park in 1939, it was moved to the Gloucestershire course in 1965 and before its move was one of the few hurdle races that famous flat racing jockey Lester Piggott enjoyed success in.

Another reason why the Triumph Hurdle is worthy of a mention is that horses that do well in it often go on to compete in the Champion Hurdle. Clair Soleil, Persian War, Kribensis and Katchit are all horses that have won both races, which is something that you might want to bear in mind.

The race is only open to four-year-olds, making it one of only a few races that are run during the Festival that have such an age restriction in place. It takes place over two miles and one furlong, with the juvenile hurdlers’ race featuring eight hurdles during its running. It is the National Hunt’s leading race for juveniles and the weight information is eleven stone, with a seven pound allowance for fillies.

The Course

A final quick note for the course itself. Cheltenham Racecourse is actually more like three courses in one, with the Old Course used for the racing on days one and two and the New Course coming in to play for the final two days of the Festival. There’s also the Cross-Country Course that is used for the likes of the Cross Country Chase.

The Old Course is one mile mile and four furlongs based on an oval track, with a three hundred and fifty yard run-in. It’s left-handed and has six hurdles and nine fences on it, with open ditches on the fourth and sixth and a water jump on the third.

The New Course, in comparison, is also oval but is based over one mile and five furlongs. The run-in is a much shorter two hundred and twenty yards. The course has the flexibility to see more hurdles and fences brought in if needed. It ordinarily has six hurdles but can be expanded to nine, with the thirteen fences able to be expanded to eighteen if the race calls for it. The second is the water jump and the third and fifth are open ditches.