Andy Gibson's Cheltenham insights: Beware the Festival favourites

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I would suggest that it is generally more difficult to make a profit betting on horses when you focus on the shorter end of the market, and this is even more the case when considering horses running at the Cheltenham Festival. If you had backed every horse under 3/1 at the Cheltenham Festival since 1999 you would have struggled to make a profit; likewise if supporting horses below 2/1 over the same time period. The interesting point here is that the record of odds-on favourites has an even worse record in relation to the odds.

Since 1999 we have seen 60 horses trading at odds-on prices at Cheltenham in March and of those, 32 have come home in front. This equates to only slightly better than a 50 per cent record.

If you had backed everyone of those favourites you would have lost money on Betfair and also if relying on starting prices.

It is all in the timing

What can happen in my experience is that everyone starts to talk about the foolishness of supporting odds-on shots at the Festival when they are enduring a particularly poor run of results.

For example, between 2004 and 2010 we witnessed 11 horses trading at odds-on and only three of them managed to come out on top.

I think it is fair to suggest that immediately after the 2010 Festival most pundits and punters alike would have been happy to confirm the folly of backing odds-on favourites over the best four racing days of the year. Those same people may have had a different story to tell after the 2016 Cheltenham Festival. This is because from 2011 to 2016 we saw 18 horses trading odds-on, with 14 of them being successful. We can often be fooled by the role of randomness when contemplating statistics over a short space of time with too small a sample size to consider. However, the longer-term results when backing odds-on favourites at the Cheltenham Festival strongly suggest that it is a bad idea and one that will ultimately cost us money. I do not think this applies to just horses trading below even money. Whether you are a trainer, owner, jockey, or punter, finding a winner at the ultra-competitive Cheltenham Festival can be very difficult.

Consequently, as a punter, when we do happen upon a winning horse, we need to ensure we are well rewarded for said horse, because even if we focus on 2/1 shots we need to find one winner in three just to break even.

Moreover, I don't know anyone that backs two winners from three bets regularly over a sustained period of time, so the chances of profiting within that sort of price range is minimal.

What about the 2023 Cheltenham Festival shorties?

The list of horses trading around 2/1 or shorter for the 2023 Cheltenham Festival (at the time of writing) is as follows: Bear in mind that two of them are guaranteed to lose because they are paired with other odds-on shots in the same race (Edwardstone/Energumene and Lossiemouth/Blood Destiny).

Day One

  • Facile Vega 2/1

  • Jonbon 13/8

  • El Fabiolo 13/8

  • Constitution Hill 4/11

  • Gaillard Du Mesnil even money

Day Two

  • Impaire Et Passe 7/4

  • Gerri Colombe 6/4

  • Edwardstone 13/8

  • Energumene 13/8

  • Delta Work 11/10

Day Three

  • Mighty Potter 5/4

  • Shishkin 4/5

  • Luccia 13/8

Day Four

  • Lossiemouth 13/8

  • Blood Destiny 13/8

  • Galopin des Champs 7/4

  • Allegorie De Vassy 5/4

  • Impervious 6/4

I wonder how many of the 18 shorties will manage to get their head in front where it matters this week? It is more than possible that we could find it more profitable to lay each of them in the place market rather than back them to win.

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