Short Priced Favourites at the Cheltenham Festival

Ten Year Trends

The Cheltenham Festival brings together the best horses from Britain and Ireland and in terms of betting is one of the most competitive meetings of the season. Five days ahead of the 2017 showpiece only Altior (Arkle Chase) and Douvan (Champion Chase) were quoted at Even money or shorter but once running plans are confirmed Unowhatimeanharry, Limini and Yorkhill could be added to the list.

ROI of 17%

Over the last 10 Festivals 26 horses have been sent off at Evens or shorter and of those 18 have won, a strike rate of 69%. At starting prices a £10 bet on each of the qualifying horses would have returned £303.50 for a £260 stake equating to a profit of £43.50 and a return on investment of almost 17%. That compares favourably with any conventional investments but the term is 10 years. Only three horses in the sample were returned at exactly Evens so 23 started at odds-on.

Between 2007 and 2016 the favourites for the bumper and cross country race have always returned an SP of odds against. The favourite has been priced at Even money or lower in 12 races over fences and 14 over the smaller obstacles. The strike rates are similar for each type of race.

In those twelve chases during the timeframe that have produced an odds-on shot eight have been won by that horse for a strike rate of 67%. Betting at £10 per point would have returned £124.70 for a small profit of £4.70 and a return on investment of 4%.

Over the same period the of the fourteen hurdle races that have produced a qualifying bet ten have been won by the odds-on favourites for a strike rate of 71%. With a level stake of £10 across the board the return would have been £178.80 for a profit of 38.80 and a return on investment of 28%.

Therefore, following the money in this way in hurdle races would have yielded seven times the percentage profit than the equivalent bets for chases even though the respective strike rates are almost identical. That suggests bigger favourite in chases than hurdle races. Sprinter Sacre (2013 Champion Chase) and Douvan (2016 Arkle) both won at 1/4 which accounts for a large proportion of the difference.

Yearly Variances

There have also been variances from year to year. In 2008 there were no horses that started at Evens or shorter, the only year in the last ten in which this happened. Four years later three of the five odds-on shots won but 2016 was easily the best year for the backers of the bankers. Six horses qualified for the criteria of this study and they all won. If you had put a £10 multiple bet on Douvan, Vroum Vroum Mag, Un De Sceaux, Vautour, Thistlecrack and Limini at SP you would have won £229.80.

Last year’s Cheltenham Festival was the worst one in many years for the bookmakers but often the meeting is a bookies benefit. It is rare for so many good things to deliver for the punters, especially when all the horses are trying and running to their full ability. Douvan and Altior are this year’s good things and the double at 8/11 at the best prices in the market will be popular. If Vroum Vroum Mag is targeted at another race Limini could well start at odds-on for the Mares’ Hurdle.

Four Championship Races Records

Two of the four main championship races were won by the Evens or odds-on favourites last year. In 2012 three of the four favourites returned an SP in this price range but only Big Buck’s (World Hurdle) delivered. Since 2007 five of the ten favourites for the World Hurdle now Stayers’ Hurdle have qualified of which four won, including Big Bucks twice. Quevega and Sprinter Sacre are the other multiple winners in the qualifying price range.

There is a feature race on each day of the Festival and overall the results have been about even in the context of the punter’s battle to beat the bookies. Between 1991 and 2016 the average price of the winner of these races is 7/1. There was no Cheltenham Festival in 2001 due to the foot and mouth epidemic. That means since 1991 there have been 25 meetings and 100 four main championship races which is neat for percentage purposes. Only 9% were won by odds-on favourites.

Twenty-one winners of these races had an SP of 10/1 or over so 79% were priced under 10/1. Nine winners were returned at 20/1 and bigger so 91% of the winners had a shorter starting price. Favourites or joint favourites obliged 36 times and Sprinter Sacre (2013 Champion Chase) was the shortest priced winner at 1/4. Anzum won the Stayers’ Hurdle at 40/1 in 1999, the longest priced winner. Big Bucks won that race when it was known as the World Hurdle in 2010 and 2012 at 5/6 and no winner has been returned at a shorter price.

Race Records

There is quite an even spread of winning favourites across the four races: Champion Hurdle – 10, Champion Chase – 9, Stayers’ Hurdle – 10 and Gold Cup – 8. The starting price of Champion Hurdle winners span Hardy Eustace at 33/1 (2004) to Istabraq (1999) at 8/11. That horse was one of the three odds-on favourites that have prevailed over the last 25 meetings when the average price of the Champion Hurdler has been 8/1, the same average for the Gold Cup and Stayers’ Hurdle. The Champion Chase has delivered the lowest average price for its winners in this spell at 5/1.


To conclude the four main championship races over the last 26 years (excluding 2001) have produced a spread of shocks and fancied horses prevailing. At an average price of 7/1 you could say it’s about a draw between the backers and layers. Odds on and even money backers in all races would have made a decent profit over the last decade but the figures are distorted somewhat by all the six horses who qualified winning their races at the Cheltenham Festival last year.

We have produced some persuasive evidence to suggest that when a horse looks like being returned at even money or shorter you should bet bravely at your maximum level stake. The cream rises to the top at Cheltenham for the showpiece meeting and a proven 10 year return on investment of 17% suggests a winning formula when the money is down and a horse starts at evens or odds-on. To be more selective and lucrative you should focus on hurdle races and ignore the steeplechases.

Ian Hudson

Ian Hudson has 15 years experience in the sports betting industry in a number of roles. He has worked as an odds compiler and trader for bwin and Expekt. He was head of trading for several sports and gained extensive experience of in-running trading. He also has trading experience in licensed betting offices and on-course. Ian is a writer for several sports websites covering the main British and European sports. He has expertise in soccer, horse racing, cricket, tennis and golf. One of past current assignments was working as a Betting Editor for the Daily Mirror and he has been published in The Independent online. A publication called A Guide To Sports Betting is part of Ian’s portfolio. In that book, he focused on individual sports and he wrote a chapter on the best policies for winning on horse racing. Money management and staking when betting on racing were covered with reference to a number of successful strategies. Ian is now heavily involved in providing racing content to a number of websites in an engaging and informative way. We hope you can benefit from insight developed over many years of experience betting on and writing about racing. His in-depth knowledge of the sport and betting will be a great asset for your betting on horse racing.
Back to top button