How to pick a winner at Cheltenham

Timothy Barber
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I’m going to Cheltenham with my company, and I’ve never bet on the horses before. What advice do you have? Jasper, 24, trader

EVEN if you’re a betting novice, you’ll hardly be starved of entertainment at Cheltenham. But a few lucky punts won’t just win you a wad of cash – it’ll turn your pals green with envy and make you the toast of the party.

You’re not going to manage that, however, without a bit of homework first. Look on horse racing websites like and, and find the form guides for the day’s races. You’ll be able to see details of recent performances for each runner, as well as the recent results the trainer’s horses have had, which is just as important. By lunchtime, the betting websites will show the five or six best-backed horses of the day, and as a novice bettor simply following the money is going to be your safest route to a profit. There’s no point backing a 25-1 outsider thinking you’ll make a storming return if it comes in – if its odds aren’t shortening, that’s because it hasn’t a prayer.

Betting expert Bill Esdaile says you also need to think about the particular race and track. At Cheltenham, the finish runs uphill, which means you need a horse with a bit of extra stamina – one that’s been successful over the same distance elsewhere might still find itself tiring when it hits that hill. “I’d like to know that it’s been able to run successfully a bit further than the Cheltenham race,” says Esdaile.

A good indicator is how the horse did in the same race last year. Big festivals like Cheltenham add a lot of extra excitement that horses will pick up on, so a horse that’s proved its temperament with a good previous performance in the same event could be a strong bet. “Horses can be quirky animals and you want to know that running in front of 50,000 people at a strange course isn’t going to put them off,” says Esdaile.

Cheltenham is a particularly fast track where the jumps take a heavy toll. Horses used to softer ground can be found out – particularly Irish horses, says Esdaile. “They’re used to going over slow, heavy ground. If you even clip a fence at Cheltenham you end up on the floor, so a horse with any doubts over its jumping needs to be avoided.”

When you come to making the bet, you’ve the option of backing the horse to win or to place in the top three (an each way bet). Bear in mind that while it’s tempting, as a first-time bettor, to spread your risk with an each way bet, it’ll cost you double the stake because you’re betting on it both winning and it placing – a £10 each way bet actually costs £20. Esdaile only backs a horse each way if its odds are 10-1 or longer. “If a horse is quite short in the betting, it makes more sense to back it to win – if you fancy it, just back it.”