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Six things to consider when choosing your horses at Cheltenham Festival 2018

Cheltenham Racecourse

Hundreds of millions of pounds will change hands during the four-day Cheltenham Festival as seasoned punters and armchair fans claim a stake in the action.

It features 14 Grade 1 races and some of the most prestigious bouts in the National Hunt season, including the Gold Cup, the Champion Chase, the Champion Hurdle and the Stayers’ Hurdle.

A race is always a lot more exciting when you have money riding on one of the challengers, but there are some things you should consider before placing a wager on Cheltenham favourites:

1. Cheltenham Favourites Are Often Beaten

It is always tempting to lump on the favourite in a particular race, as that horse is typically in the most impressive form.

However, all the races at the Cheltenham Festival are rich and important, so they attract deep fields studded with star talent.

Favourites only win 30% of the time and this is amplified at an ultra-competitive meeting like the Cheltenham Festival.

Last year, only six Cheltenhan favourites secured victory in 28 races, and short-priced runners like Douvan and Unowhatimeanharry let punters down after they were heavily backed.

Gold Cup Winner Kauto Star

The year before, 10 Cheltenham favourites won, but in 2015 only seven came in and in 2014 just six landed victory. If you backed the favourite every time, you would be well down overall.

Sometimes an entire day at the Festival goes by without one winning, so you are often wiser to think objectively and look for long odds runners that have a chance of springing an upset.

If you find a horse that will enjoy the going, will relish a step up or down in trip, or who looks undervalued by possessing untapped potential, that could be the one to back.

2. Be Selective in choosing favourites

If you figure that around three Cheltenham favourites in every 10 will land victory, think about the ones that really deserve their status, having proved it over many epic contests.

Nicky Henderson’s Champion Chase hopeful, Altior, who leads the way in the spread betting markets at SportingIndex.com, has never lost over hurdles or fences during his glittering career.

He has won at the last two Festivals, landing the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2016 and the Arkle last year, so he loves the course, and the trip is perfect for him.

Douvan’s case shows there are no dead certs in racing, but it would be the upset of the season if Altior were beaten this year. He has not put a foot wrong so far, and has the measure of his rivals, so he looks a better favourite than most.

3. Don't ignore the less glamorous races

There are only 40 Grade 1 races in the entire National Hunt season, and a massive 14 of them take place over just four days at the Cheltenham Festival.

That is why they call it "the greatest show on turf", but ignore the less heralded races at your peril. There are Grade 3 races, unlisted contests and juvenile chases that will unearth the stars of the future.

They may not be quite as competitive as the big Grade 1 races, and you can often find plenty of value lurking down the field. So treat each race with equal respect, regardless of prestige, and you could enjoy a bountiful Festival.

4. Watch out for Walsh

Jockey Ruby Walsh

Ruby Walsh has been named top jockey at the Festival for nine of the last 10 years, and his partnership with Willie Mullins is the stuff legends are made of.

He suffered a broken leg when Let’s Dance fell at Punchestown in November, putting his participation at this year’s Festival in jeopardy. But he has now battled back to full fitness and made a long-anticipated comeback this week, just in time for Cheltenham.

If you are looking for a jockey to follow, Walsh is your man. He has twice ridden seven winners during the Festival and is typically the star name to watch out for.

5. The luck of the Irish

Ireland absolutely trounced Great Britain to win the Prestbury Cup last season and they are bringing over an extremely strong group this time around.

Englishman Nicky Henderson saddles the favourites in the three biggest races – the Gold Cup, the Champion Hurdle and the Queen Mother Champion Chase – but for sheer volume Mullins is in front.

He has more favourites, joint favourites and second favourites than any other trainer in the ante post stakes.

But Gordon Elliott, who beat Mullins to be named champion trainer last year, ending his countryman’s five-year winning streak, has another great selection this time around too.

It should develop into a three-way battle between Henderson, Mullins and Elliott to be named top trainer, but the latter two have deeper quality in their stables and that spells good news for Ireland’s bid to retain the Prestbury Cup.

6. Check the weather forecast 

Never fail to take into account the going when assessing a horse’s chance of winning a race.

Some like running on good ground, whereas others love the slop, so make sure the conditions are suitable for your selection before backing him or her.

The 'beast from the east' has gone back to Siberia with its tail between its legs, and the ground is improving at Cheltenham Racecourse after the snow has cleared.

But plenty of rain is forecast in the build-up to the Festival, so the going is likely to be soft, and perhaps even heavy in places. Make sure you get an up to the minute report before the Festival, and opt for horses that thrive in those conditions.

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