Cheltenham Free Bets

In the world of online betting, there are free bets and then there are Cheltenham free bets!

The former are the sign-up offers that are provided for day to day betting throughout the majority of the year, the latter come around once a year for a one-week period around the Cheltenham Festival.

The Cheltenham Festival is the biggest, brashest and most eagerly anticipated event in the horseracing calendar. Held over four days from Tuesday to Friday in late March the meeting is what all top trainers, horses and jockeys gear their seasonal campaigns towards. The biggest prizes, both in monetary and prestige terms, are on offer at The Festival making it the meeting where all racing connections want to have a winner.

We provide you with a comprehensive guide on all things Cheltenham related including our betting stories and stats at the festival from yesteryear.

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Cheltenham Betting News    

A Personal Perspective Of The 2017 Cheltenham Festival 

Only 258 Sleeps Before Cheltenham Next Year 

My Mum’s maiden name is Walsh and her eldest brother is called Roy so when the Cheltenham Festival comes around she always tells me to back horses ridden by R Walsh. On the third day of the 2017 meeting she decided to have a bet on the races live on ITV….she had more winners in one afternoon than I did over the full four days. A bout of seconditis was painful but Arctic Fire got me out of trouble. 

That horse won the County Hurdle on the Friday at 20/1 so a decent each way bet repaired much of the damage of the previous three days. However, Gold Cup day is an occasion on which I bet in cash at a betting office so it was predictable that I lost my winning slip on Arctic Fire. The cashier tried to fob me off with “well that’s tough son” but from experience I knew about the lost betting slip procedure. 

One of the best times of the day during Cheltenham week is the mornings when you are convinced you have solved the puzzles of the day’s racing. No bets are losers at that stage and its all about excitement and anticipation. My banker bet of day two was Whisper in the RSA Chase, a horse that was a loser, a winner and then a loser again in the space of about ten seconds. The race was one of the most bizarre ever seen. 

Cheltenham and racing in general is full of hard luck stories but the RSA Chase will take some beating in the context of ones that got away. Might Bite had the race in the bag jumping the last but down tools and swerved across the course. Whisper stormed by on the run-in and was clear 50 yards from the line at which point Might Bite was persuaded to start running again and won the race in a tight photo finish. It was like winning the lottery but forgetting to buy a ticket. 

They do say drinking and gambling are not a good mix and personally for me the juries out after the third day. I was despatched to the bookies at lunchtime to place four £1 singles on horses ridden by Ruby Walsh on behalf of Mother. I then independently bumped into the Murphy brothers and it was a sunny day and one of the family traits is they are partial to a drink. Joe passed on the batton to Lawrence but I stayed out for the racing that day. 

There must have been something in the air or I ate something that didn’t agree with me but as the afternoon progressed I started feeling rather strange but a large dry white wine settled my stomach every half hour or so. There is a correlation between the amount of alcohol consumed and why your banker can’t get beat. I backed bravely on Unowhatimeanharry but at the request of a lady friend had an each way saver on Lil Rockefeller!  

Unowhatimeanharry looked all over the winner two out but was outstayed by Nichols Canyon. Lil Rockerfeller ran a great race and held on for second and the payout places at 33/1.  The winner was ridden by Walsh which meant the two most important women in my life who bet on names beat the bookies while I “did my conkers” on the favourite and biggest fancy. Fortunately, Let’s Dance saved the day but I broke my mobile phone and mislaid my iPad. It must have been the excitement of the Cheltenham Festival. 

Over four days and 28 races I backed just three winners but they were at 20/1, 9/1 and 6/4 and bet on six horses that finished second all to win. In theory level stake betting would have won me money over the course of the week but big bets on Unwhatimeanharry, Death Duty and Djakadam distorted the figures. Cheltenham is what it is and its as much about the social occasion and reaffirming friendships than winning money. Non-racing acquaintances of mine found four winners on one afternoon and a horse that was placed at 33/1. 

Cheltenham week is special and unique and brings together so many strands of my work and leisure time. Despite the financial hit and run of near misses win, lose or draw I’ll be back next year to go through the same process again and as I write this piece there are only 258 sleeps before the 2018 Cheltenham Festival!  

A Betting Perspective Of The 2017 Cheltenham Festival 

Last Day Carnage Sees Bookies Win The Battle 

Bookmakers have reported that this year’s Cheltenham Festival was their best for a number of the years and that they won the contest with the punters to end the week in front. Whereas last year three of the four major championship races were won by the favourite only one market leader obliged this time. There were a number of relatively big priced winners in the handicaps and minor upsets in the graded races. Ruby Walsh was the top jockey while Gordon Elliott was the leading trainer with six wins. 

There is usually a pivotal race at the meeting and this year it was the Gold Cup. The first three in the betting were big losers for the major layers so Sizing John did them a huge favour. Bookies must have been fearing the worst as Djakadam looked the most likely winner turning in but a jumping error at the second last handed the initiative to Sizing John and the horse stormed up the hill to win well. Native River made the frame but Cue Card fell while Djakadam faded into fourth place. 

The bookmakers were in a happy position after three days but Gold Cup day could have negated all the good. Punters got off to a good start with Defi Du Seuil’s win in the Triumph Hurdle but winners at 20-1, 16-1, 12-1, 10-1 and 13-2 sent bookies home with smiles on their faces having won the annual battle. Ireland had 19 winners and Britain 9 but most of the visitors’ winners did not have strong support in the market. The Irish won the bumper and cross country race but not with their best prospects. 

The meeting began with an Irish trained winner in the opener but Labiak was not fancied. Overall bookmakers avoided first-day liabilities with the defeats of the heavily backed quarter Melon, Singlefarmpayment, Liming and Yanworth. There was only one winning favourite on the seven-race card and that was Altior at 1-4 in the Arkle. It was a much better start for bookmakers than the last few years and they maintained the ascendancy over the rest of the week.    

Douvan was turned over at long odds-on in the Champion Chase. Might Bite struck back for the punters in the RSA Chase, despite trying to give away the race to Whisper who had been well backed. Honours were about even on day 2 except for one bookmaker who rumour has it accepted a bet of £375,000 on Douvan. Bookies are usually happy to lay the short stuff and one in particular made serious money in that way. 

Normal service was resumed on the Thursday as Willie Mullins had his first winner with Yorkhill. The champion Irish trainer got back in the mix for leading training honours with another three well-backed winners. Victory for three favourites saw the punters cope with the odds-on defeat of Unowhatimeanharry to end the day in front. That meant everything was to play for on Gold Cup day but the bookies made hay while the punters watched six favourites let them down. 

Cheltenham Festival 2018 Ante Post Betting 

No sooner has one Cheltenham Festival ended and bookmakers and punters are speculating on how the main races at the meeting pan out next year. Here are some ante post bets that you can monitor from now until next March. However, if the horse you backed does not run all stakes are lost. Ante post betting is fraught with danger but you could get better odds than those on offer on the morning of the race or compared to the starting price. Stakes should be kept to a minimum but at the best prices at the time of writing a £10 multiple on the following horses returns over £22K. 

So here are selections for the four championship races at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival. Prices were correct on March 23rd and are subject to change. 

Champion Hurdle  

Melon at 16/1 with Skybet 

In the first few days after the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Melon was backed for the Champion Hurdle of 2018. The trainer Willie Mullins was confident of a big run at Cheltenham and the horse was only beaten by Labaik who often refused to start in the past. Melon has only run twice over hurdles in public so there is room for improvement. The horse put up an impressive performance and only succumbed to Labiak who is a risky proposition and could be anything. A safer option is to back Melon for the Champion Hurdle as Annie Power and Faugheen will be returning from long absences and could be vulnerable. That means the younger horse could become the trainer’s best hope.  

Champion Chase 

Charbel at 16/1 with bet365

Charbel seemed to be going well when falling two out in the Arkle Chase. It’s debateable whether the horse would have beaten Altior but he was jumping well and didn’t look like stopping. Usually falls occur due to tiredness but Charbel had set a decent pace and didn’t look like faltering. Altior may well have stormed clear up the hill but that would be more to do with that horse’s ability rather than any weakness with Charbel. Douvan ran too bad to be true in the Champion Chase to be true and at his best is a massive danger but Charbel is a more speculative bet and therefore carries less risk. 

Stayers' Hurdle 

Unowhatimeanharry at 12/1 with Paddy Power 

Unowhatimeanharry ran a fine race in the Stayers’ Hurdle and was right in contention at the last hurdle. The horse was outstayed up the hill by Nichols Canyon and Lil Rockefeller but lost little in defeat. Unowhatimeanhaary was the best staying hurdler in Britain and Ireland before the Festival but Nichols Canyon now has that honour. That horse could win the next two stayers’ hurdle races or could be targeted at different races and Lil Rockefeller is unlikely to show the level of form again. By a process of elimination that leaves Unowhatimeanhaary as the ante post pick 

Gold Cup  

Thistlecrack at 5/1 with Ladbrokes 

Thistlecrack was the ante post favourite for the 2017 Gold Cup before even jumping a fence in public. The horse was by some way the best staying hurdler the previous season and had made a great start to a chasing career. In fact the performance in the King George on Boxing Day was the best form ahead of the Gold Cup, However, Thistlecrack did not run due to injury and but remains an exciting prospect for chases. Sizing John won well but was not exceptional on ratings so Thistlecrack has the form and ability to win the next Gold Cup.


Cheltenham Festival Day One - Champion Day - Tuesday 14th March

The Skybet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is the first race of the meeting and is always a keen betting heat. The best four days jumps racing has begun and punters have full betting banks. There is a huge cheer when the race starts and all the anticipation and excitement is replaced by actual racing. In a survey in the Racing Post the Tuesday of the Cheltenham Festival was voted the most favourite single day of racing in the UK. 

The highlight of the first day of Cheltenham is the Champion Hurdle which brings together the best hurdlers over two miles. The race has a history of producing multiple winners but Faugheen and Annie Power, Champion Hurdlers in 2015 and 2016, both miss the race through injury. That has caused a massive change in the betting and Buveur D'Air looks a worthy favourite.   

Cheltenham Festival Day Two- Ladies Day - Wednesday 15th March

The second day of the meeting features the Champion Chase which is the championship race for steeplechasers over two miles. The race is run at a fast pace from the outset and quick, accurate jumping is required to stay in contention. Douvan looks the banker bet of the meeting in this race though whether its wise taking odds-on three months ahead of the race is debateable. 

The RSA Chase is the novices’ Gold Cup and brings together the best young, inexperienced chasers over the Gold Cup course and distance. Several horses have won both contests but Blaklion, the winner in 2016, is not a leading contender for the next Gold Cup. The Cross Country Chase adds something unique to the occasion and Any Currency could finally win the race having finished first last time only to be disqualified for a minor banned substance offence. 

Cheltenham Festival Day Three - St.Patrick's Day - Thursday 16th March

If there is such a thing as a weak day at the Cheltenham Festival it would be the Thursday. However, there are seven races on each day of the meeting including the Stayers Hurdle on day three. With doubts about the running plans for many of the leading contenders Uknowhatimeanharry looks a solid proposition having won over the course and distance last season. 

The Ryanair Chase is run over the intermediary distance between the Champion Chase and Gold Cup. Un De Sceaux has the best form in the field and Uxizandre is a former winner but Alary has some intresting form in France in the context of the race.

Cheltenham Festival Day Four - Cheltenham Gold Cup Day - Friday 17th March

The fourth and final day of the meeting features the highlight, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The race is the Blue Riband of chasing and the most prestigious race in the division in the world. A horse must have some speed and stamina and good jumping is an obvious requirement for success. Cue Card would be a hugely popular winner but former winners, Coneygree and Don Cossack, will be missing and Thistlecrack has also been ruled out due to injury.. 

The supporting races are all competitive on one the biggest days of the season for betting. The Triumph Hurdle opens the programme and the Foxhunters’ Chase follows the Gold Cup. The amateur riders race is run over the same course and distance as the big one which never fails to deliver. When the last race is over anticipation starts again for the next Festival this time the following year. 

Cheltenham Betting Stories and Stats

Gambling Tales That Stand Out

Annie Power 2015

When Annie Power was approaching the last with Mares’ Hurdle won bookmakers were facing an estimated £40 million payout on the Willie Mullins four timer. On the first day of last year’s festival Douvan, Un De Sceaux and Faugheen had won for the trainer so all the running up money was on Annie Power. The horse had done everything right up to approaching the final hurdle but misjudged the obstacle and fell ruining a multitude of accas. The nightmare scenario for the bookmakers was averted by a horse that was trading at 1.03 in running but found a way to lose the race.

Beech Road and Waterloo Boy 1989

A friend who lived in Beech Road in Waterloo just north of Liverpool had the bet of a lifetime on the Tuesday of Cheltenham in 1989. A small punter he had a £2 double on Beech Road in the Champions Hurdle and Waterloo Boy in the Arkle. This was a massive case of placing a bet based on the names of the horses with no form logic. Both outsiders duly obliged and the double paid 1070/1 for a return of £2140 for a couple of quid but he didn’t mention the winning bet to his wife.

Norton’s Coin 1990

Norton’s Coin is the biggest priced winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup and only the second winner trained in Wales. Sent off at 100/1 his trainer Sirrel Griffiths thought that was an outrageous price. The horse had some form in the book that suggested winning the Gold Cup was not a forlorn hope but very few punters backed him at Cheltenham or in the betting offices. Norton’s Coin beat Toby Tobias by three quarters of a length with the 10/11 favourite Desert Orchid 4 lengths further back in third place.

Michael Dickenson’s First Five 1983

Michael Dickenson was a bit of a fruit cake but he knew how to train steeple chasers. He eventually moved to the United States to train Flat horses and invented an artificial racing surface. However, he will always be remembered for training the horses that finished in the first five in the 1983 Cheltenham Gold Cup. Dickenson had won the race in 1982 with Silver Buck but surpassed that achievement a year later when his Bregawn won the race. The horses that finished in the next four places all came from Dickenson’s stable and the achievement is arguably the greatest in the history of the race.

25 Year Betting Statistics

The 2001 Cheltenham Festival did not take place due to the foot and mouth outbreak. So, since 1991 there have been 25 meetings and 25 renewals of the four championship races, so 100 races in total.

Champion Hurdle Winners 1991 to 2016 (no race in 2001)

Horse, year, price, (trainer and jockey).

  • Biggest price: Hardy Eustace 2004 33/1 (Dessie Hughes and Conor O’Dwyer)
  • Shortest price: Istabraq 1999 4/9 (Aidan O’Brien and Charlie Swan)
  • Average price: 8/1
  • 10/1 and over: 6
  • Under 10/1: 19
  • 20/1 and over: 2
  • Under 20/1: 23
  • Odds-On: 3
  • Number of favourites or joint favourites: 10

Champion Chase Winners 1991 to 2016 (no race in 2001)

Horse, year, price, (trainer and jockey).

  • Biggest price: Newmill 2006 16/1 (John Murphy and Andrew McNamara)
  • Shortest price: Sprinter Sacre 2013 1/4 (Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty)
  • Average price: 5/1
  • 10/1 and over: 4
  • Under 10/1: 21
  • 20/1 and over: 0
  • Under 20/1: 25
  • Odds-On: 2
  • Number of favourites or joint favourites: 9

World Hurdle Winners 1991 to 2016 (no race in 2001)

Horse, year, price, (trainer and jockey).

  • Biggest price: Anzum 1999 40/1 (David Nicholson and Richard Johnson)
  • Shortest price: Big Buck’s 2010 and 2012 5/6 (Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh)
  • Average price: 8/1
  • 10/1 and over: 5
  • Under 10/1: 20
  • 20/1 and over: 3
  • Under 20/1: 22
  • Odds-On: 3
  • Number of favourites or joint favourites: 10

Gold Cup Winners 1991 to 2016 (no race in 2001)

Horse, year, price, (trainer and jockey).

  • Biggest price: Cool Dawn 1998 25/1 (Robert Alner and Andrew Thornton) and Cool Ground 1992 25/1 (Toby Balding and Adriam Maguire) 
  • Shortest price: Best Mate 2004 8/11 (Henrietta Knight and Jim Culloty)
  • Average price: 81/1
  • 10/1 and over: 6
  • Under 10/1: 19
  • 20/1 and over: 4
  • Under 20/1: 21
  • Odds-On: 1
  • Number of favourites or joint favourites: 8

Four Championship Race Winners 1991 to 2016 

Horse, year, price, (trainer and jockey).

  • Biggest price: Anzum 1999 40/1 (David Nicholson and Richard Johnson)
  • Shortest price: Sprinter Sacre 2013 Champion Chase 1/4 (Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty)
  • Average price: 7/1
  • 10/1 and over: 21
  • Under 10/1: 79
  • 20/1 and over: 9
  • Under 20/1 91
  • Odds-On: 9
  • Number of favourites or joint favourites: 36    

About The Cheltenham Festival

The Christmas trials in England and Ireland have made some issues clearer but muddied the waters with others in the context of ante post betting for the four championship races at the Cheltenham Festival in March. The holiday programme provided much food for thought and some ramifications for those four days in March. The festive races were significant in their own right but all roads lead to Cheltenham in this sport.

The Festival dominates National Hunt racing like no other single tournament or fixture in any other sport. The meeting has been described as the Olympics of jumps racing and winning one of the historic races is the ambition of most owners. The superpowers of training and ownership dominate but the beauty of the sport is that a horse with unfashionable connections can have a day in the sun. Norton’s Coin was trained by dairy farmer but won the Gold Cup in 1990 at 100/1.

Sire De Grugy was bought as a birthday present by his family for Steve Preston, a man not of great wealth. The team had some great days out, most notably when winning the Champion Chase in 2014. A horse can come from left field literally and take on and beat the big boys at the pinnacle of the sport. Jump racing is more democratic than Flat racing and there are thousands of horses in fields, especially in Ireland, that can win a gold medal at the most important fixture of the year.

The Cheltenham Festival is huge for the betting industry and results at the meeting can have a significant effect on their bottom line for the year. If Annie Power had completed the final leg of the Willie Mullins four-timer on the Tuesday last season the bookies would have paid out an estimated £40 million on all the multiples but the horse fall at the last hurdle with the race won. The major races are always in the top 10 for betting turnover throughout each year

Bookmakers compete with free bets and promotions throughout the year. The objective is to get new customers with enticing sign-up deals. Turnover and odds restrictions negate some of the benefits but during Cheltenham week you can almost bet for free. At the time of writing Skybet are going non-runner no bet in the four championship races. All the major high street and online firms will have something up their sleeve for that week in the middle of March.  

The relationship between racing and the bookmaking industry is in a state of flux. The racing authorities want more money from offshore betting and are threatening to refuse sponsorship deals from bookmakers. The Ladbrokes World Hurdle may not have a sponsor in March. All no doubt will be fine on the day when the focus will be on the racing and not the politics. Here are some observations on the four most prestigious races at the meeting with indications they are in our 10 to Follow and showing best odds and the relevant bookmaker for the fancied runners.   

Cheltenham Betting Specials

As well as enhanced Cheltenham free bets many online bookmakers also introduce Cheltenham betting specials, over the course of The Festival, in relation to different races.

Paddy Power are perhaps the most synonymous with Cheltenham Festival special offers. In recent years their big promotions have revolved around refunding bets on specific races if the named favourite wins. In 2010 this worked to the Irish firm’s advantage when pre-race favourite Dunguib was well beaten in the Supreme Novices Hurdle. But punters got their own back in 2012 as Sprinter Sacre romped home in the Arkle and Paddy Power were required to refund all losing bets on the race.

Paddy Power aren’t the only bookmaker to offer Cheltenham specials along with their Cheltenham sign-up bonus, however. Whether it be enhanced place terms, faller insurance, enhanced odds or refunds on beaten favourites most bookmakers will offer some form of special offer over the course of the week. Many will introduce a new offer every day.

PLEASE NOTE : The opinions expressed here are those of and based on our staff's use and experience of the betting industry.

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