Cheltenham Festival Free Bets & Opening Account Offers

These are the sign-up offers that are provided for day to day betting throughout the majority of the year, but are amended around once a year for a one-week period around the Cheltenham Festival.

The 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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2019 Cheltenham Festival

If you are a fan of National Hunt racing then this is the four days that you enjoy most during the year.  The 2019 Cheltenham Festival takes place between Tuesday March 12 and Friday March 15. All the top races will be renewed and there's over £4.5m in prize money. It's four days of racing that simply cannot be missed.

2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup

January 16 Update

The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the most important race of the Cheltenham Festival and takes place on Friday March 15. It's run over three miles and four and a half furlongs with 22 fences and the Cheltenham Hill to contend with.

Last year's race was won by Native River who in 2019 will bid to become the first horse since Best Mate in 2004 to win the race two years in a row. So far this season Native River has had two races starting with the Betfair Chase at Haydock Park on November 24 finishing second, four lengths behind Bristol de Mai who was winning the race for the second year in a row. His second outing was the prestigious King George VI Chase held at Kempton Park on Boxing Day. Native River finished third behind Clan Des Oberaux. He trailed 12 lengths behind second-placed Thistlecrack and 13 and a half lengths behind the winner. Native River is now available at 5/1 at Betfair to win this year's Cheltenham Gold Cup. His next race could be the Denman Chase at Newbury on February 9.

43 Entries For Gold Cup

Last year only 15 runners went to post for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. It looks as if there will be a few more this year as 43 horses have been entered for this year's race.

Three previous winners have been entered, namely Native River,  2017 winner Sizing John and 2015 winner Coneygree. It's the largest entry for 12 years with nine of the runners being trained by Willie Mullins who is yet to train a winner of the race. Of the 43 entered, 24 are Irish-trained.

Might Bite to Have Wind Operation

Might Bite finished second in last year's race but didn't appear to be a fan of the Cheltenham hill. Two races this season have seen Might Bite finish last of five in the Betfair Chase and seventh of seven finishers in the King George 33 lengths behind the winner despite starting as 3/1 favourite. Some blood was found coming out of his nose after the race and the 10-year-old is due to have his palate cauterised, a repeat of an operation he also had three years ago. It's unlikely that Might Bite will race again before Cheltenham but is only expected to miss two weeks work. Currently you can get 20/1 at 888sport on him winning the Gold Cup.

Presenting Percy Still Favourite

Last year's winner of the RSA Insurance Novice Chase at the Cheltenham Festival remains the favourite to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Presenting Percy has won nine times over fences mainly on soft or heavy ground. He's yet to make a seasonal reappearance and is currently 4/1 at Bet365.

Kemboy Down to 8/1

Willie Mullins has yet to train a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner but plenty of money has been coming in for his Kemboy after two recent wins. The first came at Clonmel on November 15 winning the Grade 2 Clonmel Oil Chase by three lengths from Alpha Des Obeaux. He followed that up with victory in the Grade 1 Savills Chase at Leopardstown on December 28. Kemboy finished seven and a half lengths ahead of Monalee with Road to Respect, who finished fourth in the Gold Cup last year a further head behind. You can get 8/1 at William Hill on him winning the Gold Cup.

2019 Champion Hurdle

This is the big race on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival. Buveur D'Air has won this race for the past two years and will bid for the hat-trick in March. That hasn't happened since Istabraq achieved the feat in 2000. Here's the main contenders for the title.

  • Buveur D'Air - Has won 13 out of 16 races over hurdles. Won last 11 in a row and showed wellbeing this season when returning to take the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on December 1 beating Samcro by eight months. Evens at Unibet to make it three in a row.
  • Laurina - French mare trained by Willie Mullins. Has had four races and won all of them. Easily won Novice's Hurdle at the Festival this year and followed that up with a win at Fairyhouse. Yet to run this season and is 5/1 at Sportingbet to win his first Champion Hurdle.
  • Melon - Was the big gamble in last year's race being backed from 14/1 to 7/1 and nearly pulled it off finishing second, a neck behing Buveur D'Air. Only won two out of eight races and fell in his last race at Punchestown. Yet to race this season and is 8/1 at William Hill.
  • Samcro - Won first seven races over hurdles but none of the last three. Won a Novice's Hurdle at Cheltenham this year Lost unbeaten record when falling at Punchestown. Two runs this season finishing second in the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal (though slightly impeded) and led to the last in the Fighting Fifth before being overtaken by Buveur D'Air and losing by eight lengths. Currently 9/1 at Blacktype.

2019 Queen Mother Champion Chase

This two-mile race over fences takes place on the second day of the festival, so it's March 13 next year. The Nicky Henderson trained Altior won this race in 2018, the fourth time in seven races Henderson has trained the winner. Can he do it again in 2019?

  • Altior - Has won 15 out of 17 races including the last 14 in a row. Won this race by seven lengths last year. Followed that up by a win in the Celebration Chase at Sandown. You can get 5/4 at Racebets on a repeat win in this race.
  • Footpad - Winner of the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham this year. Followed that up with a 12-length win in the Ryanair Novice Chase at Punchestown. Run of five straight wins ended in November when falling at the last in seasonal reappearance at Naas. Current odds to win this race are 5/1 at Paddy Power.
  • Sceau Royal - Won 10 out of 19 races including the last four. Won a Novices' Chase at Doncaster in January 2018, not seen on the track again until November when winning the Schloer Chase at Cheltenham beating Simply Ned. You can get odds of 14/1 at Coral.
  • Saint Calvados - Four wins out of five over jumps. Finished over 50 lengths behind Footpad in the Arkle Trophy this year at Cheltenham. This season won the Poplar Square Chase at Naas (that's the race in which Footpad fell). Currently 16/1 at 888sport.

2019 Stayers Hurdle

This race takes place on the third day of the Festival (14 March 2019) and is run over three miles The 2018 running of this race ended in victory for Penhill who will be trying to retain the title in 2019.

  • Penhill - Has won seven out of 11 over jumps. Stayed on well to win this race by two lengths in March of this year. Only race since that victory was at Punchestown when finishing second to Faugheen.  Current odds are 6/1 at Racebets.
  • Supasundae - Second in this race in 2018, two lengths behing Penhill. Went on to finish second in Stayers Hurdle at Aintree and win the Punchestown Champion Hurdle. Returned to the track on 2 December finishing second at Fairyhouse 20 lengths behind Apple's Jade. You can get 12/1 at BetVictor.
  • Apple's Jade - Won 11 out of 17 over jumps. Thirdin the OLGB Mare's Hurdle at the festival this year. Won both of races this season winning Lismullen Hurdle at Navan and the Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse. Current odds are 12/1 at Sportingbet.
  • Call Me Lord - Yet to race at Cheltenham. Won three out of six races. Last race produced a win at Sandown in April. Currently available at 20/1 at Betfair.

Over the coming months we'll look at more of the top races and give you the latest news about each race and the market movers.

2018 Cheltenham Festival Retrospective 

The 2018 Cheltenham Festival was dominated numerically by two massive stables based in Ireland but Irish trained horses only won one of the four main championship races. Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins trained 15 winners in total but only Mullins won the Stayers’ Hurdle of the four biggest races. The Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup were won by horses based in Britain.   

There were five odds-on bankers and the multiple was popular at over 11/1. Bookmakers like to take accumulators because they have more chances of getting the bet beat. The punter’s running up ante post money was lost when Apple’s Jade was only third in the mares’ hurdle. The other four bankers won so that result saved the bookmaking industry a huge payout. The multiple bets were down after day one. 

Buveur D’Air won the Champion Hurdle again, Samcro won his chosen race, Altior won the Champion Chase and Laurina won as she pleased in the mares’ novices’ hurdle. The race of the week and one of the best in the history of the sport was the Gold Cup. From the start it was a two horse race involving Native River and Might Bite. Native River led from the start to the finishing line to win the Gold Cup.  

Native River is the first horse to win the Gold Cup after being placed in the race in a previous year. Might Bite had the best form but on soft ground Native River had the best chance. It was an intriguing contest over the three miles and two furlongs of the race but Native River outstayed Might Bite after the last fence and up the hill. On good ground Might Bite would be the most likely winner.   

One of the subplots of the festival was the four winners ridden by female jockeys. The tally included the rider of Pacha Du Polder who won the Foxhunters Chase for the second year in succession. Horses that have run well at previous festivals have an advantage and four winners in 2018 also won races at last year’s meeting. Sadly six horses were fatally injured and the Cheltenham executive will look at this issue. 

The leading trainer by prize money won was Mullins but numerically Elliott had the best record. Davy Russell and Jack Kennedy rode four winners each but Russell was the top festival jockey because he also had a second place which Kennedy did not. Elliott’s main backer is Gigginstown House Stud. The owners also own Ryanair and they won their own race, the Ryanair Chase, for the first time. 

It was a close run thing in the battle between the punters and bookmakers over the first three days but it was a bookies bonanza on day four. There was not one winning favourite and only Native River’s win in the Gold Cup cost the layers. Getting the banker’s acca beat helped the bookies but there were still a number of well backed winning favourites. All in all the 2018 Cheltenham Festival was a great event and already you can bet on some of the major races at the 2019 meeting.  

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 1992 there have been 25 meetings and 25 renewals of the four championship races, so 100 races in total.

Champion Hurdle Winners 1993 to 2018 (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)
  • 10/1 and over: 6
  • Under 10/1: 19
  • 20/1 and over: 2
  • Under 20/1: 23
  • Odds-On: 4
  • Number of favourites or joint favourites: 11

Champion Chase Winners 1993 to 2018 (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)
  • 10/1 and over: 5
  • Under 10/1: 20
  • 20/1 and over: 0
  • Under 20/1: 25
  • Odds-On: 2
  • Number of favourites or joint favourites: 9

World Hurdle Winners 1993 to 2018 (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)
  • 10/1 and over: 6
  • Under 10/1: 19
  • 20/1 and over: 3
  • Under 20/1: 22
  • Odds-On: 3
  • Number of favourites or joint favourites: 10

Gold Cup Winners 1993 to 2018 (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)
  • 10/1 and over: 6
  • Under 10/1: 19
  • 20/1 and over: 3
  • Under 20/1: 22
  • Odds-On: 1
  • Number of favourites or joint favourites: 8 


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 in 2015 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. All the major high street and online firms will have something up their sleeve for that week in the middle of March.  

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.

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