Unfavourable Favourites: Cheltenham Favourite Backers Beware

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The biggest UK race meeting in any calendar year, Cheltenham Festival 2017 is upon us. As expected, millions of punters are preparing to put their hands in their pockets to place their bets on "The Greatest Show On Turf"—that's why we’ve decided to analyse how the favourites have fared over the past 11 years at Cheltenham, to help point any would-be-punters in the right direction for their 2017 Cheltenham betting strategy.

Cheltenham Festival Favourite backers should get on early
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Favourites fare best on Day 1

Our study reveals that favourite-backers should get stuck in from the off. After analysing the performances of the odd favourite runners over the past 11 years at the festival, favourites on the first day have the highest success rate. With almost 1 in 3 favourites taking the races on day one, the odds favourites have a drastic decrease in success rates, dropping down to almost 1 in 5 on day 2, and not climbing much higher for the rest of the tournament.

Avoid favourites for Cheltenham 2017?

The last five years at Cheltenham show the decreasing value in backing the starting price market favourites. As you can see below in more detail, from making a profit in 2012 backing only the favourites in each race, your ROI steadily falls year on year, until last year where there was a spike in the favourites' performance. Cheltenham really is getting more unpredictable as times goes on! So backing the favourite is a far more risky bet than it once was. 

Find the full breakdown below on what would have happened if you were to have bet £10 on each favourite at Cheltenham over the past five years:

Favourites performance in 2012:


2012
RaceFavorite OddsWin/Lose
Supreme Novice's Hurdle 6/1 -10.00
Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase 8/11 7.27
Festival Handicap Chase 11/2 -10.00
Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy 4/6 -10.00
Cross Country Handicap Chase 10/3 -10.00
David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle 4/7 5.71
Novices' Handicap Chase 13/2 65.00
Day 1 Total 37.98
National Hunt Chase 5/1 50.00
Neptune Novices' Hurdle 2/1 20.00
RSA Novices' Chase 6/5 -10.00
Queen Mother Champion Chase 4/5 -10.00
Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle 6/1 -10.00
Juvenile Handicap Hurdle 3/1 -10.00
Champion Bumper 9/2 -10.00
Day 2 Total 20.00
Jewson Novices' Chase 5/2 -10.00
Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle 11/2 -10.00
Ryanair The Festival Trophy Chase 7/2 35.00
World Hurdle 5/6 8.33
Festival Plate Handicap Chase 9/2 45.00
Challenge Cup Handicap Chase 13/2 65.00
Day 3 Total 133.33
Triumph Hurdle 5/1 -10.00
County Handicap Hurdle 11/2 -10.00
Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle 6/5 -10.00
Gold Cup Chase 7/4 -10.00
Foxhunter Chase Challenge Cup 3/1 -10.00
Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle 9/2 -10.00
Grand Annual Handicap Chase 4/1 -10.00
Day 4 Total -70.00
2012 Total +121.31

Favourites performance in 2013:


2013
RaceFavorite OddsWin/Lose
Supreme Novice's Hurdle 15/8 -10.00
Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase 8/15 5.33
Festival Handicap Chase 13/2 -10.00
Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy 13/8 16.25
David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle 8/11 7.27
Novices' Handicap Chase 9/2 -10.00
Day 1 Total -1.15
National Hunt Chase 9/4 22.50
Neptune Novices' Hurdle 6/4 -10.00
RSA Novices' Chase 5/2 -10.00
Queen Mother Champion Chase 1/4 2.50
Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle 6/1 -10.00
Juvenile Handicap Hurdle 6/1 -10.00
Champion Bumper 7/1 -10.00
Day 2 Total -25.00
Jewson Novices' Chase 11/8 -10.00
Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle 4/1 -10.00
Ryanair The Festival Trophy Chase 2/1 -10.00
World Hurdle 9/4 -10.00
Festival Plate Handicap Chase 7/2 -10.00
Challenge Cup Handicap Chase 11/2 -10.00
Cross Country Handicap Chase 9/4 -10.00
Day 3 Total -70.00
Triumph Hurdle 5/2 -10.00
County Handicap Hurdle 8/1 -10.00
Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle 11/8 13.75
Gold Cup Chase 11/4 27.50
Foxhunter Chase Challenge Cup 2/1 20.00
Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle 9/4 -10.00
Grand Annual Handicap Chase 3/1 30.00
Day 4 Total 61.25
2013 Total -34.90

Favourites performance in 2014:


2014
RaceFavorite OddsWin/Lose
Supreme Novice's Hurdle 7/2 35.00
Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase 11/4 -10.00
Festival Handicap Chase 7/1 -10.00
Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy 11/4 -10.00
David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle 8/11 7.27
National Hunt Chase 3/1 -10.00
Novices' Handicap Chase 13/2 -10.00
Day 1 Total -7.73
Neptune Novices' Hurdle 6/4 15.00
RSA Novices' Chase 13/2 -10.00
Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle 8/1 -10.00
Queen Mother Champion Chase 11/4 27.50
Cross Country Handicap Chase 3/1 -10.00
Juvenile Handicap Hurdle 7/2 -10.00
Champion Bumper 7/2 -10.00
Day 2 Total -7.50
JLT Novices' Chase 7/2 -10.00
Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle 9/2 45.00
Ryanair The Festival Trophy Chase 3/1 30.00
World Hurdle 11/8 -10.00
Festival Plate Handicap Chase 5/1 -10.00
Challenge Cup Handicap Chase 7/2 -10.00
Day 3 Total 35.00
Triumph Hurdle 11/2 -10.00
County Handicap Hurdle 5/1 -10.00
Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle 2/1 -10.00
Gold Cup Chase 6/4 -10.00
Foxhunter Chase Challenge Cup 5/1 -10.00
Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle 9/2 -10.00
Grand Annual Handicap Chase 6/1 -10.00
Day 4 Total -70.00
2014 Total -50.23

Favourites performance in 2015:


2015
RaceFavorite OddsWin/Lose
Supreme Novice's Hurdle 2/1 20.00
Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase 4/6 6.677
Festival Handicap Chase 6/1 -10.00
Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy 4/5 8.00
David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle 1/2 -10.00
National Hunt Chase 7/2 -10.00
Novices' Handicap Chase 6/1 -10.00
Day 1 Total -5.33
Neptune Novices' Hurdle 7/2 -10.00
RSA Novices' Chase 13/8 16.25
Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle 17/2 -10.00
Queen Mother Champion Chase 9/4 -10.00
Cross Country Handicap Chase 9/2 -10.00
Juvenile Handicap Hurdle 13/2 -10.00
Champion Bumper 9/2 45.00
Day 2 Total 11.25
JLT Novices' Chase 6/4 15.00
Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle 15/2 -10.00
Ryanair The Festival Trophy Chase 5/2 -10.00
World Hurdle 5/1 -10.00
Festival Plate Handicap Chase 11/2 -10.00
Challenge Cup Handicap Chase 4/1 -10.00
Day 3 Total -35.00
Triumph Hurdle 2/1 20.00
County Handicap Hurdle 7/1 -10.00
Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle 5/2 -10.00
Gold Cup Chase 3/1 -10.00
Foxhunter Chase Challenge Cup 11/4 -10.00
Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle 3/1 -10.00
Grand Annual Handicap Chase 4/1 -10.00
Day 4 Total -40.00
2015 Total -69.08

Favourites performance in 2016:


2016
RaceFavorite OddsWin/Lose
Supreme Novice's Hurdle 15/8 -10.00
Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase 1/4 2.50
Festival Handicap Chase 13/2 -10.00
Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy 5/2 25.00
David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle 4/6 6.67
National Hunt Chase 5/1 -10.00
Novices' Handicap Chase 3/1 -10.00
Day 1 Total -5.83
Neptune Novices' Hurdle 11/10 -10.00
RSA Novices' Chase 6/4 -10.00
Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle 15/2 -10.00
Queen Mother Champion Chase 4/6 -10.00
Cross Country Handicap Chase 15/8 18.75
Juvenile Handicap Hurdle 6/1 -10.00
Champion Bumper 7/2 -10.00
Day 2 Total -41.25
JLT Novices' Chase 4/1 40.00
Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle 11/2 -10.00
Ryanair The Festival Trophy Chase 1/1 10.00
World Hurdle 1/1 10.00
Festival Plate Handicap Chase 11/2 -10.00
Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle 8/11 7.27
Challenge Cup Handicap Chase 4/1 -10.00
Day 3 Total 37.27
Triumph Hurdle 9/2 45.00
County Handicap Hurdle 7/1 -10.00
Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle 7/2 -10.00
Gold Cup Chase 9/4 22.50
Foxhunter Chase Challenge Cup 13/8 16.25
Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle 9/4 -10.00
Grand Annual Handicap Chase 9/2 -10.00
Day 4 Total 43.75
2016 Total 33.94

Our Expert Advice On Finding Value Outside The Favourite

When it comes to advice on horse racing, it’s best to turn to the experts. Stephen Harris, bettingexpert’s resident horse racing specialist, isn’t shocked to hear that Favourites aren’t always favourable:  

"It can be little surprise that backing favourites at the Cheltenham Festival results in an overall loss for the less discerning punter. The meeting is uniquely competitive, with big fields of top class horses racing each other at a pace very few have experienced before. Couple this with the tricky undulations and the fact that untested English and Irish form lines clash...and you face a very tricky task as a punter. Furthermore a huge amount of hype about lightly raced, unexposed horses gets built up in the weeks and months leading up to the Festival (in the media and at the never-ending preview evenings).....with the public latching onto names and lumping on at almost any price to join the bandwagon.

The more astute player should avoid short prices, looking away from the obvious, and search for proven performers who have a good record at Cheltenham in the recent past."

Where to Favour Favourites at Cheltenham

If you still feel like betting on favourites, here are a few places you can feel more comfortable placing your stakes:

Novices’ Hurdle (Day 2):

Of all the races at Cheltenham, the Novices’ Hurdle has rewarded the favourites the most, with seven market favourites winning over the past 11 years.

Mares’ Hurdle (Day 1):

The Mares’ Hurdle is a match Novices’ Hurdle when it comes to favourites claiming victory. They’ve rewarded seven market favourites over the last 11 years.

Where to Avoid Favourites at Cheltenham

It’s tempting to bet on favourites, but there are certain races in which the “favourite” title seems to hold little relevance. The following races have only been won by the starting price favourite once in the past 11 Cheltenham Festival meetings:

  • The Handicap Hurdle
  • The Champion Bumper
  • County Handicap Hurdle
  • The Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle
  • The Grand Annual Handicap Chase
  • The St Patrick's Day Derby

Skip Gold Cup favourites at Cheltenham--Use Them at Royal Ascot

Over the past 11 years favourite’s have fared better at Royal Ascot's Gold Cup (winning 64% of races) over Cheltenham Festival's version of the race (winning just 45% of races).

What to do Next?

If these numbers just threw your strategy off its horse, then don’t worry. There’s another way to help increase your chances at Cheltenham, and that is to study. As Stephen Harris mentioned, due to the high profile nature of the tournament, the odds are sure to get skewed. Instead of focusing on them, focus on the horses themselves. Read up on their backgrounds, their performances, and their trainers. Becoming a more experienced punter means looking beyond face value, and doing your homework. 

Still in doubt? Then turn to our expert's full Cheltenham Guide for 2017, filled with top class previews and tips. 

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