Cheltenham Festival – It’s a Betting Bonanza!

When it comes to horse racing there really is no show like it on earth.  America has the glitz and glam of the Kentucky Derby, England has the pomp and ceremony of Royal Ascot, Australia has a national holiday for the Melbourne Cup and Dubai… well they throw money at everyone that walks through the door.

But for a hardcore gambling fest featuring 28 quality jumps races with millions in betting turnover, nothing compares to England’s Cheltenham Festival. See the Cheltenham information page for more details.

Always raced in the middle of March and for ‘National Hunt’ horses – meaning they jump hurdles and larger ‘chase fences’ – the Cheltenham Festival will see 250,000 race fans pack the grandstands at the racecourse which is nestled in the countryside

Combined these fanatical racegoers will consume 20,000 bottles of Champagne, 120,000 bottles of wine and over 300,000 pints of Ireland’s favourite tipple, Guinness.  And there is good reason for this, the Cheltenham Festival features an unparalleled rivalry of Irish and English horses and trainers.

Last year the horses which crossed the Irish Sea claimed 14 of the 28 races including the showpiece Cheltenham Gold Cup, raced over three-miles and two-furlongs with 22 fences jumped.

Combined the United Kingdom’s and Ireland’s population – who will be watching at home on TV or in an ‘off-track betting shop’ – are confidently expected to wager in excess of $750 million over the course of the four day Cheltenham Festival which bizarrely starts on a Tuesday and concludes on a Friday.

Amazingly the betting markets on the key Cheltenham Festival races actually open the moment horses cross the line the prior year. There are four ‘championship races’, one raced every day, they are:  The 2-mile Champion Hurdle, the 3-mile Stayers Hurdle, the 2-mile Champion Chase and the 3-mile 2-furlong Gold Cup.

Back-to-back winners in the three mile hurdle race has become commonplace in recent times.  France’s Baracouda won it in 2002 / 2003, Inglis Drever won it three times in four years in the mid-2000’s and Big Bucks won it an unprecedented four consecutive years between 2009-2012.

Conversely the Gold Cup is far harder to win twice, it was 2003 when ‘Best Mate’ last defended his Gold Cup crown.

There is a Tote betting system in the UK, it is just not very popular!  Nevertheless it will see over $1.5 million pumped into its ‘Placepot’ pool, a novel bet which requires bettors to find one horse to be placed in the frame of six races.

But, with UK and Irish betting laws being so liberal, not only is the betting turnover generated at this feast guaranteed to be huge, the prospect of some punters winning big is not probable but inevitable.

You can bet on everything at Cheltenham, from the leading owner to the most successful jockey, the number of Irish-trained winners to place terms on some races stretching back six-places.

Any combination of horses in any races can be combined together in multiple bets:  doubles, trebles, 4-folds and multi-leg accumulators and these can lead to catastrophic losses for the bookmakers.

In 2012 one such bet landed saw a stable hand net $1.25 million.  Irishman Conor Murphy placed an intrepid $62 accumulator bet on five of his employer’s horses three months before the Festival got underway.

The Nicky Henderson trained runners were Sprinter Sacre (6/1) Simonsig (12/1), Bob’s Worth (6/1), Finian’s Rainbow (8/1) and Riverside Theatre (10/1). By race time they went off, and won, at 8/11, 2/1, 9/2, 4/1 and 7/2 respectively.

Murphy wasted little time in collecting his cash haul and uprooting.  He now lives and trains racehorses in the States fulfilling a lifelong ambition.

His is just one of many legendary Cheltenham gambles.  In 1991 Noel Furlong, possibly better known Stateside for winning the World Series of Poker in 1999, smashed into his runner, Destriero in the ‘Supreme Novices’ hurdle race.

In a well-orchestrated coup odds of 16/1 disappeared as the horses circled at the start and five minutes later not only was his official starting price 6/1, bookmakers were also $2.5 million worse off!