March 2, 2020

March Acorns – Get Your Tickets for The Greatest Show on Earth

It only seems like yesterday that we were looking forward to Cheltenham’s first fixture of the winter jumps season at the end of October. The Cheltenham Festival seemed so far away which isn’t surprising given we had just enjoyed Champions Day on the flat.

Well it’s almost here.  After months of speculation and punditry the 2020 Cheltenham Festival is just a few weeks away.

The whole of the jumps season seems to revolve around those four days in March. There are plenty of historic races in the first half of the jumps season that are now just seen through prism of the Cheltenham Festival. For good or for ill that’s not going to change, we are where we are. Let’s embrace and go with it.

The run up to the last two Cheltenham Festivals have been under the cloud of first the “beast from the East” and last year by the equine flu outbreak.

This year it has been a mild winter, hardly any meetings abandoned due to snow or frost, and everything is set for what should be a fabulous four days at jump racings HQ.

In last month’s article I liked at how you can profit at the Cheltenham Festival from horses that had their last run at Leopardstown.

This month I am continuing with the Cheltenham Festival theme, could I really do anything else. And focusing on more potential profitable angles.

As ever the excellent  with its mine of detailed information and stats is the starting point for this month’s investigation. To keep the stats relevant but also get a decent sample size I have looked at results from the last five Cheltenham Festival’s.

The results below contain 139 runners from 2409 bets 466 placed.

General Meeting Stats

Let’s begin by looking at some general stats:


Digging a bit further and looking at the results for horses aged 11+

It’s hard for the veterans at the Cheltenham Festival and two of those five winners came in the Foxhunters. In Grade 1 races they are 0 winners from 18 bets 4 placed. Those age stats will make Faugheen’s fans ponder if their hero can defy the age stats in the Marsh Novices Chase.

Summary: Probably not surprisingly older horses have struggled to hit the target at the Festival. It’s a meeting for progressive horses and younger legs.

Favourites & Odds:

Now looking at favourites and starting prices.

Favourites have performed reasonably well despite the competitive nature of the Festival.

Odds SP: 11/1 & under

Odds SP: 12/1 & larger:

Summary: Horses well fancied in the market 11/1 & under have won 71% of races in the period under research from just 28% of the total runners.  Clearly bigger priced winners can win at the Festival, but punters are fishing in a small pool of winners.


Now looking at horses running in headgear.

Summary: Headgear looks a negative and looking at the A/E stat backing runners wearing any form of headgear are not a value betting proposition.

Wins At Track:

Those with one or more wins at Cheltenham have produced the following set of results:

Plenty of previous Cheltenham winners have gone onto win at the festival. Since 2015 – 35% of winners at the festival had previously won at the course and 41% winners had previously placed.

It’s worth pointing out that the above stats don’t isolate previous form at the festival.

Horses that have run well at previous Cheltenham Festivals are always worth noting, particularly those in the handicap races. The Festival is a unique race meeting, the crowds are huge, it demands something a bit different from a horse and horses who have proved they can handle it are going to be at a big advantage.

Last year, of the 28 winners. 14 of them had run at the 2018 Festival. Three winners came out of the 2018 Coral Cup and the 2018 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockey’s Handicap Hurdle provided two winners.

Last Time Out Placing:

Just fewer than 49% of winners at the Cheltenham Festival came to meeting having won their last race.  With 51 of those 68 winners coming in Grade 1 races.

Days Since Last Run:

I have divided this section into three.

30 Days or less:

31 to 90 Days:


Summary: Most runners were returning from 31 to 90-day break so not too much to see here but horses that have run within the previous 30-days have performed 26% below market expectations.


Now onto the trainer’s leader board at the festival since 2015 which includes all trainers with 2+ winners.

As one could have expected the big yards have dominated in recent seasons with Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott, Nicky Henderson & Paul Nicholls winning 55% races from 30% of the total runners.

That’s some general meeting stats out of the way. Moving onto those all-important Cheltenham angles.

Cheltenham Festival Angles

For plenty of punters, trainers are the first starting point when comes to analyse a race and it’s no different when it comes to the Cheltenham Festival.

Let’s begin with the top performing trainer numerically Willie Mullins.

1. Willie Mullins

Last Time Out Placing:

Some 69% of the Mullins winners had won last time out so that looks as good a starting point for finding a Willie Mullins festival angle.

Digging further into his stats for his last time out winners:

Horses Age: 5yo to 7yo

Race Class: Grade 1 or 2 only

Race Type: Chase & Hurdle Only

Last Race Class: Graded or Listed races only

Looking at those results 56% of his winners from just 16% of his runners shared those four traits.

Breaking those results down by year:

Last year the strike rate was down but the profit was still good. Four years of profit out of five and hopefully this trainer angle can yield another profit in 2020.

System 1: Back Willie Mullins Chasers & Hurdlers at the Cheltenham Festival in Grade 1 & 2 races only, aged 5 to 7, who won their last start in Graded or Listed races.

2. Gordon Elliott

Gordon Elliott saddled 3 winners at the 2019 Festival which most trainers would be delighted with, but those winners came from 45 runners and in the previous two festivals he sent out 14 winners from 61 runners. 

It’s hard to isolate a profitable angle for the trainer as both bookies & punters alike seem to have got a handle on his runners.

I decided to look at the tracks that Elliott uses for horses final Cheltenham prep. Ten of the trainers 21 winners had their last start at Leopardstown, Punchestown or Fairyhouse.

His runners who had their last start at Naas, Navan, Wexford & Thurles were more interesting produced the following set of results:

Age: 4yo to 9yo

Last Race Class: Not Grade 1

Last Time Track: Leopardstown, Naas, Navan, Wexford & Thurles

His runners with those traits produced the following the set of results:

Breaking those stats by year:

A decent win strike rate last season but backing all such qualifiers would have seen a £2.75 loss to a £1 level stake.

Overall though, a nice profit over the last five seasons. Obviously backing such qualifiers to Betfair SP would have led to even greater profits (+122.72) and if you had backed all qualifiers each way you would have seen a return of +£101.25.

System 2: Back Gordon Elliott horses at the Cheltenham Festival aged 4yo to 9yo, that had their last run at Leopardstown, Naas, Navan, Wexford or Thurles, not in Grade 1 races.

3. Nicky Henderson

Henderson can usually be relied upon to get a few winners at the Cheltenham Festival. He’s saddled nine winners at the past three festivals and back in 2012 saddled a magnificent seven winners.

Twelve of the trainer’s winners had won their last race prior to the festival. His record with runners that didn’t win their last start is unappealing.

The sole winner who hadn’t won their previous start was William Henry (28/1), who won last season’s Coral Cup. He had pulled up on his seasonal reappearance, the previous December, but had finished 4th in the 2018 Coral Cup.

It seems sensible to concentrate on the Henderson last time out winners.

Henderson seems to like his festival runners to have run well at the track. Ten of the trainer’s winners had placed at Cheltenham previously and all of them were returned 10/1 & under.

Breaking those results by year:

A steady profit over recent seasons backing Nicky Henderson last time out winners at the Cheltenham Festival, with four profitable years out five.

System 3: Back Nicky Henderson last time out winners, that had placed previously run at Cheltenham and are sent off 10/1 & under.

4. Paul Nicholls

Nicholls hasn’t dominated the meeting in recent seasons like he once did. However, he has managed two winners at each of the last two festivals. But as with Gordon Elliott finding a profitable angle for the trainer isn’t easy.

Day of The Festival:

Looking at those figures two days stand out: Wednesday & Friday.

Just the 1 winner from 55 runners on the Tuesday & Thursday cards.

Clearly then the trainer targets certain races at the festival. Digging further and focusing on qualifiers with the following traits:

Age: 4yo to 7yo

Distance Move: Not up 1f+

Those results don’t include two other runners who were having the first in Britain, including Diego Du Charmil (11/2) the 2016 Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle on the Wednesday card.

Breaking it down by year:

Granted the last three seasons haven’t been great but even so the last two ended up in profit. There won’t be many qualifiers so there shouldn’t be too much damage to the betting bank if it doesn’t work out this year.

System 4: Back Paul Nicholls runners at the Cheltenham Festival on the Wednesday & Friday cards, aged 4yo to 7yo that were not stepping up in trip more than ½ furlong.

Summary: Of the four trainer micro angles, I’m confident that the Willie Mullins & Nicky Henderson ones will continue among the winners in 2020. The Elliott & Nicholls angles may need to be treated with a little more caution but could pop up with a big priced winner.

It’s important to remember that these bets are solely for the Cheltenham Festival in March and as such there maybe too many or indeed to few qualifiers for you, depending on your betting strategies.

Like many such methods. The above figures are based on historic data and whilst history has a good habit of repeating itself, it often doesn’t.

Until next month.

John Burke

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Featured Image: Photo by Chris Kendall on Unsplash

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