Should You Back The Favourite At The Cheltenham Festival?
When looking at horse racing betting, particularly as a beginner, there is always the temptation to back the favourite. If the bookies have a horse as a favourite, you would think that there is a decent chance it will come in. But, is there actually any value in always backing the favourite at the Cheltenham Festival? Bet UK looked back at the results of the last 5 years of Festival racing to work out just how successful you would have been. Throughout this blog, the profit/loss of each year is assuming a £5 each way bet, with 1/5 place odds.
Overall, we found that there is a success rate of over 50% when betting on the favourite at Cheltenham to either place or win. But, that doesn’t always translate to profit as we found out when looking back at the last 5 years of results.
2019 - 14/28 Favourites Place or Win - 50% Success Rate
Last year was one of the worst in recent years for the favourites. Just over half of the favourites ended up in winning positions, but overall, punters actually would have ended up in profit. On Day 1, just one favourite won a race, with A Plus Tard winning the Novices Hurdle. Day 2 was a bit more successful, as favourites dominated the racing and placed in 5 of 7 races. That included heavy favourites Altior and Tiger Roll however, so there was still not much room to profit. Moving into Day 3, the favourites got off to a perfect start and returned profit in the first 4 races of the day. A disappointing end to St Patrick's Day didn’t punters from getting another one up over the bookies. On the final day, it was another nightmare outcome for bookmakers. 4 favourites placed or won on that day, although a shock winner in the Gold Cup meant that it wasn’t a complete disaster. In total, betting on the favourite would have left you in profit for 3 of the 4 days, leaving you with an overall balance of £33.30.
Total Profit - £33.30
2018 - 20/28 Favourites Place or Win - 71.4% Success Rate
The first 3 days of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival were perfect for the punter with a flurry of successful favourites. Altior was the only favourite winner on Day 1, but there were another 3 finishing in the places, leaving the punter in profit overall.. Day 2 was even better, with all 7 favourites either ending the races as winners or in the places. That would have left you in £28.11 profit if you had backed the favourite in every race that day. The fortune continued on Day 3 as a remarkable 6 out of 7 favourites saw some form of return. Hazel Hill was the only winner however as the favourites continued to finish just in the places, rather than first past the post. The punters luck eventually ran out on Gold Cup day, as even though 3 favourites placed, there was still a loss on every race. This wiped out most of the potential profit from the week, leaving us with a slim gain of £1.22 overall. Even with most of the favourites returning profit, the fact that so many placed rather than won left a slim profit throughout the week.
__Total Profit - £1.22 __
2017 - 15/28 Favourites Place or Win - 53.6% Success Rate
Unlike 2018 and 2019, the 2017 Cheltenham Festival was a poor turnout for the punter and was definitely one for the bookies. Going off our assumed staking amount, profit was only made on 4 of the 28 races ran that week. Day 1 was the least profitable of the whole week for those who back the favourite, with a total loss of -£40.25, even though 4 horses finished in the places. It was a similar story on Day 2, however Might Bite did win the Novices’ Chase, giving us a first profit of the week. That success didn’t last for the rest of the day and another day ended in a loss. Day 3 and 4 got progressively worse and the bookies continued to get one over the punters. A further £55 was lost over those two days, taking us to a total loss of £109.05 over the 4 days.
Total Profit - -£109.05
2016 - 18/28 Favourites Place or Win - 64.3% Success Rate
A big loss on Day 2 of the 2016 Festival left us with little chance of making a profit that year. Day 1 started off fairly even, with 3 places and 2 winners leaving us with a small loss of just over £2. On Day 2, there were actually 4 placed favourites, but each one was so shortly priced that we still lost money on those races. Combined with losing the other 3 races, £44.86 was lost from the hypothetical £70 staked. Day 3 was the first profitable day of the year, but it was only £1.73 after another 3 losing races. Day 4 saw a huge upturn in fortunes however. 2 winners and 3 places left us with over £30 in profit for the day, but it still wasn’t enough to save the rest of the week. After that calamitous Day 2, betting on the favourite would have left you with an overall loss of £14.01.
Total Profit - -£14.01
2015 - 16/27 Favourites Place or Win - 59.3% Success Rate
Going all the way back to 2015 and we find the first year in which we made a loss on every day of the Cheltenham Festival. Although none of the losses were substantial, they totalled to close to a £50 loss over the 4 days. Day 1 saw 4 favourites finish in the places, but the 1/5 place odds, combined with the already short odds, mean that £8.20 was lost. Day 2 almost looked like being worse, but a big win from Moon Racer in the Champion Bumper saved the day. A shortened Day 3 saw 4 out of 6 favourites bring a return, but no sum was big enough to avoid an overall loss. Day 4 ended as the rest of the week had gone on, with a disappointing showing from the favourites ending with a £23 loss. Overall, 2015 saw a £48.83 loss, the second worse return of the last 5 years.
Total Profit - £-48.83
Overall, 83 of the 139 races over the last 5 years were won by the favourite, which is an impressive 59.7% success rate. But, that doesn’t mean you will make your money back. In total, placing a £5 each way bet on the favourite at 1/5 place odds would have got you a loss of £137.37. So, although you might see the majority of your bets come in, at the end of the week there’s a decent chance that you could end up out of pocket.
Bet On The Cheltenham Festival at Bet UK
In the lead up to the event, get the latest Cheltenham betting odds over at Bet UK’s online betting. Not sure which horse to bet on? Then take a look at our Cheltenham betting tips for the thoughts of our racing expert.
*All odds from Bet UK’s online betting markets correct at the time of writing.
If you are betting on Cheltenham Festival, please gamble responsibly and remember that when the fun stops, stop. All players must be 18+, BeGambleAware.org.