The Cheltenham Festival is one of the undisputed highlights of the British sporting calendar but, with 28 races spread across four days, it can be somewhat of a minefield for punters.
Having a bet is part and parcel of horse racing for the majority of us, but working out how to stretch that betting fund across the whole meeting can be problematic at Cheltenham, particularly if early winners are hard to come by. Betting on the top jockey and especially the top trainer, however, offers punters an innovative way to create interest in almost every race. The top trainers will all likely have in excess of 50 runners at the meeting and, in several, they will be mob-handed.
Champion trainer Nicky Henderson, the winning-most trainer in Cheltenham Festival history, is fancied to be the top trainer for the first time since 2012 and he can reward backers at a top-priced 15/8. Ireland has supplied the last six winners of the market, with Willie Mullins’ run of four straight successes ended by Gordon Elliott, who has been successful at the last two festivals with his eight 2018 wins a record. Henderson, however, is an ever-present near the top of those charts come Friday afternoon and the master of Seven Barrows has an exceptionally strong squad for 2019.
On Day One, he has ante-post favourites for three of the seven races. Angels Breath, currently priced at 5/1 generally for the festival opener, the Supreme Novices Hurdle, a race he won with the mighty Altior in 2016, can get followers off to a flying start. The Day One highlight, the Champion Hurdle, features Henderson’s Buveur D’Air, who has won the last two renewals, and he bids to join the pantheon of legends to win three Champions. Five horses have achieved the feat, including Henderson’s See You Then in the ‘80s.
Unbeaten novice chaser OK Corral in the four-miler is half of the price of his nearest market rival in one of the few races Henderson hasn’t won at the Festival previously. Also on Day One, Henderson has live contenders for the two handicaps, although the Arkle and Mares are unlikely to go his way.
Day Two kicks off with another likely Henderson favourite in Champ, priced at 3/1 generally at present in the Ballymore, and the Day Two feature, the Champion Chase, sees his Altior likely to start off the shortest-priced favourite of the meeting as he bids for a fourth straight festival success. Altior’s unbeaten run stands at 17 races and three and a half years. RSA favourite Santini (3/1) is another Henderson fancy for Day Two.