Cheltenham Betting: How analysing the small details can deliver big results

Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Thistlecrack
Age may be against Thistlecrack in the Gold Cup but form certainly isn't

With Cheltenham just over a week away, Will Hoffmann takes a forensic look at some key principles that can help you deliver a profitable Festival...

"...trends are generally based on the various types of group-identity of a horse, and that's fine for making generalised claims, but every horse is an individual and individual form should always take primacy."

Focus on bigger-priced Irish runners in handicaps

It's well-known by even the most casual punter that Ireland punch well-above their weight at Cheltenham but, despite that, there seems to be a perception in some quarters that the Irish are maltreated when it comes to handicaps. In an excellent article a few days ago, Tony Keenan crunched the numbers on Irish performance relative to market expectations and found that Irish handicappers perform even better than what the market would expect.

Interestingly, of the last 12 Irish handicap wins only one of those horses has been favourite, only four of them have been shorter than 10/1 and four of them have been 20/1 or bigger.

In 2018 alone we had Bleu Berry sent off at an ISP of 20/1 and BSP of 32.88 and Veneer of Charm who was a 33/1 shot but a 50.049/1 BSP on the Exchange. A small sample size, of course, but it shows you shouldn't necessarily be afraid of leaving out the sexy Irish horses in favour of those going somewhat under the radar.

With that in mind, I won't offer a selection here - the likelihood is that you'd get a bigger price on the day than is currently available for a horse with this profile - but it's a principle that should apply.

Form should take precedence over trends

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Having spent the opening words of this article promoting a trend-based approach to narrowing the field, I can forgive the cognitive dissonance involved in being critical of that approach here. I don't have a problem with trends at all; I think they're a valid and, sometimes, important part of form-study. My only issue with trends is where they're used to dismiss the horse because of its "profile" without making proper reference to its form.

It's a principle which can be applied in lots of different circumstances: trends are generally based on the various types of group-identity of a horse, and that's fine for making generalised claims, but every horse is an individual and individual form should always take primacy.

Native River had two major long-term trends to overcome last year: he would have to be the first horse since Kauto Star nearly a decade earlier to improve his previous year's Gold Cup position as well as one concerning an elongated time-off with a rushed preparation. That, I believe, saw him overpriced (a BSP of 6.8, an industry price of 5/1) in a Gold Cup which was going to play precisely to his strengths based on his past form.

Another year, another Colin Tizzard horse, this time in the form of Thistlecrack.

Regarded by the trainer as the best horse he's ever had - no small claim given he's housed the likes of Cue Card and Native River - he's been better than ever over fences this season and posted what I would consider a career PB in his second in the King George VI Chase. The winner of that race, Clan Des Obeaux, is now favourite for the Gold Cup yet shaped to me like the speed favouring three-miles at Kempton was far enough.

Thistlecrack himself had stamina concerns of his own in the past but shaped on that occasion (outpaced and then rallied late) like the Gold Cup trip would be more in his wheelhouse.

His crime, of course, is that he's an 11-year-old in a race where no horse that old has been successful in 50 years. A compelling statistic, sure, but how many 11-year-olds have been as lightly raced as Thistlecrack or, more compelling still, have found themselves at the peak of their powers in their 11-year-old season? I can't be sure, but I would imagine the answer is somewhere between "very few" and "none".

My instinct is he'd be half the price he is if he was a couple of years younger and that the 16/1 available on the Sportsbook is worth availing yourself of.

Use industry hype to your advantage

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The festival is an event like no other with the result being unusual things can have an influence on the market. I actually think the vibes from stables, particularly in races where a stable is housing multiple participants, can be important and should be factored into your process.

What I would place almost no stock in, however, are the vibes from the industry. With dozens of preview nights, hundreds of articles and probably thousands of tipping columns out there, there is an element of one cannibalising the other. Each year there are inevitably one or two horses that the "industry" decides are awful favourites and worthy of taking on. Might Bite (pictured) was one last year and drifted several points from his post-King George position in the market. He went on to run a blinder.

Presenting Percy, who had been a long-term single figures price for the Pertemps the year before, was another (something undoubtedly helped by Davy Russell telling everybody who would listen that the horse had no chance off his handicap mark) and was sent off at a BSP of 14.2 with an industry price of 11/1.

This year it appears to be Santini who is facing the wrath of the industry, something I think is largely driven by how workmanlike he is through his races. Ignore the hype. I thought his run in the Kauto Star at Christmas was superb given it came on a track where he was never going to be fully effective and you can back him at the same price now for the RSA Chase that you could on Boxing Day.

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Latest Exchange market movers

There was a scare for supporters of Santini on Monday (March 4) as the Nicky Henderson-trained gelding drifted to a high of 11.0010/1 from a lowest matched price of 4.003/1 for the RSA Chase. As a result of this the Gordon Elliott-trained Delta Work hardened into 3.052/1, while Paul Nicholls' Topofthegame also shortened, into 5.24/1.

There was also a positive move for the Willie Mullins-trained Real Steel in the Arkle Chase, backed in to 42.041/1 from a high of 190.0189/1

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