It’s hard to believe but Cheltenham is upon us; the greatest four days of the year for any National Hunt fan. With ups, downs, nightmares and fairy-tale endings, it’s the pinnacle of our season and can be likened to the World Cup for football fans.
Cheltenham can be a treacherous playground though for a novice punter, and you can end up in serious trouble if you don’t have some sort of plan or at least a couple of rules to stick by. Here are a few from me to keep in mind:
Rule One: Discipline
The key to any form of gambling and it really is the number one rule for Cheltenham. Over four days and twenty-eight races you are bound to have losers but the key is not to panic and start chasing your losses.
Rule Two: Watch previous races
Most punters at this stage will be pouring over videos of this season’s form trying to find the handicap plot or just reaffirming their already strong case for certain horses. These videos make for essential viewing, as simply reading the bare form might not tell the full story.
Rule Three: Listen to trainer and jockey comments
Another key ingredient, which is overlooked by many, is the comments and quotes from trainers and jockeys throughout the season. Such information can massively change your view on a piece of form, as you may learn that a certain race was prep for Cheltenham or that the horse had a set back and wasn’t fully fit. You can’t take them all as fact, but you can gather some key pieces of information if you’re willing to listen and read enough interviews.
Rule Four: Check the ground –
This is another piece of the puzzle and is the one thing that causes problems when trying to write a blog for a race four or five days away. Weather forecasts have improved a lot in recent times but they can still let you down and a change in the going can be absolutely massive in a race, especially at Cheltenham.
If you take Coneygree’s win in the Gold Cup for example; at the beginning of the week, many wouldn’t have expected him to run let alone win the race, but with enough rain and the going changing to soft, he ran and won at 7/1. That year we were thinking Djakadam was the likely winner right up until late the night before, yet when we knew the rain was coming we tipped Coneygree, which shows just how much the ground can change things.
Rule Five: Have a staking plan and stick to it
Focus your bigger stakes on Graded races, as the form and race shape are more reliable. In contrast, handicaps can be puzzles that you may never complete so keep stakes lower and don’t be afraid to sit one out.
Rule Six: Don’t second guess yourself
Stick with your first choice, trust your gut. Don’t take horses odds shortening as a tip. If you study the markets on race days you’ll see plenty of horses shortening, and if you back them all it’s a sure way to end up in the poor house. If you have done the work and made a strong case for a horse don’t let a television pundit or a mate change your mind just because they’re trying to make a case for their own selection.
Rule Seven: Sit back and enjoy!
With all the work done and your staking plan in place, you can sit back and enjoy the greatest show on turf. Embrace the nerves as the horses line up at the start line, celebrate each winner as if its your last, learn from your losses and move on quickly.
Just writing this blog gets the butterflies going when you imagine your horse coming over the last and powering up the hill to win, justifying all your work.
Watch this space for more blogs previewing certain days of the festival. We’ll have all our tips for each day of the festival over on our twitter feed. I wish you all good luck and plenty of winners but most of all I pray all horses and jockeys come home safe and sound.
See you all Tuesday!