Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Getting A Jump On The Cheltenham Festival

My Dad was born in Belfast in 1933 and grew up cheering for and wagering upon the golden age of horse racing. Over his 76 years and counting, he's bellowed at triple crown winners in the UK, the US and his adopted home of Canada. Each year at this time, my Dad's thoughts turned to "The Jumps", which was his way of describing the races leading up to the Aintree Grand National. The Grand National is arguably the most exciting horse racing event in the world.

Kellsboro Jack - American Owned winner of the 1933 Grand National.

Dad passed along many great sporting traits to me. This afternoon, I left work in the middle of the day to watch Liverpool take on Real Madrid in Champions League football. Going AWOL didn't strike me as strange at all. How could it? At the age of 11, I very clearly remember Dad signing me out of school to come home and watch Liverpool play Juventus in a fateful European Cup Final. Some things are just more important than work.

Today, my Dad is back home in Belfast and not quite healthy enough to chat about the horses anymore. However, each year at this time I can't help but sneak a peak at the upcoming Cheltenham Festival and Aintree Grand National.

Best Mate, Chives and Valley Henry make the leap in the 2003 Cheltenham Gold Cup

The Cheltenham Festival is the jumps equivalent of the Breeders' Cup. If you thought two days of championship racing at Santa Anita was exhausting, I dare you to handicap the 26 races run over four days spanning a variety of age groups run at a distance usually starting at no less that two miles. The feature event of the festival is the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which is run at a distance of three miles and two and one half furlongs. The winning horse not only has to make the distance but also complete 22 fences for the grand prize of over CDN$1,000,000.

Check out this video of Whiteoak, at 20-1, bravely fighting back to win the Mares Hurdle in a last gasp lunge for the wire. The sheer stamina of the horses is exhilarating.

The Cheltenham Festival provides some serious opportunities for a risk-taking handicapper to make money. "Across the nation, well over £500 million will be wagered on the outcome of the 26 races, with total prize money of £3.67 million," boasts the Cheltenham Festival homepage.

Growing up, the only way for my Dad to wager on the spectacle was in the backroom of a local pub. Fast forward two decades and the opportunities for wagering are endless, though one option stands up above the rest - Betfair. This upstart site has grown to become the largest online wagering company in the UK offering a variety of unique betting opportunities with a model that engages two punters with opposing views, removing the need for a bookmaker's mark-up. I'm sure Dad would be thrilled at that. And the best part, is that wagering on Betfair is perfectly legal in Canada.

While it may take some reading to get up to speed on how to wager through Betfair, the end result is well worth the effort. Why not take a run at this years 2009 Cheltenham Gold Cup?

The 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup featured a battle between stable mate rivals Denman and Kauto Star which was won by Denman on a courageous front end jaunt at odds of 9/4. The two combatants are amongst the entrants in the 2009 edition, though the in-form Kauto Star is favoured this time around. Earlier this week in the Levy Board Steeplechase, Denman raced for the first time since his Cheltenham Gold Cup win and finished second, some 23 lengths behind Madison Du Berlais.

Going into the Levy Board, you could have wagered on Madison Du Berlais at odds of 66-1 to win the Gold Cup, but the impressive dusting of the 2008 Cheltenham champ cut that one's odds all the way down to 8-1. While it's clear that Denman surely needed a race, it was disconcerting to hear his trainer Paul Nicholls say after the race that Kauto Star, "will now be the one to beat."

Not a confident statement to say the least and one that has this punter looking for a price. The best option if you're looking at odds of 20-1 or over would appear to be Albertas Run, who finished second to Kauto Star in the King George on Boxing Day. My Dad, who loved to bet on the Irish horses, would likely be looking at Notre Pere, though that one took a bit of a beating to fellow contender Neptunes Collognes in the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup on the 15th of February. Neptunes Collognes, a big grey also trained by Nicholls finished third in last year's Cheltenham Gold Cup. If you can get generous odds, this one will surely improve off of this recent tilt.

The Cheltenham Festival runs from March 10th - 13th. Start studying now!

In a future post, I will preview the Grand National and take a look at everyones favourite steeple chase jockey turned mystery writer, Dick Francis. Till then, you can click here to keep track of the latest Grand National news.


Anonymous said...

Have you read "A Fine Place to Daydream," Bill Barich's superb, unsentimental memoir of a year following Irish racing culminating in the Cheltenham Festival? Terrific, and I must credit it for sparking much of the interest I now have in jump racing ...

Wind Gatherer said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Wind Gatherer said...

That was a cracking good race, Whiteoak's.