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How to beat the bookies and pick a Cheltenham Festival winner

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The most famous four days in the British horse racing jumps calendar take centre-stage this week with the Cheltenham Festival finally upon us. 

The pandemic ensured last year’s meeting was held behind closed doors but with over 250,000 spectators descending on the Gloucestershire track this week, it promises to be a fascinating few days.

Everyone is desperate to find that elusive winner but it’s important to cut through the noise and listen to those who know best. 

Cheltenham Festival begins on Tuesday as thousands of punters try to find an elusive winner

Cheltenham Festival begins on Tuesday as thousands of punters try to find an elusive winner

With this in mind, there are plenty of steps you can take to give yourself the upper hand and make a more informed selection to hopefully land a winner.

Sportsmail has asked racing expert and SBK tipster Tom Collins, one of the leading horse racing experts in the country, to provide us with a few key pointers which can prove integral to picking those all important Cheltenham Festival winners. 

He has picked out a number of pivotal factors which are worth taking into account before you part with your hard-earned cash. So read on as we take you through the steps to have a successful Cheltenham.

Sportsmail has asked racing expert and SBK tipster Tom Collins to give us a few pointers

The odds

Undoubtedly the most important factor on this list is the price.

It is almost impossible to return a profit if you’re backing horses at shorter odds than they warrant, while ‘value hunting’ is the quickway to the rich house. 

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t back favourites – if a horse is 6-4 (40% probability of winning) but he/she deserves to be 4-6 (60% probability of winning) then you have found the value.

Those of you who like to swerve the short-priced runners are given encouragement by the strength-in-depth at the Cheltenham Festival. Unlike day-to-day racing, horses priced at 25-1 or bigger generally boast a high-level of talent.

It is near impossible to earn a profit if you’re backing horses at shorter odds than they warrant

The going

Although the British weather is far from predictable, the ground staff at Cheltenham do an excellent job in ensuring beautiful, safe ground all year round.

Good to soft, or soft conditions generally suit every horse, but a surprising deluge would give some runners an advantage. 

Check the weather before you place your bets!

Soft conditions generally suit every horse but rain would give some runners an advantage

Soft conditions generally suit every horse but rain would give some runners an advantage

Distance of the race

Has the horse you fancy ever run over this distance? Usain Bolt was the best athlete in the world over 100 metres, but put him in the marathon and he would have struggled. 

The same generally applies to horses, albeit there are some that are extremely versatile. A horse doesn’t necessarily need to have won over a certain trip, but the fewer doubts in your mind heading into the race, the better.

This week, distances will range from between two miles up to three miles and six furlongs, and that Cheltenham hill requires plenty of stamina!

Form

A vital indicator for any punter. Every racecard will display the horse’s most recent runs (limit of six for the more experienced types) and the finishing position achieved by the respective horses. It is definitely worth noting the current form of a horse.

Have they won their last three outings? Are they at the top of their game? Or are they badly out of form? 

Another clue is what these letters mean: F = fell, UR = unseated rider, BD = brought-down, PU = pulled-up and 0 = did not finish in the first ten placings.

Form is a vital indicator for any punter and a racecard will display the horse's most recent runs

Form is a vital indicator for any punter and a racecard will display the horse’s most recent runs

Age of the horse

As the old adage goes, the younger the horse, the more improvement they still have in the locker. 

This is particularly noteworthy in the jumps game where horses can run up until the age of 15, having started their careers as early as the age of 3. 

Younger horses still have time to improve and mature over both hurdles and fences. However, experience can also prove key, so do not be initially put-off by age.

The trainer’s form

The form of your selection’s trainer is another factor to think about.

A winning sequence indicates the yard is firing on all cylinders. Perhaps their training schedule has the horses primed to run their best race in March.

Bugs and illnesses are as common in horses as humans, and can affect a horse’s performance, so rough trainer form is a big negative.

Trainer Willie Mullins will be desperate to add to his impressive Cheltenham record this week

Trainer Willie Mullins will be desperate to add to his impressive Cheltenham record this week

Course form

A factor which can prove integral to success at Cheltenham is whether your chosen selection has good form at the track.

Cheltenham’s Old course is like mustard – some horses adore it and others hate it. 

The stiff uphill finish empties stamina reserves and questions tenacity, while the tricky third-last fence can present problems for chasers. Those with experience here tick a box that installs confidence.

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