No racegoers and no on-course betting – but Festival still expected to produce big numbers

Bookmakers are still priming themselves for a bumper Cheltenham Festival, despite betting shops being closed and the absence of racegoers and on-course betting due to the pandemic.

The layers do not expect the current situation will prevent the four days of the meeting from being the biggest in the calendar.

What turnover will be compared to £500million throughout Cheltenham week in 2020 is impossible to predict. However, many punters have gone online and with extended television coverage it is still expected to be high.

Coral’s David Stevens said: “It’s a real shame betting shops are shut as it’s a massive week for the shops across the country. It’s the biggest week of the year for the betting industry.

It will be a very different Cheltenham this year
It will be a very different Cheltenham this year (Tim Goode/PA)

“On the plus side we have seen punters switch online in the last year so hopefully turnover will still prove to be very healthy.

“Last year 26 of the top 30 races by turnover online for us were Cheltenham races. It is the biggest week of the year for the betting industry and there is no reason it won’t be the same this year.

“The Martin Pipe, the last race of the Festival, was the fourth race biggest race of the year for us. It was the second biggest betting race of the entire Cheltenham Festival behind the Gold Cup.

“Punters know it’s their last chance to have a Festival bet for another 12 months and Friday in particular is different again. All seven races on the Friday were in the top 20 last year.

“Television coverage must also not be underestimated in boosting the popularity of the Festival.

“We have extra coverage on ITV this year, most people will still be at home, terrestrial figures should be high.”

Appreciate It is a banker for many in the opening Supreme Novices' Hurdle
Appreciate It is a banker for many in the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (PA)

The favourites are more evenly spread than in recent years, which could affect how well they are supported.

Stevens added: “We’ve got two warm favourites to start the day – Appreciate It and Shishkin – but beyond that throughout the week there are enough competitive races that any bookmaker will fancy their chances of getting one or two beaten because they don’t always all win.

“There’s a spread of favourites this year. Obviously Willie Mullins has got Chacun Pour Soi and Monkfish, but Nicky Henderson has Shishkin and Henry de Bromhead has Envoi Allen.

“On Friday we’ve got Al Boum Photo going for a third Gold Cup and the race is wide open.”

Rupert Adams of William Hill is in no doubt it will still be a good Festival.

“We think turnover will be down a small amount obviously as we’ve got a big retail arm – 1,400 shops and we have all the on-course shops at Cheltenham. We expect to be down between five and 10 per cent,” said Adams.

Al Boum Photo is favourite to win a third Gold Cup
Al Boum Photo is favourite to win a third Gold Cup (Tim Goode/PA)

“The TV coverage is brilliant so we’re confident it’s going to be a really good meeting, but we are slightly nervous about several horses, all of which are pretty obvious.”

Paddy Power have three horses that would be big losers for them, according to their spokesperson Paul Binfield.

“Our three biggest Cheltenham losers are a bit of a mixed bag,” he said.

“On the opening day Goshen is a big loser in the Champion Hurdle, the following day Irish raider Bob Olinger is the one we are afraid of in the Ballymore and we’ve also got a massive loser in one of the handicaps, the Martin Pipe on Friday.

“Galopin Des Champs has been extremely popular with punters. The Carlow conjurer (Mullins) sending one over to help punters out in the lucky last.”

Goshen was a desperately unlucky loser in last year's Triumph Hurdle
Goshen was a desperately unlucky loser in last year’s Triumph Hurdle (Simon Cooper/PA)

Betfair, meanwhile, are wary of two horses on day one, as Barry Orr explained.

“The Ultima looks a weak since declarations came through and we are only seen money for one horse and that’s Happygolucky. Kim Bailey has good record in these types of races at the Cheltenham Festival and punters can see no other winner in this,” he said.

“Since Goshen’s impressive win in the Kingwell Hurdle he’s been very popular amongst backers to gain redemption in the Champion Hurdle and is now challenging Epatante for the second-favourite spot behind Honeysuckle.”