There’s one event on the sporting calendar all UK-facing bookmakers look upon with trepidation and excitement – and it has nothing to do with the game once played with a pig’s bladder. The sport of Kings – Horse Racing – is intrinsically linked with betting and Cheltenham Festival is the pinnacle of the flat racing season and bookmaker’s year.
Horses have been stepping onto Prestbury Park’s hallowed turf once yearly since the festival’s inception in 1911. Some will tell you it predates this by almost a century – in 1815 – but the first recognized Cheltenham Festival took place in the aforementioned year. The local economy earns millions from an annual attendance that exceeds 200,000 over the four-days. Even with the publicised exodus of some Irish racegoers for economic reasons, the gate receipts still exceed £7 million. The figures on betting are even more remarkable.
Every year it’s estimated the festival sees £600 million staked and it helps to support the notion that a bookies’ performance at the festival can make or break their year. On-course bookies don’t escape the betting fever with at least £1 million per race changing hands in the ring. Betfred will be happy to know the Tote takes 10% of its annual pool betting turnover from the festival and it begins to make you realize just why Paddy Power take their marketing stunts to the next level.
This year’s festival could be the biggest yet and the bookies will be cursing their luck if Ruby Walsh goes anywhere close to last year’s haul. It means he’s by far the leading jockey of all-time (32 winners) and is an easy jockey for punters to count on. Nicky Henderson, whose father was one of the founders of the festival, needs one more winner to reach 40 all-time and two to become the leading trainer across the history of the festival.
All eyes will be on the next Friday when the showpiece Gold Cup race takes place and most are tipping favorite Long Run to retain the trophy. His closest competitor, if he runs, will be Kauto Star. If one thing’s for sure the punters at Cheltenham are a knowledgeable bunch and should know where to put their money. The bookies need to be a step ahead of this so as to not cause havoc on the balance sheet.