How Often Does the Favourite Win at the Cheltenham Festival?

Sunlit Bay Horse MuzzleIt is not uncommon for bettors to place a wager on a horse race, even if they don’t like horse racing. It is one of the most popular sports in the world for those that like a flutter, with the big events gaining even more punters than usual. The Grand National, for example, is a race that most of the residents of the United Kingdom like to place a bet on, whilst more bettors than usual will login to their online bookmaker’s website when the Cheltenham Festival rolls around. The problem is, not everyone knows what to bet on.

As a result, people without much experience of placing bets on horse races will often use a wealth of different options when it comes to selecting the horse that they’re going to put their stake on. Some will go by their name, whilst others will base it on what the colours that they’re wearing are. The number of people studying the form and doing their research drops, with others simply deciding to bet on the favourite in the races that they have chosen to watch. The question then becomes, how often do the favourites win?

Quick Answer: How Often Does the Favourite Win a Race at the Cheltenham Festival?

Between 2018 and 2023, the start price favourite won 29.3% of races at the Cheltenham Festival. The favourite was placed 29.3% of the time, 28.3% were unplaced and 13.0% did not finish the race.

Across these same six festivals, the favourite was most likely to win on day two, Wednesday, where the SP favourite won 38.6% of the time. This was followed by day one (Tuesday) with 34.0%, day four (Friday) with 23.3% and day three (Thursday) with 21.3%.

If you had bet £1 on each favourite in this time, you would have incurred a level stakes loss of £12.13.

Is Betting On The Favourite A Good Tactic?

Knight in Gold and Silver Chess Set

For those that don’t have a huge amount of experience in the world of horse race betting, the idea of placing a wager on the favourite seems like an obvious thing to do. After all, isn’t that horse the favourite because it’s the most likely to win? In one sense, the answer to that question is ‘yes’. Usually, bookmakers will install a horse as the favourite because it is the most likely to win a given race and bookies tend not to like to give money away to punters if it can be helped. That, though, doesn’t tell the full story.

One thing that bookmakers are most concerned about is exposure. Whilst the industry has become more and more adept at knowing what the likely outcome is at any given moment when it comes to sports, the reality is that they can’t know everything. As a result, bookmakers and the odds compilers that work for them are always wary of the fact that that they might have missed something, or that the betting audience knows something that they don’t. They need to be able to adjust as necessary to avoid that happening.

It is with this in mind that bookies will drop the odds of a horse if either a lot of people are betting on it or else large sums of money are being placed on it. This means that a horse’s odds can drop in relation to bets being placed on the horse rather than because it is actually the most likely to win. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t going to win, of course, just that the odds alone aren’t an accurate reflection of its chances. Research we would say is the best way of knowing whether a horse is likely to win or not.

Jump Racing Is A Different Beast

Horses Jumping Fence in 2014 National Hunt Chase

By Carine06, flickr

Part of the appeal of the Cheltenham Festival is that, with the exception of the bumper, it is a meeting that is a feast of jump racing. That is appealing because jump racing is the great leveller in the world of horse racing. Whilst flat racing involves tactics, positioning and fortune when it comes to the gate that a horse is put in at the start of the race, generally speaking the fastest horse is going to win any given event. In jump racing, the need to get over a hurdle or a fence can result in a horse’s journey being interrupted.

Sometimes they will fall, others they will refuse to jump and on some occasions they will do something that results in the jockey being thrown out of the saddle. This is the sort of thing that can stop a horse from finishing the race or performing to the best of their ability, meaning that even the best horses don’t win the race when they’re nailed on favourites to do so. All of which is to say that betting on the favourites is never a guaranteed path to success, else everyone would be doing it all of the time.

Exploring the Day To Day Results

Firstly, we can break up the information about the favourites into each day of the Festival. Obviously races move around and change on a regular basis, so this information might not be identical to the reality that you face when looking at any given Festival. What it can give you, though, is a solid sense of how races have worked out in the past, which can be a good basis for consideration for the future.

Day One

Here are how things worked out for the favourites on Day One of the Festival between 2018 and 2023:

Chart That Shows the Race Position of the Favourites on Day One of the Cheltenham Festival Between 2018 and 2023

As you can see, across the 42 individual races over the period that we’re looking at, the favourite won the race 17 times. That works out as being 34.0% of the time, which obviously isn’t a bad return. How much money you’d actually get back will have depended on the odds that you were given. If you included the places for each way bets, the favourite finished either first or within the places 30 times, on 60.0% of occasions. That’s obviously better, but you need to bear in mind that you’d need to place double the stake to take advantage of that with an each way punt.

Day Two

The second day of the Cheltenham Festival is when a lot of people begin to tune in, if for no other reason that the Queen Mother Champion Chase is there as the key event. Here are how the favourites performed over the period of time in question:

Chart That Shows the Race Position of the Favourites on Day Two of the Cheltenham Festival Between 2018 and 2023

Even though betting on the favourite all of the time is far from a certain way to defeat the bookies, there were 17 winning favourites out of the 42 races in question on day two. That is a win percentage of 38.6%, which becomes 31 races, or 70.4%, if you include times when a favourite finished in the places. To put that another way, you’d be doubling your stake and seeing a return in over two-thirds of your bets. That’s more than a 10% increase compared to the number of times that a favourite offered some sort of return the first day.

Day Three

The Festival is well underway by the time Day Three arrives, with the Stayers’ Hurdle and the Ryanair Chase being the key events to look out for. The question is, do the favourites perform any better here than they have on the first two days of racing?

Chart That Shows the Race Position of the Favourites on Day Three of the Cheltenham Festival Between 2018 and 2023

In terms of winners, then, the favourite managed it ten times over the 42 races in question. That is 21.3% of the time, which obviously isn’t too bad but is much lower than days one and two. Once you include places, that extends to 27 out of 42, or 57.5% of the races. That is the highest placed percentage all four days, with the odds offered being key to whether it’s worth betting each way or not.

Day Four

Last but not least, the final day of the Festival is the one that tends to enjoy the most casual viewers on account of the fact that the feature race is the meeting’s Blue Riband event, the Gold Cup. With that in mind, here’s a look at whether the biggest day in jump racing has more winners emerging from the favourites across its 42 races over the period of time we’re looking at, or fewer:

Chart That Shows the Race Position of the Favourites on Day Four of the Cheltenham Festival Between 2018 and 2023

Across the six years in question, the 42 races that we’re looking at resulted in a winner 10 times, which amounts to 23.3% of the time. This is the second lowest of the four days and may point to the Friday races as being amongst the most competitive of the week. Adding in the places sees that figure go up to just 20, or 46.6% of the races. It is the only day that we’ve looked at where the favourite wins or places less than half of the time, so would doubling your stake be worthwhile for that?

Looking At The Festival Overall

By looking at six years in particular, we can get a feel for how often the favourites tend to win and give ourselves enough of a sense of whether that is just a one off scenario. To understand that better, though, it is worth taking a wider look at the Festival as a whole. In the above years, there were 168 races in total, with the favourite winning 54 times. That amounts to a win for the favourite 29.3% of the time when you account for the fact that some races have joint or co-favourites. That becomes 108 times and 58.6% of the time when you include the times that the favourite finished in the places, again including any joint or co-favourites.

The question then becomes about whether that is too small a sample to judge from. In order to understand that, it is best to take a wider view of the Festival across decades. Looking at 1000s of races across jump racing, we know that the favourite tends to win about 30% of the time. That is a good rule of thumb and also shows us that the years 2018 – 2023 were almost exactly that.

To break the data down even further, we can look at how often the favourite has won each of the individual races, again between 2018 and 2023. Here is a look at each of the races, bearing in mind that the Liberthine Mares’ Chase has only been run three times and that the Centenary Novices’ Handicap Chase was moved to Sandown from 2021:

Favourite’s Finishing Position by Race at the Cheltenham Festival – 2018 to 2023

Race Won Placed Unplaced Did Not Finish
Champion Hurdle 83.3% 0.0% 16.7% 0.0%
Arkle Chase 66.7% 0.0% 33.3% 0.0%
Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle 66.7% 0.0% 16.7% 16.7%
Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase 50.0% 50.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Cross Country Chase 50.0% 50.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Cheltenham Gold Cup 50.0% 33.3% 16.7% 0.0%
Stable Plate Handicap Chase 50.0% 33.3% 0.0% 16.7%
Centenary Novices’ Handicap Chase 50.0% 25.0% 25.0% 0.0%
Queen Mother Champion Chase 50.0% 16.7% 16.7% 16.7%
Champion Bumper 33.3% 50.0% 16.7% 0.0%
Ryanair Chase 33.3% 50.0% 16.7% 0.0%
Festival Hunters’ Chase 33.3% 33.3% 33.3% 0.0%
County Handicap Hurdle 33.3% 16.7% 50.0% 0.0%
Triumph Hurdle 33.3% 0.0% 33.3% 33.3%
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 25.0% 12.5% 50.0% 12.5%
Ultima Handicap 20.0% 40.0% 20.0% 20.0%
Stayers’ Hurdle 16.7% 33.3% 50.0% 0.0%
Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup 16.7% 33.3% 16.7% 33.3%
Turners Novices’ Chase 16.7% 33.3% 16.7% 33.3%
National Hunt Challenge Cup 16.7% 33.3% 0.0% 50.0%
Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle 16.7% 0.0% 83.3% 0.0%
Mares’ Hurdle 14.3% 42.9% 28.6% 14.3%
Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle 14.3% 42.9% 14.3% 28.6%
Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle 14.3% 14.3% 42.9% 28.6%
Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup 12.5% 37.5% 37.5% 12.5%
Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle 11.1% 55.6% 33.3% 0.0%
Liberthine Mares’ Chase 0.0% 66.7% 33.3% 0.0%
Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle 0.0% 33.3% 33.3% 33.3%
Martin Pipe Conditinal Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle 0.0% 14.3% 71.4% 14.3%
All Races 29.3% 29.3% 28.3% 13.0%

You can see from the table above that there is huge variety in how often the favourite’s win across the various race types at the meeting. The favourites have won 83.3% of the time in the Champion Hurdle in the six festivals analysed. In that same time there have been no winning favourites in the Mares’ Chase, Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle.

What is the Average Start Price of the Favourite?

Although a favourite has the lowest odds in that race, they could start the race at odds on or they could be a 6/1 shot. As a result, something else we can take a look at is the average odds of the SP favourites and again we’ll be taking the races between 2018 and 2023.

Chart That Shows the Average Start Price for Each Race at the Cheltenham Festival Between 2018 and 2023

As with the percentages of winning favourites varying greatly, as does the average price of the favourites. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the big field handicaps have the longest odds for their favourites. The Coral Cup and Ultima Handicap both average at around the 13/2 mark. This is in stark contrast to the Queen Mother Champion Chase where the favourite has gone off at around 8/11 on average, the only race at the Festival to be odds-on for the favourites on average.

In total the average price for the favourite between 2018 and 2023 worked out at 4.05 when working at decimal odds, or just over 3/1.

If we were to work out the level stakes profit of betting £1 on betting on every favourite we would have an outlay of £184, including betting on both joint favourites or all co-favourites. We would have been paid £171.87 including stake which would mean a level stakes loss of £12.13.