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Cheltenham Free Bets and Festival Guide

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cheltenhamThe Grand National is arguably the most famous horse jumping race in the world, with a few days worth of events either side of it. Yet it is The Cheltenham Festival that captures the imagination of those of us who like to have a flutter every now and then. It’s one of the best four days of racing out there for both the casual punter and those who take it a lot more seriously. Any meeting or event that causes a bit of a stir will always attract bookmakers hoping to win themselves some new customers, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for the best deals at this time of year!

If it’s good deals you’re after then you’ve come to the right place. My aim here is to help you all figure out which bookies tend to have the best offers and which ones are worth heading to to place your Cheltenham bets. As the Festival is on for four days you’ll find plenty of decent ante-post betting offers available in the days building up to it. The Festival features a number of well-known and exciting races, none more so than the famous Gold Cup. I’ll tell you more about those races, when they’re on and some of the history of the Festival in this section of the site.

Cheltenham New Customer Free Bets

welcome to the cheltenham festival

The real joy events such as The Cheltenham Festival is that bookmaker’s offers don’t differentiate between first-timers looking to have a wee flutter because they’re caught up in the excitement of the races or long-term punters who know what they’re doing and see it as a business venture. Either way you’re allowed to take advantage of the often excellent offers that bookies put out there.

Perhaps the most crucial thing you’ll want to know about the offer is what sort of deal you’re getting. Is it a free bet or a bonus? Some of you may also want to know what the difference is between those two things.

Free Bets and Bonuses

bonusThe difference is important, especially when it comes to making use of your winnings and figuring out how to spend them. If the offer is for a free bet then you’ll often find it’s something like a £5 free bet token that needs to be used within a certain period, your qualifying bet may have minimum odds (e.g. 1./2+) but the free bet token itself is usually not restricted.

It’s often also the case that you don’t get the free bet stake returned with your winnings, however, you can withdraw your winnings as soon as the race is over and they’ve been deposited into your account however.

It’s a touch different for bonuses as these often have rollover requirements that need to be matched before you’re able to withdraw the funds.

A free bet offer might say something like ‘bet £5 and get a £5 free bet’, whilst a bonus offer could say ‘deposit £5 and we’ll match it with a £5 bonus’. If the bet you place with the £5 bonus wins you may have to ‘roll it over’ several times before withdrawing it. That essentially means you must place a bet X number of times and you’ll then be able to take the winnings out of your account.

You will need to deposit a certain amount with the bookie and your reward for doing so will be the bonus funds or free bet. You’ll nearly always have to meet minimum odds requirements and you may find that a bookmaker will limit how much you can win via a free bet. They could say something like ‘maximum winnings of £500’, for example.

Another offer that will appeal to some is a ‘Risk Free Bet’. That states that you deposit money into your account and place a bet. If your bet wins then you take your winnings and celebrate. If it loses then you’ll have a free bet token that matches your initial stake added to your account. That will then have the restrictions mentioned above applied to it. The ‘risk free’ nature of the bet is that you’ll get it returned in tokens, very rarely does it come back to you in cash.

How you claim the offer is the other crucial thing to bear in mind. Plenty of bookies will have an automatic system that sees your account credited as soon as you’ve met the requirements that they laid down with the offer. Others ask you to input a code when you open your account or click the link that takes you to the offer page. This will typically be something like ‘CHELT10’ and will be nice and obvious for you.

Cheltenham All Customer Offers

loyaltyIt's not all about the welcome offers when it comes to Cheltenham.  Yes it is true that sign up offers provide the the best way to get instant value and they are often flexible to suit whatever you want to bet on.  If however you plan to place more than a couple of bets it is also worth focusing on existing customer offers, as these can often be used in conjunction with introductory deals to add further incentives to your wagers.

We have pages on this site dedicated to the most valuable retention offers for horse racing and in general.  Click any title below to be taken to the relevant page where we will show you the best offers and best bookies for each promotion type:

  • Best Odds Guaranteed - If you are betting on the day make sure you get BOG.  This ensures that if you take a fixed price to win but by the time the race goes off the starting price (SP) is higher, you will automatically get the higher odds.  For Cheltenham many bookies will also extend best price guarantees to ante-post bets too, the best at doing this is Bet365 that have ante-post BOG offers from January each year.
  • Price Promise - This is even better than BOG, but is also much rarer therefore.  Some elite betting brands will guarantee to provide the best odds out of their major competitors for some races, usually big televised and feature races.  This is the best of all worlds as you know you will always get the best possible odds on your horse.
  • Free Bets For Winners - A popular racing promotion type for the big bookies.  Basically this is an added cash, free bet or bonus award given to you if your horse wins a certain race.  There are stipulations, such as your horse might have to have minimum odds, or win by a set distance, but for regular bettors these deals add longer term value.
  • Faller Insurance - Depending on weather and distance anywhere between 5-20% of horses can fall in jump racing.  This is one of the worst things as a punter as you know instantly you've lost your bet.  Therefore to add protection consider betting with a bookie that provides faller insurance, this way at least you will get your win stake back as a free bet or bonus if the worst does happen.
  • Totepool Betting - The tote is a fantastic way to bet, effectively you are betting against your peers with all the money going into a pot and split between the winners, minus an operator commission.  This commission is lower than fixed odds bookie margins meaning in general you get better value.  In other countries tote betting is massive and it used to be in Britain, but not these days.  Still you can find some exceptional tote betting opportunities and deals if you bet with the right bookie.
  • Beat By A Distance - More common for flat racing but can be found for jump racing too.  These offers give you your stake back if your horse is beaten into second by a certain distance, a length, head or a nose.  These offers when available often apply universally and can often be used in conjunction with other promos.
  • Free Bet Clubs - Cheltenham lasts for four days and if you plan to bet throughout you might want to consider opting into a free bet club.  These will reward you with free bets if you meet a minimum betting quota at minimum odds within the time frame (usually one week).  Again these clubs are often supplementary to other offers and therefore can be used to add even further value to wagers.  Over even longer scales consider too sites with loyalty points schemes.
  • Lucky Bet Bonuses - The often neglected full cover bet, such as a Lucky 15 or Yankee, are great for betting on horse racing.  They are not the most profitable bet type for bookies however so offers are not that common.  There are however some stand out betting brands that do provide offers for lucky and full cover bets and you simply must bet with them if you place these types of bets regularly.
  • Acca Insurance and Bonuses - Most people don't think about these offers for horse racing but many of them are open to all sports, and therefore include racing too.  For something like Cheltenham where you might want to place a multiple bet, you may as well get some added bonuses or insurance for doing so. Accumulators represent one of the poorest value bet types or punters (due to additive margins) so if you do places accas take an offer alongside.
  • Price Boosts - Enhanced odds are extremely common for Cheltenham.  In these situations bookies will often run a market at cost or even at a loss to get punters to bet on headline markets or horses.  Part of the problem is knowing where to find these boosts, see our page for a list of the best bookmakers for enhancements.
  • Run For Your Money - This is an feature from BetVictor and it basically just ensures fairness.  The idea being if your horse loses all chance in a race before it has barely begun you get your stake back in cash without limits.  Therefore if your horse doesn't come out the stalls properly or refuses to run after coming under starters orders you will get a refund where you would not have done with other bookies.
  • Temporary Money Back & Free Bet Offers - For feature races especially there will be many 'money back if you lose', 'money back if Horse X wins', 'free bet if Trainer Y horse wins', etc.  These are usually found within  hours of a race and the best sites for running these offers are Coral, Betway, Paddy Power, Ladbrokes and RaceBets.

Should You Bet Ante-Post Or On The Day?

winners post at cheltenhamIn general ante-post betting comes with a lot more risk because usually you are not covered if your horse doesn't run and you won't get enhanced place terms, best price guarantees or other offers that can be claimed when betting on the day. 

Conversely however the main reason people bet ante-post is because if you get in there earlier there is more risk but you can be rewarded with much better odds.  If, for example, you spot a horse having a great early season and you think by the time Cheltenham rolls around that that runner might end up being one of the favourites, then backing it early ante-post can allow you to reap the rewards.

After-all odds are mainly based on form of the horse and the confidence and option of the humans that back it.  Therefore backing early when there is more uncertainly can be best time for experienced punters who want to get better odds before everyone else starts to back it later.

The Cheltenham Festival is also a special meeting that makes ante-post betting even more attractive.  Unlike most other race meetings you can in fact get non-runner insurance, best odds guaranteed and even enhanced place terms ante-post.  With top betting sites like Bet365 an Betfred this is often available, for Championship races at least, from early January each year.

Therefore placing your bets early with one of these bookies means you can not just get a better price you will also be covered should the horse not run and you will get a better price if you get our prediction wrong and the Starting Price is higher in the end.

Backing a horse ante-post also means you will not be subject to rule 4 deductions if a runner withdraws on the day, which you would be liable for an on-the-day bet.

Betting on the day however will still have added benefits with things like free bets for winner promotions that you will not be able to claim ante-post.

Cheltenham Festival Race Guide 2020

Day One Tuesday 10th March - Champion Hurdle

champion hurdle

Covering a distance of two miles and one hundred and ten yards, the Champion Hurdle is the main event of day one at The Cheltenham Festival. First held in 1927, the race has been run every single year since then with the exception of four different occasions. In fairness, two of those were during the Second World War and one was back in 1932 when frost meant the course was dangerous to run on. The most recent cancellation of the Champion Hurdle was in 2001 when the foot & mouth crisis was at its zenith.

There are eight hurdles that need to be jumped during the race and it’s open to any horse aged four or older. The race winner takes home about a quarter of a million pounds and the overall purse is just shy of the half a million mark. It’s the sort of race that lends itself to horses that know it well, which is why several have won in on three occasions. Hatton’s Grace, See You Then and most recently Istabraq have that honour, with Tim Molony riding a horse named Sir Ken all three times it won it in 1952, 1953 and 1954. He learned how to be victorious with Hatton’s Grace the final time that horse won it in 1951.

Day Two Wednesday 11th March - Queen Mother Champion Chase

cheltenham festival champion chase runners board

The Royal Family has a rich history of enjoying horse racing, so it’s not a shock that there’s a race here named the Queen Mother Champion Chase. This is a steeplechase, rather than a hurdle, and features thirteen fences that need to be negotiated. Just as with the Champion Hurdle, this is run left-handed on the old course. It’s about two miles long and wants slightly more mature horses than on day one - they need to be five-years-old or older. The winner of this one pockets about £230,000 and the purse is over £400,000.

This race was originally called the National Hunt Two Mile Champion Chase and was first run in 1959. In 1980 it was renamed in honour of the Queen Mother as she celebrated her 80th birthday that year. Four years earlier she’d nearly had a winner, too, as her horse Game Spirit finished second. Unlike with the Champion Hurdle, it’s not that easy to win this several times. Badsworth Boy is the only horse to win it three years in a row. The jockeys fair slightly better, however. Both Pat Taaffe and Barry Geraghty have won it five times.

Day Three Thursday 12th March - Stayers' Hurdle

cheltenham festival horse race

Three days into The Cheltenham Festival and the races are still coming thick and first. The standout event of the day is the Stayers' Hurdle (formerly known as the World Hurdle), run over three miles and open to four-year-old horses and older. It’s the longest hurdle race of the week and the winner bags about £185,000 of a £325,000 or so pot. As well as being the longest it’s also one of the oldest races of The Festival, run for the first time back in 1912. Despite this it wasn’t until 1993 that the race was permanently moved to day three of the Festival in order to become the feature event for it.

Just as it didn’t get a permanent home at the festival until 1993, so it didn’t get its name until 2005 when the race began to be sponsored by Ladbrokes. Prior to that it was known firstly as the Stayers Selling Hurdle and then the Spa Hurdle; though admittedly it had a different format when it carried those names. The most successful horse on the modern day Stayers' Hurdle track was Big Bucks; a horse that won it on four consecutive years with Ruby Walsh riding it, making him the most successful jockey of the race.

Day Four Friday 13th March - The Gold Cup

cheltenham gold cupThe other Grade 1 races of the week are exciting and worthy of your interest in their own right, but there’s no doubt that the Gold Cup is the Festivals premier race. Held on The Cheltenham Festival’s final day, this race is run over three miles and two and a half furlongs. It features twenty-two fences and is another left-handed race, this time run on the new course. Open to five-year-old horses and over, the winner takes home around £360,000 and there’s a pot of £625,000 or so in total.

Despite having been run since 1924, it took until 2015 before a novice won it. That honour went to Coneygree. Golden Miller holds the record as the course’s most successful horse, winning it an impressive five times. The horse won it consecutively from 1932 through to 1936, throwing a Grand National win in their in 1934, too. It is the most valuable non-handicap chase in the UK, so there’s little wonder that it has enjoyed some prestigious winners over the years. One of those, Arkle, won it three times in a row in the 1960s. Not that you’d have benefited much from betting on it for its third winning outing - it was priced at 1/10!

History Of The Cheltenham Gold Cup

cheltenham 1I said a moment ago that the race has been run since 1924 and that’s true in its current format. There was a race named the Cheltenham Gold Cup, however, that was run from 1819 on nearby Cleeve Hill. It became a jump race in 1924 and the winner that year was offered £865 - not a patch on the National Hunt Chase and the County Handicap Hurdle, which each had a winning amount of more than £1000 attached to it back then. The race’s most successful horse, Golden Miller, might have won more had it not been abandoned in 1931 due to frost and 1937 because of flooding.

There are two records that you might like to know about from the course’s history. The first came in 2009 when Kuato Star became the first horse to regain the title, having won it in 2007 but not in 2008. There was an even more impressed record set in 1983 when Michael Dickinson became the first trainer to have trained all of the top five horses that finished the race. One of the longest odds horses to win the race was Norton’s Coin, coming home in 1990 as a 100/1 outsider. Pat Taaffe remains the most successful jockey, having won the race four times over the years.