Punting Pointers: When the market moves in the wrong direction

Andy Gibson explains his approach to betting in the without-the-favourite markets at the Cheltenham Festival.

  • Friday 13 November
  • Blog
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This article is an extract from Andy Gibson's Cheltenham Trail Form Book which can be ordered online here.

I have developed a few strategies that have been most helpful to my betting studies over the years. I often spend a lot of time researching the ‘without the favourite’ markets, especially for the Cheltenham Festival. As a starting point, I find it very useful to analyse each favourite in depth for most of the Grade 1 races at the Festival (I usually give the Bumper a miss) before marking the strength of each favourite on a scale of one to ten. This helps me to decide whether or not a favourite might be worth supporting, opposing, or maybe avoiding via the ‘without’ markets. 

In my preparations for the 2017 Arkle Chase, I had marked Altior up as a favourite to avoid. No surprises there as he was trading close to 4/11 in the main market, and very obviously had the race at his mercy providing he ran to his level and jumped round error free. 

In my experience, when a horse has previously been comprehensively beaten by a favourite like Altior with a particularly attractive profile, the horse in question can often become more forgotten about than his/her profile deserves in the overall market. 

Leading up to the previous year’s Arkle Chase, the Henry De Bromhead novice chaser, Sizing John, had finished several lengths behind Douvan on four previous occasions. One can completely understand, therefore, why Sizing John was generally available at huge odds in the main Arkle markets. After all, he had offered four pieces of direct evidence which all clearly stated he could not finish in front of the hot favourite, Douvan. 


2016 Arkle Chase
Sizing John (red cap) chases home Douvan in the 2016 Arkle Chase.

The significance of this elevated price is that the horse in question will then often, at least initially, trade at a pro-rata price in the market without the favourite; in this instance Sizing John was initially available at a double figure price in the market without Douvan. This potential outcome is always worth close inspection. After all, a reproduction of any of those beatings would have resulted in Sizing John finishing in the first four in the Arkle just as certainly as they supported the notion that he could not beat the favourite. 

Therefore, the peripheral market is responding in the wrong direction due to the weight and authority held in the main win market.  

Of course, this approach does not always work out as well as it did with Sizing John. Nevertheless, he is the stand-out horse to use as an example given the fact that his inferiority to Douvan had already been emphasised on four separate occasions. 


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Back to the 2017 Arkle Chase market, which had Altior as the deserved short-priced favourite, and included an overpriced rival that had twice finished behind the favourite. The horse in question was the Kim Bailey-trained Charbel. He had finished six lengths behind Altior in the Henry VIII Chase at Sandown, and had finished twelve-and-a-half lengths behind the same horse in the 2016 Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

A reproduction of either of those two performances would surely result in Charbel finishing in the first three or four for the 2017 Arkle Chase. 

Back to the ‘Sizing John Theory’ and as a result of the comprehensive nature of those two defeats, Charbel could not be found in the early markets for the big race. By the first week of February he had shortened to a best priced 16/1. Even though he had an all-important positive Cheltenham Festival run to his name, he still made little appeal in the overall market and was only going to be on my mind for the ‘without Altior’ market after the Non-Runner-No-Bet rule came into play. 

The day that the NRNB Rules are applied with most firms often represents a crucial time for my Festival betting campaign. Trying to spot overpriced horses like Charbel that have been overlooked in the early markets is an important part of my research.  

Conversely, it is also essential to remember that most horses in the well-established ante-post markets are available at bigger odds closer to the Festival, or indeed, on the day of the race. Therefore, we need to carefully consider which markets we might choose to delve deeper into during the early stages of their development, and which ones we leave until closer to the Festival.  

Easier said than done! 

Punting Pointers: When the market moves in the wrong direction
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