Anyone that has ever placed a bet on a horse race will know that there is no such thing as a guaranteed winner. That is especially true when it comes to placing bets on jump racing, given the sheer number of things that could go wrong once the race has begun and the horses are running. Even so, a quick look at the odds for this year’s Cheltenham Festival would suggest that there are some horses that are as good as guaranteed winners as you’d ever hope to see. The question is, are their odds fair or are they over-priced?
As always, the answer isn’t clear. There are some instances of horses that look as though they can’t put a foot wrong, largely because they haven’t done so yet. In other cases, the horses have odds that suggest that they’re sure things, but their performances might lead some punters to question the logic of that. Obviously we’re not talking about the favourites for races, who might have odds like 5/2, but rather those that are runaway leaders in the field and the odds are closer to 2/5. They are the ones we’re interested in on this page.
Honeysuckle – Champion Hurdle
There is a perfect example of what we’re talking about on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival, such is the extent to which Honeysuckle is considered to be the runaway favourite in the Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy. At the time of writing, Honeysuckle is available for odds of 13/18, with the next best horse in the race being Appreciate It at 9/2. If you don’t watch much racing then you might wonder why her odds are so extremely short, but a quick look at her history shows placings of 1/1111/1111/111-111.
She took part in one point-to-point even when she was younger and won that, going on to take part in 14 races over hurdles since then. That she has won all 14 of them tells you everything that you need to know, with the added benefit this year of the fact that she will once again be under the command of 2021’s Champion Jockey, Rachael Blackmore. If you wanted to look for reasons why she might not win then you could think about the fact that all good things must come to an end, but that feels like the definition of wishful thinking.
Verdict: Nailed On Winner
Sir Gerhard – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
It tells you something about Sir Gerhard’s ability that he was being considered for several different races until just a few days before the Festival. By Friday, the owners and trainer of the horse had decided that putting him into the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle was the right thing to do, so the odds on him dropped accordingly. As of right now, you can get him for 8/11, with the next best horse in the running being Three Stripe Life at odds of 13/2. In other words, the bookmakers are convinced that Sir Gerhard is winning this race.
Is there a glimmer of hope for those that would like to see a horse with better value run out the winner? Maybe. Having boasted a perfect record in his first four races under rules, he finished third from eight in the Irish National Hunt Flat Race at Punchestown at the end of April last year. That came after he won the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham the month before, though, so he does have previous at Prestbury Park. He’s won his two races over hurdles since last December, so he’s certainly likely to finish up as the winner here.
Verdict: Very Good Chance
Shishkin – Queen Mother Champion Chase
The feature race of Day Two of the Festival is the Queen Mother Champion Chase and it is fair to say that the bookmakers think that there is only going to be one winner. At the time of writing, the odds available on Shishkin are 4/5, meaning that he’s the odds-on favourite but not overwhelmingly so. That being said, when you consider that the next best horse in the of the bookies is coming in at 4s, there’s no doubting where they think the victory will go. Things didn’t start off all that well for Shishkin, who finished third in the Geldings Maiden at Inch in 2018.
Since then, though, the only race he didn’t win was the Maiden Hurdle at Newbury in December of 2019, with victories in all other races that he’s entered. That suggests a horse that has found himself on the track, thanks to the expert training of Nicky Henderson and his team. He has won four out of four steeplechases that he’s taken part in, but for punters hoping to find a shade of doubt that fall over hurdles will always pose questions. He won the Arkle at last year’s Festival, so he knows how to cope with expectations.
The big question for Shishkin isn’t so much whether he will struggle as it is about whether any of the other runners can beat him. He went head-to-head with Energumene in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January, with Shishkin narrowly winning. Chacun Pour Soi was the favourite in this race last season only to finish third, so the question is whether he can win when not considered worth it this time around. Put The Kettle On won it last time out and runs again, so can any of them beat Shishkin to the title?
Verdict: Very Good Chance
Tiger Roll – Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase
Ladies Day throws up a number of excellent races, of which the Cross Country Chase isn’t normally high on most people’s lists. This year, though, it appears as if we’re going to be seeing the final outing of one of the sport’s greatest modern runners. Tiger Roll will go down in history as being the first horse since Red Rum to win the Grand National in consecutive years, but those that follow horse racing closely will also know about his success in in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase during the Cheltenham Festival.
His first win at Prestbury Park came in the National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup in 2017, then he won the Cross Country Chase in 2018, 2019 and 2021. He is a phenomenal horse, but whether his odds for the race this time around are a fair reflection of the likelihood of victory is another question. At the start of March, Michael O’Leary said that Tiger Roll would likely be retired in the wake of the Cross Country Chase, so countless punters will have lumped on him out of a sense of nostalgia more than anything else.
It is easy to get caught up in the idea of applying human emotions to animals, but Tiger Roll won’t know that this is his last hurrah. Instead, all of that emotion will be on everyone else, meaning that his current odds of 13/8 are a wee bit false. With horses such as Delta Work and Easysland also in the running, O’Leary’s horse won’t be having it all his own way when the race gets going on Wednesday afternoon. All of that being said, there almost certainly won’t be a dry eye in the house if he does win the Cross Country one final time.
Verdict: Good Chance
Allaho – Ryanair Chase
It is generally considered that Day Three at Cheltenham has two feature races, with the Ryanair Chase being one of them. When it comes to the horses that are running in it, Allaho is the runaway favourite in the eyes of the bookmakers. They’re offering odds of 8/13 for the Willie Mullins trained bay gelding, with the next best horse being Energumene, who is likely to run in a different race anyway. Quite why Allaho’s odds are as nailed on as they are is difficult to tell, especially when you consider the fact that he’s enjoyed a mixed career to date.
He only won one of four races over hurdles and has a 50% hit rate when it comes to steeplechases, so the idea that he’s a shoo-in is a puzzling one. Perhaps it as much about the state of the rest of the field as anything else, given the fact that his closest challengers almost certainly won’t even be running in this race. He is the defending champion in the Ryanair Chase, having won it at odds of 3/1 with Rachael Blackmore during last year’s Festival. Whether he can repeat that form this time around is the big question.
Having followed up success in the Festival in 2021 with a second-place finish at Punchestown the following month, his season has seen a return to form so far. He won the Punchestown Chase in December and the Grade 2 Horse & Jockey Chase at Thurles at the end of January. His mixed performances are measured up alongside the relative strength of the field when figuring out his odds, which is why he’s such a strong contender in the eyes of most bookies. Unless he’s given a good challenge, he could win by a distance.
Verdict: Nailed On Winner