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The UK’s most beloved horse racing festival is quickly approaching. The Cheltenham Festival is, as ever, dominating the narrative of horse racing right now, and you can sense the excitement is building among fans as we approach the four-day event (14th-17th March).
There are, of course, several talking points in the lead up to Cheltenham: The brilliant form of Constitution Hill, who will go into the Champion Hurdle as one of the shortest-priced favourites in the recent history of Cheltenham horse racing betting with 888Sport. There’s also the prospect of a pulsating tussle for the Champion Chase between Edwardstone and Energumene, with Editeur du Gite primed to play spoiler.
But looming large above everything else is the narrative for the biggest race of the week, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. It, too, has a red-hot favourite in Galopin Des Champs. He has, more or less, been in that position since Cheltenham last year.
Galopin Des Champs has led ante-post markets all year
Remarkably, his backing by the bookies came in defeat, after Galopin Des Champs fell at the last in the Turner Novices’ Chase. But his outstanding performance before that mistake was enough to convince bookies and punters alike that Willie Mullins has yet another superstar on his hands. His performances this season have underlined those credentials. Currently, Galopin Des Champs is available at around 6/4 for the Gold Cup on 17th March.
Should he be backed? It’s an interesting question. On the one hand, we are talking about a bona fide superstar here. Since that fall at Cheltenham 2022 – it was an astonishingly dominant performance despite the fact he stumbled – Galopin Des Champs has been imperious, winning three Grade 1s on the bounce, including the Irish Gold Cup last month. That performance at Leopardstown dispelled any myths that Galopin Des Champs couldn’t handle the trip over 3m. Willie Mullins, too, portrayed the idea as laughable.
On the other hand, it’s worth pointing out that the odds are quite short. The Gold Cup is relatively kind to favourites, certainly much kinder than big races like the Grand National or Melbourne Cup, which both tend to act like more of a lottery. Nonetheless, we are still looking at a strike rate of about 45% in the 21st century. If you know your racing statistics and consult expert horse racing tips, you’ll be aware that’s way above the average for favourites – it’s usually somewhere around the 30-32% mark for all rules races.
Gold Cup has delivered some pain for favourites backers
Still, by backing Galopin Des Champs, you should be aware that you will be backing one of the shortest-priced horses for the big race in over a decade. And, it doesn’t always work out for the hot favourite on the day. Kauto Star, who was well beaten by Denman in 2008 when going off as the 10/11 favourite, is a good example. Kauto Star’s credentials are not in doubt, of course, but it just goes to show that the best horses can lose Gold Cups, regardless of how short the bookmakers make them.
In the end, it’s probably all about your risk appetite. Galopin Des Champs is a worthy Gold Cup favourite, even if value bettors would be somewhat uncomfortable with the price. Moreover, it’s questionable whether there is another Denman in the race. But the shock would only be a minor one if a name like A Plus Tard (last year’s winner and 6/1 shot) or Noble Yeats was to canter into the winner’s enclosure on St Patrick’s Day. We will soon find out where the smart money goes. Unfortunately, we won’t know until after the race.