It’s also a week when everyone from expert to novice tries to pick a winner, so we went to one of the most recognisable voices in racing, ITV commentator Richard Hoiles, to give us some advice.
How should I pick a horse?
“I think the best thing to do is to try and pick the horses for reasons that are due to you. Yes, listen to other people but when people get hooked on the sport, it’s when you back something that you liked for a specific reason and you feel you were correct, rather than just backing it because somebody else tipped it. You get the perfectly good pleasure by listening to someone’s selections or backing them blind, but just try and listen a little bit to the thought processes that go behind it.
“It’s a bit like those horrible maths things when they say ‘Show your workings’. I would have a lot more respect for someone who tipped a horse that finished last if I could understand the logic behind what they were saying, rather than someone who fluked a winner when I thought they just stuck their pin in.
“If you genuinely want to progress your involvement and enjoyment of the sport, then listen to that thought process, take them on board, and then apply them yourself. And when you begin to do that, and you select a winner when no one else has selected it, that’s when you begin to feel quite smug.
“Listen to what other people say and why they say it, but don’t blindly follow their conclusion because you can have 10 of us in a room all making very plausible cases for different horses and of course number 11 will win. It’s a small sample. Don’t be put off by thinking that you’re stupid for fancying X for reason Y, because you may well be right.”
Richard Hoiles’s Cheltenham tips
- Wed 15 Mar, 4.10pm, Glenfarclas Chase: Delta Work (11-10)
- Thur 16 Mar, 2.10pm, Pertemps Handicap Hurdle: Mill Green (25-1)
- Fri 17 Mar, 3.30pm, Gold Cup: Stattler (10-1), Royal Pagaille (50-1)
Who is your banker?
“My nap of the week would be a horse called Delta Work in the cross-country race, who was the big party pooper of Cheltenham last year because he beat Tiger Roll when he was making his swan song, the dual Grand National winner who everyone had hoped would go out on a high. Both of them are owned by Michael O’Leary of Ryanair, and Delta Work had the temerity to outbattle or outstay or just outlast Tiger Roll up the hill.
“He’s only about even money, so he’s a banker in the sense that I think he’s the most likely winner of the week rather than someone on whom you’re going to make a fortune. Some of the other horses that are equivalent or shorter prices have a few more cracks in the armour and I think Delta Work doesn’t.”
What about something a bit more fanciful?
“The handicaps are where you can genuinely win some money, I think. You tend to go for horses that have been proven under the conditions in the past, and they’re just going back to do the same sort of thing.
“There’s a horse who is a bit old now called Mill Green. He is 11, he is one of Nicky Henderson’s, and Nicky’s got four or five in the race, but this one is the longest price of them.
“He’s got a slightly less flashy profile but he’s exactly the sort of horse that runs well at those Cheltenham Festivals. They just run at a tempo that you don’t get anywhere else. It’s so relentless that horses, if they’re suited to that, they will come back year on year.”
And the Gold Cup?
“The Gold Cup is one of those races where Galopin des Champs (7-4 favourite) is a little bit like the up-and-coming horse, but he has a lot more to prove yet to my mind.
“If you want to tip against a horse, you really want to try and do is look at what conditions he would least be suited by and work out which others in the field would therefore be suited by those conditions.
“If he’s not going to stay, it would be because it’s turned into an absolute mudbath come Friday and if that’s the case, there’s a horse called Stattler who won the National Hunt Chase last year at the Festival. Yes, it was a lower grade, slower race. But if it turns really really attritional, then it would suit him.
“There’s another horse in the same race at a big, big price called Royal Pagaille, trained by Venetia Williams, who also is a little bit underestimated under those conditions.
“I would reserve how much I staked on those horses until I got an accurate weather forecast midway through the week, and the muddier it got, the more interested I’d be.”