Horse racing’s most exciting season is coming up in the U.K. While American fans and bettors may focus more on U.S. races (and particularly the Triple Crown), there are plenty of incredible contests in England during the spring. The bulk of these take place at the Royal Ascot, the Grand National, and, beginning in just a week, at the Cheltenham Festival.
All told, these events include six major races that receive international attention: four at the Cheltenham Festival along with the signature contest at the Grand National and Royal Ascot. For full handicapping on each of these races, we’ll refer to Betfair’s early odds listings and previews for each individual contest. But for an overview for American fans regarding how each race should be looked at, here are some of the favorites and noteworthy factors in play.
Champion Hurdle (Cheltenham Festival)
Faugheen is the undefeated favorite for the Champion Hurdle, which caps off the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival. With 11/8 odds and an unblemished record, the horse is a logical choice to back, though this field isn’t without strong challengers. The New One (7/2), Jezki (9/2), and Hurricane Fly (11/1) round out the top-four in terms of betting odds, and each stands a legitimate chance. If you’re looking for opportunity in the field, keep a close eye on Jezki. Quoted by Newstalk just this week, trainer Jessica Harrington claims her champion (Jezki won the 2014 Champion Hurdle) is even stronger this time around.
Champion Chase (Cheltenham Festival)
At the Champion Chase, current handicapping has one-time champion Sprinter Sacre out in front with 14/5 odds. However, while it’s a shame to bet on an animal’s poor health, this may be an event to look for a more ambitious backing. Sprinter Sacre missed the 2014 Chase with health problems and only began his comeback recently. Sire de Grugy (7/2) and Dodging Bullets (11/2) are both reasonable plays, while Champagne Fever (also at 11/2) can never be counted out.
World Hurdle (Cheltenham Festival)
This is one prestigious contest where the betting appears to be wide open. Zarkandar and Saphir Du Rheu lead the way, each with 5/1 odds, but neither looks to be a sure thing. Rock On Ruby (8/1) and Lieutenant Colonel (10/1) may ordinarily be dark horses, but they have a chance to distinguish themselves in this field, and Annie Power (28/1) is a decent long shot. A look at BBC Sport’s recap of last year’s World Hurdle is a nice reminder that when Annie Power finished as runner-up in 2014, it was the mare’s first ever defeat. Given good health on race day, 28/1 may be an appealing shot to take.
With 10/3 odds, Silviniaco Conti is a strong outright favorite for Cheltenham’s Gold Cup. There’s not a whole lot of use getting creative in handicapping this race, as no one else appears to be a serious contender. However, Road To Riches (12/1) and defending champion Lord Windermere (14/1) are worth consideration for those simply looking for underdogs. In fact, a healthy defending champion at 14/1 is a fairly rare opportunity.
Grand National (Grand National)
The Grand National’s signature race is a longer way off, with still a month to go, which means there’s time for outcomes, tune-ups, and health issues to impact the odds. However, as things stand, Shutthefrontdoor has been the listed favorite for some time and remains on top at 10/1. Rocky Creek (12/1), Balthazar King (18/1), and Spring Heeled (24/1) round out the top-four. Pineau De Re, winner of the 2014 Grand National, may be the most interesting long shot, at 28/1 odds, but Shutthefrontdoor is beginning to look like a clear-cut favorite.
Royal Ascot (Royal Ascot)
Finally, there’s the Royal Ascot in early June, which more or less finishes off the primary horse racing season in England. And like the Grand National, it’s farther off, meaning there’s more time for things to change between now and race day. But at this early stage, the top contenders stand as such: Leading Light (3/1), Forgotten Rules (16/5), and Estimate (4/1). For an idea of just how close this contest could be, read through CNN’s recap of the event in 2014, when Leading Light just edged Estimate for the win.