The turf has settled back down again, the fences repaired, the jockey’s cuts and bruises patched up and the matched better’s stress levels have fallen by a few hundred percent, but did YOU make the most out of the hundreds of Cheltenham Festival betting offers available?
Yes, that’s right, we’ve just witnessed the world famous Cheltenham Festival, alternatively known as a Matched Betting Paradise, where the average punter was losing thousands and the matched bettor was making hundreds each day.
The Cheltenham Festival
The Cheltenham festival has grown in popularity since its initiation at Prestbury Park in 1911, and since 2005 has expanded out into a massive 4 day long horse racing celebration. This year 70,000 people came to watch the 7 races each day of the festival, which gave out over £4 million pounds of prize money, and like most matched bettors I wanted to make a bit of money myself.
I must admit that after the stress of the last few days I’m actually glad the Cheltenham festival is over and I can return to a life of normality. This was the first horse racing festival that I’ve ever been involved in where I’ve had any knowledge of matched betting and I have to say it was an eye opening experience.
From what I have picked up on the various social networks a lot of the more experienced matched bettors have earned anywhere between £1 to 2.5k over the past 4 days of racing using various matched betting techniques, which is pretty good going, especially as this is tax free income.
Personally, I was nowhere near that amount and the money that I did make was more from luck than judgement. I’m sure that I could have made more money, but wanted to focus on a restricted number of bookies and also stick to offers that I could understand.
The Cheltenham Festival Betting Offers
In general there were 4 types of betting offers that I opted for:
Money Back on 2nd place
Money Back if you pick a winner
Money Back if the Favourite Wins
Money Back if you Lose
There were lots of other offers available such as price boosts and bookies offering an extra place for each way bets, but I thought if I focused on these offers first of all then I’d be better off.
For each race if there was a decent back/lay match available I would try to do the following:
- Favourite – Use the BFSB and Bet365
- 2nd favourite – Use Will Hill or Ladbrokes
- 3rd favourite – Use Will Hill or Ladbrokes
- 4th favourite – Use Betstars if available
My rules were that if the qualifying loss was over 10% of the free bet, then I wouldn’t take the bet, so on the William Hill offer for example there was a £25 free bet, so I wouldn’t go over a £2.50 qualifying loss.
Each day I became more and more organised so by Day 4, I was pretty much in the groove of what I was doing, and had developed a really handy spreadsheet to keep track of what the heck I was doing. You can get a copy of it here: Cheltenham Festival Betting Tracker
In preparation for each day I would:
- Fill out the spreadsheet with the details of the offers that I was likely to go for – See ‘Day 1’ Tab
- List each race in turn, and underneath each race, I would list out the different bookies that I would bet on
- For each of the bookies I would simply pre-populate the stake and the basic terms of the offer (ie back a winner over 4.0) so that it would be easier for me to fill out on the day of the race.
The next step was to try and find decent matches and in this case I found there was no point in using the odds matcher as the odds were changing so quickly and the site only gets updated every 30 minutes, so I had to check for back/lay matches manually.
In one browser I would open smarkets, and in the other browser I would have all the different bookies sites loaded on different tabs. Then I would simply go through each race and compare the top 5 horses on Smarkets against the bookies. If there was a good match then I would take it and record it in my spreadsheet, adding the odds and the horses name.
I would repeat this process about 5 times a day:
- The evening before at 10pm
- Race day morning 8am
- Race day afternoon 12pm
- Race day 1.30 onwards
This basically meant that my spreadsheet gradually got filled up with matches and I could even do a lot of this whilst at work. It also meant that I could clearly see where I had placed my bets and which races I still had holes in. Check the ‘Day 4’ Tab to see an example of the workings.
I ended up spending a lot longer on this than I thought I would do, and was constantly going back to the bookies and looking for decent matches. It also wasn’t that easy to find decent matches for the top few horses on each race, so some times I either had to skip the match, or go over my 10% qualifying loss to cover it.
On top of this I found that, especially on Day 3 and 4, most of the 2nd places were going out to horses with a lot higher odds than I had anticipated. There were lots of cases of 33/1 shots coming in 2nd and due to the large fields, it kind of ruined my overall approach, and meant that I suffered because in a lot of cases I was making a 5 – 10% loss on my qualifying bet.
When you consider the number of bets that I put on, these qualifying losses add up and start to cancel out any winnings you may get on the refunds or free bets.
Total bets placed: 97 back / lay pairs
Total money wagered: £4773
Total bonuses won: £475
- BFSB – Bets Place 11 – Refunds 3
- Bet365 – Bets Place 10 – Refunds 0
- Ladbrokes – Bets Place 17 – Refunds 2
- William Hill Bets Place 19 – Refunds 6
- Betstars Bets Place 5 – Refunds 1
- Skybet – Bets Place 4 – Refunds 4
On top of these refunds I made:
- Betway – £20 free bets
- Netbet – £25 deposit bonus
- Stan James – £10 free bets
I’m not sure how accurate my calculations are but by the time I have extracted the money from the free bets I think I will have made in total about £350 – 400.
Now, this isn’t exactly ground breaking and involved an incredible amount of stress, however, I learnt a lot from it and can use this knowledge in future festivals.
What Did I Learn?
So overall what did I learn from these 4 days?
Make sure you have a good strategy
Looking in the forums a lot of people would use their free bets on punts instead of laying them. A lot of people would try to cover the whole field to make money out of each way bets, others used the price boosts to make good money, and other people were underlaying or overlaying bets. To be honest I’m not sure I follow a lot of the strategies and some of them starting verging more towards the gambling side of things, which is something I want to avoid
On the first day I wasn’t very well prepared, had no strategy and wasn’t really sure what I was doing. By the fourth day I had a much more measured approach and was going through clear steps with each bet I was placing, so that I was less prone to errors
Keep your exchanges well stocked
Having a big enough balance to play with is key if you want to make decent amounts of money. Of course, you can go from one race to the next, so that the bets get settled and hopefully go back into the exchanges, but if like me you wanted to try and place as many bets in advance as possible, then you are going to need a good float. In the end I needed nearly £2k in my Smarkets account
Make Sure you have the Right Bookies
It goes without saying but make sure that before the festival you have accounts open with the leading bookies. This year most of the decent offers came from these guys:
- Betfair SB
- William Hill
- Paddy Power
Don’t be greedy
There is so much going on during these 4 days, with offers and changes in prices flying around everywhere, that it is easy to try and jump on every offer. The problem with this is that you start to lose control a little and if you are trying to place bets too quickly this will often lead to mistakes. For example, on Day 3, I suddenly thought that it would be a good idea to place the £100 bets on the favourite for the 188bet refund offer. At the time, I was thinking the offer was that you get refunded if you get a first place, but the offer was actually for a second place refund, so I lost out lots in my qualifying losses.
Try to Relax
As a relative newbie, I found this almost impossible to do and was constantly checking the odds. Probably a better idea is to do this in short bursts so you don’t end up getting totally stressed out
What Didn’t I Enjoy?
Without a doubt #1 on the list was the amount of stress this caused me over the past few days. Maybe this is because I’m a newbie, maybe it was the stress of trying to find a decent match, maybe it was the stress of keeping track of everything, maybe it was the stress on not really knowing what strategy to follow, maybe it was the stress of trying not to get caught doing some of this at work, whatever it was, this was definitely an extremely stressful week and by the end of Day 4 I was glad it was over!
Even though I’m a project manager by trade, I certainly did not enjoy having to track all of the bets and offers and then at the end of the evening having to go through all of the exchanges and bookies to check where all the money had gone to and check that I had made no mistakes. It was also key to do this at the end of each day so you know where the bonuses would end up
Reading the T’s and C’s
Luckily most of the offers were repeated for each day of the festival so after you had done them once they were pretty easy to repeat. What I didn’t enjoy, however, was reading the T’s and C’s to ensure that I knew all of the rules and things like when my bonuses would expire
Maybe it’s something to do with my character where when I see an opportunity I want to make the most out of it, maybe it’s just because I’m greedy, but I really didn’t like the fact that once I’d got into this, I found it hard to pull myself away from it and wanted to find more and more offers to play with. It felt a little bit too like I was getting involved in gambling, although of course I knew that I was actually winning overall. Maybe it was because the 2nd place offers also have an element of gambling to them and are not guaranteed profit, unlike a lot of the football offers that I am used to
What did I enjoy?
Learning new ways to make money with matched betting
These last 4 days have certainly inducted me well into matched betting for horse racing and I feel that I now have a much better understanding of these kind of bets. Am looking forward to doing this at a more leisurely pace over the weekends in the future and hopefully some of the stress I have had this week will put me in good stead for future offers
Even though I didn’t make a fortune out of it, I still made an overall profit, which always goes down well. Judging by other peoples earnings i will be able to increase this a lot more in the future with a bit more experience as well
The Matched Betting Communities
I found that the members of the different Matched Betting communities were a great bunch, always willing to help each other out, provide tips and resolve problems.
After 4 really intense days of matched betting, I was absolutely exhausted. I think that was mainly because I’m a newbie and wanted to make the most out of the occasion that I could do. I made a few mistakes along the way, but now that the dust has settled I think overall it was a good experience.
I certainly learned a lot and managed to get my stripes as a matched bettor, which should help me in the future. Making nearly £400 over the 4 days from the various Cheltenham Festival Betting Offers, will come in handy but I think in the future I’d try not to do this whilst at work, and would try to be a little bit more prepared before the Festival started.