Countdown to Cheltenham: Santini could deliver Henderson Gold Cup win says Coral

With 11 days to go until the racing industry descends on Cheltenham Racecourse, SBC has been getting the run-down from major betting operators on what to look out for at The Festival. We’ve been asking whether we could be seeing a ‘wednesday wipeout’ and what the chances are of Willie Mullins retaining the Gold Cup title.

Speaking to Harry Aitkenhead, PR Executive at Coral, we gained insights into the operator’s new Fail to Finish promotion, and learnt that the strength of this year’s runners could be the reason behind an increase in ante-post betting.

SBC: Three of the shortest-priced favourites of the week have been lined up to race on the Wednesday of Cheltenham Festival – is this a worry for Coral? and how does Coral plan to mitigate the risk of a ‘wednesday wipeout’?

Harry Aitkenhead: It is always a worry when a few favourites line-up, and Envoi Allen, Appreciate It and Tiger Roll who all run on Wednesday are three of our worst results at the moment across the whole week. However it’s important to remember that there are also some incredibly competitive races on the day too which punters are torn over.

The Champion Chase this year looks a fantastic race on paper with Altior, Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi all jostling for favouritism, and this is a race where in the last three years the favourite has gone off at 4/11, evens and 2/9. The Coral Cup had 148 entries when the lists were revealed last week and the favourite is currently a 9/1 chance so that provides a stern test for punters too.

It might be unfortunate that three of the most backed horses are running on the same day but we’ve seen plenty of favourites lose before at Cheltenham and the racing at the festival is always incredibly competitive so it should prove to be an exciting week and we aren’t running scared just yet.

SBC: Data has suggested that this year’s Cheltenham Festival has attracted – on average – 40% more ante-post punting in comparison to last year. Why do you think this is?

Harry Aitkenhead: It’s hard to pinpoint a reason for the increased ante post betting but it’s most likely down to the strength of a couple of the popular horses who are running. Paisley Park has been a constant attraction for punters and he is possibly the most popular horse in training at the moment with the story behind his owner and also his great partnership with Aiden Coleman. Also the likes of Envoi Allen and Appreciate It, who are mentioned above, have proved incredibly popular. No matter how far away it might be some punters always have eyes on Cheltenham and any impressive performances through the season will always prompt surges on these horses at to win at the festival.

SBC: The Gold Cup hasn’t been defended since 2004, what are the chances of current joint favourite Al Boum Photo doing it for Willie Mullins this year?

Harry Aitkenhead: Al Boum Photo has as good a chance as most of retaining his crown, that’s for sure. He’s had the same preparation as last year, running and winning at Tramore, and now aged 8 he looks to be at his absolute peak. 8 year olds have won this race four times out of the last seven editions and everything seems to be boding well for him.

Native River’s injury was a shame as he would have had a genuine chance at regaining his title but in terms of the dangers to Al Boum Photo’s chances, it is Santini that we think should be most feared. He is our slight favourite and has an excellent chance of delivering Nicky Henderson’s first win in the race since 2013.

SBC: What role will request a bets and promotional offers play in engaging punters with this year’s festival?

Harry Aitkenhead: It’s always great to be able to offer our punters some special treats around the biggest week of the year for racing fans, and this year our big offer is our Fail to Finish promotion. Our customers will get their money back as a free bet, up to £10, should their horse fail to finish the race. We could see plenty of free bets being handed out if the rain continues and the ground is soft, or heavy!

We will also be providing our #YourCall service through the festival meaning that punters can request any bets they like and this is a great tool for us to ensure that we keep our customers happy throughout the week and making sure that we’ve got whatever they might want to bet on available online. All of these promotions and tools are great in our aim to provide our loyal punters with the best possible service for the best week of racing on the calendar.

SBC: And finally, are there any runners that SBC readers should be keeping an eye on?

Harry Aitkenhead: Aside from the obvious favourites, a couple of horses that punters have been very keen to back with us recently have been Samcro, and Solo and Goshen who are both entered in the Triumph Hurdle on Friday.

Samcro is now a 7-1 chance for the Marsh Novices Chase and would be one of our worst results of the week if he were to win. It’s probably a combination of his impressive win on chase debut, although he has disappointed since, and also just his popularity. He had such a good few years running over hurdles and has a real following behind him.

In that race Annie Mc is entered for the Coral Champions Club, a free club for members to enter that we set up to provide people with the thrill of owning a racehorse without the expensive costs. She’s been absolutely fantastic for us, winning brilliantly over hurdles at Newbury live on ITV last season and remaining unbeaten over fences since switching. Everybody is really excited for her to run at Cheltenham and it should be a memorable day for the Coral Champions Club.

Goshen goes for the Triumph Hurdle on Friday and is unbeaten over hurdles so far which has prompted punters to stick their faith in him. He won his most recent race by 11 lengths and the horse than finished second that day has since won by 16 lengths, so it’s impossible to ignore his credentials. However last weekend then saw Paul Nicholls’s French horse Solo romp home at Kempton on his first appearance in the UK and now we are seeing punters back him off the boards to win the first race on the final day of the festival. It could be a fantastic battle between the two and one to certainly keep an eye on.

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