Cheltenham for Novices: Your ultimate survival guide

Updated: 20/04/2024

Beginner’s guide to horse racing

There’s nothing in sport quite like the Cheltenham Festival. Across four days in March, over 250,000 racing fans make the pilgrimage to Cheltenham Racecourse in Gloucestershire to watch the cream of the crop from British and Irish racing do battle.  

It can be a daunting prospect for punters new to racing looking to join in the fun across the four days. So we’ve put together a handy Cheltenham Horse Racing Betting guide of things you should know about the festival to get you novices over the first hurdle.

Set yourself a budget

With 28 Festival races across the four days, it’s important to remember that Cheltenham is a marathon and not a sprint.

Work out what you can afford to spend and pace yourself accordingly over the week. Make sure you stick to a staking plan and only bet what you can afford to lose.

The Festival is a glorious four days to be enjoyed by all, not ruined by going big on the first race.

Which horse should you choose?

There are plenty of different ways of choosing a horse to back. From tipsters to ambassadors to historical trends and form, making a selection is all about personal choice.

However, there are certain things to be aware of. Jockey Ruby Walsh, for example, has been the top rider at the Festival on no fewer than 11 occasions.

He generally rides for Irish trainer Willie Mullins, who has been the leading trainer in five of the last eight years. Fellow Irishman Gordon Elliott took that mantle in 2017 and 2018.

Of course, you could be all about the horse itself. Does it have a course and distance form? Is it wearing blinkers, have a tongue tie or use a hood? And crucially, how does its form stack up?

And if you’re a first-time bettor, maybe you just like the name of a horse or the silks of the jockey. That’s a fine way of making your selection too! 

Keep an eye on the Parade Ring

Whether you’re at the track or watching on TV, keep an eye on what the horses are doing before each race.  Fitness and wellbeing really count in racing, so look closely and it will help you find your winner.

Avoid horses that get fractious, sweat badly or look dull in their coat. And especially those that travel up to the start too fast – you don’t want to be backing a horse that’s used all its energy.

Some people even determine their selection based on whether the horse has made a deposit of its own around the parade ring. Science has yet to prove if that makes a difference, although it’s probably best to steer clear of making your choice using that method.

Horse racing glossary

On The Bridle

When a horse wins ‘on the bridle’ it has won easily, without being pushed out by the jockey.


A National Hunt race but run over the flat for inexperienced horses with no hurdles or fences.


 A horse which runs over fences – these are the bigger of the two obstacles used in National Hunt racing.

Course and Distance (C&D)

A sign that a horse has previously won over the course and distance that the race is taking place at. Usually, a big positive as it shows how a horse performs on the track.


Keeping a horse behind other runners to prevent it from running too freely in the early stages of a race. This is done to conserve their energy for the closing stages of the contest.


A horse whose odds are getting longer due to lack of support in the betting. This is generally regarded as a negative sign.


A bet where half the total stake is for the selection to win and the other half is for the selection to place. Place money is settled at a fraction of the total price depends on the number of runners in the race.


Standard distance unit in racing. A furlong is equal to 200m and there are eight furlongs in a mile.


This is the condition of the surface – goings range from heavy to firm.

Good Thing

A favourite which seemingly has no chance of getting beat. Things don’t always turn out that way, though.


A race where horses carry different weights based on their official rating. The idea is that horses of different levels of ability are given an equal chance of winning.


A horse which runs over hurdles – these are the smaller of the two obstacles used in National Hunt racing.

Market Mover

A horse which fluctuates in price prior to the race, usually this means the price has shortened, which could mean there’s a lot of belief in the betting ring.


A horse whose price shortens dramatically in the market due to relentless support.


For more horse racing odds click here.

Horse Racing previews, betting tips and ambassadors – Coral has it all.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing

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