After weeks of believing this year would be a good ground Festival, recent heavy rain around Cheltenham has led clerk of the course Simon Claisse to predict that we should see somewhere between good-to-soft and soft ground on day one and this had led to a flurry of new festival bets.

Despite Presenting Percy’s domination of the market, somewhat strangely given what he’s achieved, as well as the emergence of Clan Des Obeaux over the winter it seems bookmakers are not ruling out last year’s champion Native River going off favourite for next Friday’s Gold Cup now as it looks increasingly likely that he will get the underfoot conditions he so desires.

17mm of rain fell on Prestbury Park overnight on Tuesday which softened up the turf a great deal, meaning potentially a last minute change of plans for owners and trainers but it’s been the wily punters who have been quick on the draw with major betting firms reporting big money all day on Wednesday for a number of horses who have now shrunk in the market.

The challenge for bettors now though is to be able to read the form properly.  A milder than usual winter has meant most of the top contenders for the Festival races have done their winning largely on good ground and so that has to be taken into consideration when making selections.

Horses sitting at the top of the market in plenty of the 28 races to come have earned their stripes when ground conditions have been unusually quick and they may very well not get home up the Cheltenham hill in championship races with ease in the ground.

While the rainfall has been welcomed by certain trainers and some backers have been quick to pile on a number of horses overnight, it has even perhaps provided some welcome relief for former customers of BetBright.

Having been bought over by 888 in recent days, the new holding company announced that a lot of ante-post bets made on Festival races will now have to be voided but given the drastic change in racing conditions, it seems some punters may now believe they’ve slightly got away with one!

This rain will of course not suit every horse going to Cheltenham, but some can be considered fairly average on good going while transforming to become top class in their division when the heavens open so punters should check carefully the profile and overall rather than just recent form of their festival fancies.

Which Horses Are Being Backed?

Willie Mullins’ Benie Des Dieux was already an even-money shot going into Mares’ Hurdle but this rainfall has seemed to increase her chances even more.  Expect floods of cash to come in for a horse who will now be considered one of the festival’s banker bets.

Samburu Shujaa has won a couple of races around Chepstow and seems to have more stamina than the rivals he’ll face if definitely getting into the Pertemps Final, the softer ground now marking him out as very much a leading fancy and it’s expected that the 12/1 about will disappear very quickly.

Paul Nicholls has been in awesome form coming into this meeting and his 2018 Grand Annual winner Le Prezien is back for another crack. Nicholls was already quite forthright in his comments regarding this horse, saying the more it rains the better and so now he must be licking his lips at the prospect of him following up.

As mentioned earlier, the 6/1 about last year’s champ Native River will go quickly as despite his class he has always been regarded as ground dependant.  The forecast after day one is currently looking unsettled but as long as the going description is soft on day one then this chap may well be vying for favouritism come Friday afternoon.