In any normal year, the period from February to the start of the Festival is punctuated by a welter of preview events, each hosted by a panel of experts, comprised of journalists and tipsters, jockeys and trainers. By the time the programme of events concludes with the "official" preview at Cheltenham on the Sunday before the start of the meeting, it's a fair reckoning that every one of the 400+ runners will have received a recommendation, especially as many will go straight to Cheltenham without a further run if this weather continues.
But things are different this year. Everyone is resigned to watching the Festival via the silver screen. Even the pub screenings all over the UK are not available to the more gregarious amongst us. You'd be surprised just how far away these occur. Passing through Whitehaven in Cumbria last Spring, I was intrigued to discover a local pub which draws hundreds for each day of the Festival. Now, with the greatest respect to the likes of Nicky Richards, Martin Todhunter and James Moffatt, and the stalwart efforts of those in charge at Carlisle and Cartmel, Cumbria doesn't spring first to mind as a hub of excellence in racing. It never ceases to amaze me of the reach that an event like the Festival has attained.
So what you glean from the papers and bespoke publications about the Festival will be doubly important in this year when you can't hear it straight from the horse's mouth.
Here are some of the places to seek that last statistical titbit that will give you a winner in March:
The 2021 Weatherbys Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide, again written by Paul Ferguson and produced in association with Sporting Life, is the complete guide to The Festival, with every fact, stat and trend covered to help you make the most informed bets throughout the best week of the year.
This is the 29th edition of the Jumping Prospects autumn/winter Trainer Comments book, writtren and published by John Morris. Between October and the end of last year's Festival, he had tipped 228 winning horses. Whilst not specific to the Festival, John's incisive comments are informative and give a guide to future performance that has stood the test of time.
There's a plethora of online information, much of it gleaned from other online sources, but among the more informative is Cheltenham odds, which includes racecards, odds, and special offers from a wide range of bookmakers, not just one as is the case with bookmaker sites.
The advent of online betting has transformed the way spectators consume Cheltenham. Time was when bets were placed on course, and a majority of spectators still do this, through the tote, betting ring or shops on course. But they also stake money online before and during, ensuring that the Festival is the leading racing betting event of the year. I've seen racegoers bet on their phone in the train en route, bet in the Ladbrokes and Hills shops on the walk to the racecourse, then bet again when they arrive. Sometimes, you wonder how deep their pockets really are!
Marten has been analysing racing for over 40 years. Printed just days before the Festival to accommodate and feature all the very latest news and information, the 42nd Festival Bulletin Book is available to purchase separately or as part of the online Package.
There's also an interesting additional publication for Pointing fans - Point-to-Point Dark Horses 2020-21.
Never one to hold back from submitting an opinion, the sport's own newspaper houses a clutch of the best tipsters in the business, with expert analysis from early morning gallop twitchers, timekeepers and form junkies. At the bottom end of the price spectrum, it's also among the best guides.
The Racing Post sells more newspapers at the Festival than at any other time of year, so mor ethan ever, their reputation is at stake around tipping at this time of the year.
We love the noise that all these tipsters and punters make. But sometimes, don't you just wonder someone's forgotten the horse in all this? If it weren't for our brave and gallant thoroughbreds, none of this would exist. I wonder what Frederick Cathcart would think if he saw the scale of the event he created in 1908.
Either way, expect our trainers in Gloucestershire to be in the vanguard of the home defence against the might of the Irish.