In the UK, betting on sport is incredibly popular. We love a flutter and are happy to back our favourite teams, sports stars, and horses whenever we can.

Unsurprisingly, football is the biggest sport that we bet on. It helps that it is played for most of the year and with so many games across domestic, European, and international leagues there’s no shortage of games.

It also helps that betting markets contain hundreds of different elements to bet on. Who will score? When will they score? How many red cards, corners, or goals will be notched up? The list is seemingly endless.

But the second most popular sport to bet on in the UK is horse racing. Now we all know that the Grand National is the biggest race to bet on and that it generates around £250m each year. But it is only a one-off and the vast majority of bets are very small with all the family getting involved in trying to pick a winner.

For a better look at which races are the most popular to bet on we turn to the Cheltenham Festival.

Most Popular Cheltenham Race To Bet On

Paddy Power has revealed the order of the most popular races, in terms of turnover, for punters at the Festival.

In first place is….drum roll please….the Gold Cup. Spokesman Paul Binfield said: “Once again the Gold Cup has proved the most popular race turnover wise and punters were nicely rewarded with a stirring finish and a winning ‘jolly’.

So why the Gold Cup? There are a couple of reasons. Firstly it’s the most prestigious race at the Festival and is heavily written about and promoted.

It is the race that the absolute best and highest rated chasers aim for. So when you get the big names entering – Al Boum Photo, Santini, Lostintranslation etc…it attracts more interest.

Winning the Gold Cup is one of the biggest achievements and so viewers tune in to see the action and that peaks interest which leads to more bets.

Secondly, it is one of the few races where the best horse generally wins. It is not handicapped, it is not a lottery and very little luck is involved.

This means that in reality only one of a handful of horses lining up will actually win it and this is a very attractive prospect for bettors who are after a bit more certainty.

The Rest Of The Field

So if the Gold Cup is always at the top of the list, how do the other races fare? Interestingly, the next FIVE in the most popular races to bet on are all hurdles.

For a festival that has such a stellar mix of racing, including chases, hurdles, national hunt, cross country, long and short, it’s quite incredible that punters seem to gravitate to hurdles.

Here’s my theory. The Supreme Novice’s Hurdle is in 6th place but it is also the race that opens the Festival. This is what we have been waiting for all year. So, as the excitement builds our optimism is high and we get our very first bet of the Festival on.

The Champion Hurdle is in fifth place. This is the feature race of Day One. It is worth a huge £450,000 and past winners include the likes of Istabraq, Hurrican Fly, and Faugheen.

It is to hurdling what the Gold Cup is to chasing and big names attract big bets.

The Paddy Power Stayers Hurdle is the second most popular race for the bookmaker. This could really be down to the branding. If all you see is Paddy Power on the run up to the race, the name sticks and you are quite likely to use that bookie.

As Paddy Power is also the sponsor they tend to have much better betting offers on the day. Enhanced odds, extra places, money back offers and free bets are just some of the promos that can pop up.

And any way that you can squeeze a few quid more out of a bookie is always going to be a good thing!

What Makes A Race Popular To Bet On?

So we’ve covered prestige (the Gold Cup) and we’ve covered branding. We’ve also looked at the placement of races and how they can generate bets.

But one of the other factors that can boost the number of bets placed on a race is the runners in that race.

In 2019 the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase was at the bottom of the list, coming in at number 27 of the most popular races to bet on. But then Tiger Roll won the Grand National again and was returning to Cheltenham to make more history.

The love for this horse is almost unparalleled so when he was declared in 2020 the bets came flooding in. That was enough to push the race, in terms of betting popularity up to number 14.

Huge rivalries also tend to shake the wallets of punters. Denman vs Kauto Star anyone? Paul Nicholls vs Nicky Henderson? Willie Mullins vs every other trainer at Cheltenham?

And if the trainers can move markets then so can the jockeys. How many people have backed a horse simply because Ruby Walsh was riding it? Or backed Bryony Frost in the Ryanair Chase on Frodon because they wanted to see history being made?

Ultimately there are a large number of reasons why some races are more popular than others to bet on. But a combination of how big the race is along with promotions on that race will always give it a boost.

Will the Gold Cup be the most popular again in 2021? Probably. But with the introduction of the Mares Chase that will follow it, we could see the order change again.

Whatever happens, only bet what you can afford. Never chase your losses and if it’s not fun then just stop.