The Greatest Show on Turf has nearly arrived!
This year’s Cheltenham Festival is just around the corner and we can’t wait for the fun to begin.
The hairs on your neck will tingle with excitement when Tuesday’s first race is given the off and the famous roar of the Cheltenham crowd ripples through the Gloucestershire countryside.
But before we get all sentimental, there’s one thing you need to remember to do… GET THOSE BETS ON!
Here’s our take on the key races across the festival’s four huge days.
TUESDAY 1.30PM SUPREME NOVICES’ HURDLE 2m
Some truly top horses have kick-started their careers in this race. Willie Mullins’ Douvan stormed to victory in 2015 before Altior hacked up last year. The pair might go head-to-head in the Queen Mother Champion Chase this time around which proves that the winners of the Supreme are always set for big things. In a not-so refreshing change, another Mullins horse, MELON, is this year’s Supreme favourite. The five-year-old won the Donohue Marquees Maiden Hurdle at Leopardstown in superb fashion at the end of January and could get the better of Harry Fry’s Neon Wolf, who has won all three starts including the Supreme Trial at Haydock.
TUESDAY 2.10PM ARKLE
Trainer Kim Bailey probably sends out Charbel for another daunting rematch against ALTIOR – though only if the latter does not run in the Queen Mum. Bailey’s six-year-old was brushed aside by Nicky Henderson’s charge at Sandown in December so it could be Yorkhill who plays bridesmaid in this thrilling 2m chase. Mullins’ seven-year-old has won eight of its nine runs and probably has Cheltenham lover Ruby Walsh taking on jockey duties.
TUESDAY: 3.30PM CHAMPION HURDLE 2m
Reigning champion Annie Power is out injured, leaving the door open for Nicky Henderson’s smart novice BEVEUR D’AIR to bid for glory. The six-year-old has won his last four starts and a splash of rain would boost his chances. Henderson’s Brain Power has a shout at bigger prices while second-favourite Yanworth disappointed last time out. Only one horse older than seven has won the Champion Hurdle since 2006 – Hurricane Fly was nine in 2013.
WEDNESDAY 2.10PM RSA CHASE 3m
2015 winner Don Poli was the first winning favourite of the RSA since 2009 but last year’s 8/1 victor, Blaklion, reverted back to favourite-bashing. The jolly this time around is Nicky Henderson’s MIGHT BITE, who took a crashing last-fence fall when well clear in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. He won at 1/7 in a two-horse run-out in February but how exactly that Christmas fall has affected this talented eight-year-old’s mentally remains to be seen. Coney Island is also vying for market principality and had RSA challenger Alpha Des Obeaux behind when winning the Bar One Racing Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse in December. Away from Might Bite, it’s worth looking at bigger-priced runners including Willie Mullins’ Bellshill and Grade 2-winning hurdler Shantou Village if he runs.
WEDNESDAY: 3.30PM QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE 2m
All eyes are on odds-on Irish raider DOUVAN. Willie Mullins’ stable star has won all 13 of his previous races including a jaw-dropping performance in the Arkle at last year’s festival. 30 of the last 32 winners of this race had a course and distance win to their name before. That gives Nicky Henderson’s promising charge and second favourite Altior a shout if he decides to swerve the Arkle, but Douvan should prove too classy no matter who steps up to challenge.
THURSDAY 2.50PM– RYANAIR CHASE 3m
Nine of the last 12 winners of this race have come from the top three in the betting since its conception in 2005. That leaves Empire of Dirt, Uxizandre, Sizing John and UN DE SCEAUX to battle it out at the top of the market. The latter is Willie Mullins’ impressive nine-year-old who heads into the Ryanair after winning the Tingle Creek at Sandown in December and the Clarence House at Cheltenham last time out. He had Alan King’s Uxizandre five lengths behind that day and can put in a similar performance at a course where he’s never finished outside the top two.
THURSDAY: 3.30pm STAYERS HURDLE 3m
This is for horses who ooze stamina and grit. Thistlecrack last week pulled out with injury, though he probably would have ran in the Gold Cup anyway, so Cleeve Hurdle winner UKNOWWHATIMEANHARRY is left a short market principal. Paul Nicholls’ Zarkander rolled back the years with a fine win in the Rendlesham Hurdle and could be a decent each-way shout at large prices while Ballyoptic might build on his Sefton Novices’ Hurdle victory where he showed an abundance of guts to hold off Bellshill.
FRIDAY: 3.30pm CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP 2m 5f
Cue Card is 11 now but looked full of beans when winning the Ascot Chase. He fell in this race when going well last year. Native River has enjoyed a storming season, winning the Denman Chase at Newbury, but at the prices it’s Willie Mullins’ DJAKADAM who catches the eye. Last year’s runner-up, he can go one better this year partnered with Cheltenham’s specialist jockey Ruby Walsh. Horses that boast accurate jumping, a bunch of stamina and bucket loads of character to get up the menacing Cheltenham hill will be in good contention to win this. Though don’t look past the outsiders either. Lord Windermere won this in 2014 at a cracking 25/1 when 6/4 favourite Bobs Worth tailed back in fifth.