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 Gloucestershire countryside promises four days of world-class horse racing action when the famous Cheltenham roar bellows from the grandstand on Tuesday.
The hairs on your neck will tingle with excitement at the festival’s host of championship races including the Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase, Stayers Hurdle and Gold Cup.
Champions have been crowned, kings dethroned, heroes made and villains cursed in Cheltenham’s rich and illustrious history.
Here’s our take on some of the the key races across the festival’s four huge days.
TUESDAY 1.30PM SUPREME NOVICES’ HURDLE 2m
Victors of this race ultimately head on to bigger and better things but rarely do favourites of the Supreme make it to the winner’s enclosure. Ten of the last 12 jollies have been beaten and this year it’s down to Willie Mullins’ Getabird to buck the trend. The short-priced favourite runs in Rich Ricci silks and will most certainly be a key player in punters’ accumulators for the week. The six-year-old has adapted to hurdles well after winning two bumpers and most recently won the Moscow Flyer Novices’ Hurdle at Punchestown. Kalashnikov is second favourite in the betting and could give Mullins’ charge a run for its money if the likes of Mengli Khan, who finished a respectable second to Getabird in the Moscow Flyer despite giving away six pounds, fails to turn up. Seventeen of the last 19 winners of the Supreme have won on their previous start – putting Mengli out of the picture.
TUESDAY 2.10PM ARKLE 2m
This two-mile novice chase has birthed some superstars in its past and it’s another Mullins horse that bids for the title. Fourth in the Champion Hurdle last year, Footpad had no qualms switching to chasing and boasts jumping ability far beyond his tender six years. He’s run well twice at Cheltenham before but has never won at Prestbury Park. The same goes for his biggest rival this year – Petit Mouchoir – who finished ahead of Footpad in both the Irish and English Champion Hurdles last season. The Gigginstown runner made a winning debut over fences in October but was well beaten when going down to Mullins’ canny chaser at the Dublin Festival. Five of the last six winners have come from either Willie Mullins or Nicky Henderson’s yard.
TUESDAY: 3.30PM CHAMPION HURDLE 2m
This one’s all about explosive speed and turn of foot executed with impeccable timing. The sight of a Champion Hurdle field turning for home at the top of the hill is one of the festival’s most defining and thrilling sights. Defending champion Buveur D’Air looks likely to lead the pack and bids for a second title on the trot for trainer Nicky Henderson. Yet you’ll be hard pushed to find a more popular winner than Faugheen, who won this in 2015 before succumbing to a series of season-ravaging injures. Mullins’ charge showed his enthusiasm for the game has not yet dwindled by winning the Morgiana Hurdle in November.
WEDNESDAY 2.10PM RSA CHASE 3m
The RSA is a three-mile slugfest for devout stayers and horses with guts. Experience is key over a race that’s seen 15 of the last 16 winners boasting three or more starts over fences. Young’uns need not apply either. There have been just two winners since 1999 aged seven or eight. That would eliminate race favourite Presenting Percy, who comes into the RSA off the back of a defeat to Gold Cup contender Our Duke in the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park in February when going off as an even-money jolly. Favourite-backers might be clutching to his performance at the festival last year however when he absolutely bolted up in the Pertemps at 11/1. The Henry De Bromhead-trained Monalee was second in the Albert Bartlett last year and looks likely to offer ‘Percy a challenge alongside Paul Nicholls’ Block Corton. Keep an eye out for Ballyoptic at the bigger prices.
WEDNESDAY: 3.30PM QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE 2m
Altior, Altior, Altior. Nicky Henderson’s favourite has been the buzz on everybody’s lips for a long while now and after disappointing punters when missing the Tingle Creek in December, he can make amends by justifying odds-on favouritism here and building on last year’s Arkle win. He’s an unbeaten 12/12 over obstacles so far, including a thrashing of Politologue in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury. That horse could be in the mix here but the real excitement comes from Willie Mullins’ Douvan. He’s not been seen on course in competitive action since suffering a shock defeat and injury a year ago but could spark an incredible revival if upheaving Altior come Wednesday afternoon. Mullins’ other runner Min is also a threat.
THURSDAY: 3.30pm STAYERS HURDLE 3m
This is for horses who ooze stamina and grit. The pinnacle of the season for three-mile hurdlers, champions of yesteryear include the likes of crowd-favourite and five-time champion Big Bucks plus the loveable Thistlecrack. This year’s spectacle is wide open with weak favourite Supasundae fending off market favouritism from Sam Spinner, Yanworth, Apples Jade and Penhill. Supasundae, last year’s Coral Cup winner, was chased down close to home by Apples Jade in the Christmas Hurdle on only his second crack at three miles. With speed and stamina in the locker, he just about justifies favouritism but a popular fancy is JP McManus’s Long Walk winner Sam Spinner. A hearty front-runner, Spinner will try and drive his rivals into submission from the front of the pack. Talented mare Apples Jade represents the Willie Mullins yard, Unowhatimeanharry was third in this last year while Albert Bartlett 2017 winner Penhill is a youngster bidding for big things.
The race we’ve all been waiting 365 days for. This is the big one – a true National Hunt spectacle – starring the season’s best chasers doing fierce battle over three miles and a flurry of fences. Irish raider Sizing John was the defending champion but he gave a whimper of a performance in the Christmas Chase at Leopardstown in December and after working last week, he has sustained a pelvic injury which rules him out of this year’s renewal. That could leave the door open for Native River, who finished third in this race last year but who’s not been seen since barring a win in a three-runner field for the Denman Chase last month. Favouritism goes to Nicky Henderson’s fantastic Might Bite. He just (!) won the RSA at last year’s festival and has since conquered Aintree, Sandown and, most notably, banished his Kempton demons (after falling in 2016) by winning last year’s King George in emphatic fashion. Definitly Red KO’d Bristol De Mai in the Cotswold Chase in January while Minella Rocco finished second ahead of Native River in last year’s race. Fifteen of the last 15 Cheltenham Gold Cup winners have been aged nine or younger while 14 have raced within the last three months.
FIRST FENCE FALLER
After months of studying form, watching races and pouring over statistics from previous festivals its incredibly frustrating to see your horse fall at the first! But don’t worry, place a £20 bet on any Cheltenham Festival race and if your horse does fall at the first, we at Marathonbet will give you a £10 Free Bet!
Terms & Conditions apply.
Information correct as at 11.30am 12/03/18
All images sourced from PA images.