The Cheltenham Festival is the highlight of the national hunt calendar for which trainers, owners and jockeys have all been building up to the meeting throughout the season. Results at the Festival will define what kind of season those involved in the sport will have, such is its importance.
Here is a look at what the highlights of the meeting are this year and some betting tips for the major races during the week.
Day 1 (Tuesday 14th March)
The feature race on day one of the Cheltenham Festival is the Champion Hurdle. This is the leading hurdle contest of the season and is run over 2m. As reported by Oddschecker early last week, sadly the 2015 winner and ante-post favourite Faugheen will miss the contest once again due to an injury.
The betting for the Champion Hurdle is now headed by Buveur D’Air for trainer Nicky Henderson who is a top price of 7/2. The six-year-old started the season over fences where he was successful twice in novice races. He then switched back to hurdles at Sandown for the Contenders Hurdle where he looked very impressive.
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Although Buveur D’Air has to be respected as one of the leading contenders for the Champion Hurdle, the preference should be with Yanworth who can be backed at 5/1 in the latest betting for the 2m contest. The seven-year-old has had two runs so far this season and has been successful on both occasions. He made his seasonal reappearance at Ascot over 2m4f where he wasn’t quite at his best but still managed to score ahead of Lil Rockerfeller. Alan King’s runner was much better next time out in the Grade One Christmas Hurdle at Kempton where he showed the pace needed to win a Champion Hurdle in the latter stages of the race.
Elsewhere on day one, Altior is the short odds-on favourite at 1/3 to win the Arkle Trophy. He was expected to meet Min in a repeat of their clash in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last season, however, Willie Mullins’ chaser will miss the Festival due to a setback he picked up at home.
Altior recently warmed up for Cheltenham with a comfortable victory at Newbury to bring his unbeaten record to four wins from four since switching to fences last summer.
Day 2 (Wednesday 15th March)
The Queen Mother Champion Chase is the highlight of day two of the Cheltenham Festival and there have been some superb performances in this race in recent years with Master Minded, Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy all coming out on top in impressive style.
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Another superstar in the form of Douvan is likely to add its name to that role of honour in 2017 as last season’s Arkle Trophy winner is no bigger than 1/3 to land the 2m chase. Douvan is unbeaten in 13 starts since he joined Mullins’ yard in Ireland from France. This is set to be his third consecutive Cheltenham Festival as he also won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2015.
There does not seem to be much depth to the Queen Mother Champion Chase field so Douvan will be many people’s banker of the week and is likely to provide his trainer Mullins some joy in what has been a very difficult season so far for the Irishman.
The RSA Chase also takes place on the second day of the meeting and this race is open to novices over the trip of 3m. This year’s contest features Bellshill who is Mullins best chance of success. He won his opening two novice chases this season, including a Grade Two contest at Limerick on Boxing Day but was beaten recently at Leopardstown when he fell at the last fence in the Flogas Novice Chase.
The preference in this year’s RSA Chase is with Coney Island who is much better value in n the betting at 10/1. Edward Harty’s novice is already a Grade One winner over fences as he took the Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse back in December. The six-year-old is open to more improvement and only finished half a length behind Bellshill in the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle at the 2016 Punchestown Festival.
Day 3 (Thursday 16th March)
On day three of the Festival the stayers take centre stage over hurdles. Big Buck’s won this race four years on the spin between 2009 and 2012, while 12 months ago Thistlecrack scored by seven lengths in one of the most impressive performances of the week.
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This year’s Stayers’ Hurdle betting is topped by Unowhatimeanharry who has dominated the 3m division this season. The 13/8 favourite is bidding for his ninth consecutive victory. His run started in November 2015 and includes success at last season’s Festival where he came out on top in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. It is difficult to look past Harry Fry’s runner adding to his run in the Grade One contest.
One of the most interesting races at the Festival will be the Ryanair Chase. That is contest Un De Sceaux is likely to take rather than the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Mullins’ runner is 7/1 to claim the 2m5f contest but if you are looking to back the former Arkle winner, take advantage of the “non-runner no bet” offer which some bookmakers are already applying. If he does run on day two of the meeting, you will get your money back.
Un De Sceaux won the Grade One Tingle Creek at Sandown back in December and then scooped the Clarence House Chase at Cheltenham last month. With Douvan set to run in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, connections are likely to choose the Ryanair Chase for Un De Sceaux and he looks a class above the rest of the runners in the field.
Day 4 (Friday 17th March)
The feature race of day four of the Cheltenham Festival and the whole meeting is the Cheltenham Gold Cup. It is regarded as the most prestigious contest in national hunt racing. The race is run over 3m2f so it is a real stamina test for those involved.
Thistlecrack has topped the betting for the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup from very early into the season and can currently be backed at 7/4 to score for his trainer Colin Tizzard who has had an excellent campaign so far. Last season’s World Hurdle winner won the King VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day where he defeated his stablemate Cue Card.
The one blip on Thistlecrack record this season came in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham where he was beaten by Many Clouds by a head. That result has given connections of other horses hope that the nine-year-old is beatable in the Blue Riband contest at the meeting.
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Native River, who is also trained by Tizzard, looks to represent the best value in the race at 9/2. He won the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury back in November and then the following month, defied top weight in the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow. There can be no doubts about his stamina so if the ground does become testing, that will favour the horse even more.
The leading Irish challenger this year looks to be Djakadam who finished second behind Don Cossack twelve months ago. Mullins’ runner won the Grade One John Duran Memorial Chase earlier in the campaign, while he also finished third in the Lexus Chase at Punchestown in what has been another consistent season so far.
If you are betting on the Cheltenham Festival this year, all 28 races have been priced up in advance. In many cases though, it is best to wait until the day of your race as there will be a flurry of promotions available as the competition is fierce throughout the week for the bookmakers who will be looking to tempt you in with their offers.