Every year come mid-March, the eyes of the racing world point towards what is the biggest National Hunt festival of the year, an exciting and nervous occasion for all involved. The Cheltenham roar has become a symbol of the atmosphere and excitement that the week of racing represents. Come the raising of the tape on day 1 that atmosphere and anticipation will come to a climax for punters and connections alike.
The action begins on Tuesday 11th March (Champions Day), with three Grade 1 races, one Grade 2 race and one Grade 3 race for punters to indulge over. We will take a look a look at a few of the faces that will be held one day one and what we can expect to come from the line ups and betting propositions:
The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (1.30pm)
The first race of the day is the Grade 1 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle race, which is raced over 2 miles ½ furlongs and is looking as competitive as ever but after Paul Nicholls’ Irving enigmatic victory on Saturday he has jumped into 3/1 favourite as he looks to follow in the footsteps of last year’s winner Champagne Fever, who battled off challenges to win under Ruby Walsh for Willie Mullins. The main challenge is expected to come from Vautour, where last year’s winning combination aim to strike again. The Irish have a great record in this race and they have many strong contenders yet again this year.
The Arkle Chase (2.05pm)
The Arkle Challenge Trophy is a Grade 1 Steeplechase run over 2 miles which is open to horses aged five years or older. The course tests a horse’s jumping capabilities, is a great spectacle to watch and is the leading minimum-distance chase for novices in the National Hunt calendar. The market is headed by last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Champagne Fever (10/3) and could get Ruby Walsh off to a Cheltenham double. This would then stand him in very good stead for the Cheltenham Top Jockey’s award for which he is priced at 4/7. Thirteen out of the last fourteen winners had a rating of 142 and over and five of these were the highest rated hurdler in the race, this is a stat that is worth bearing in mind before placing your bet. Other worthy competitors include Dodging Bullets (6/1), Rock On Ruby (6/1), and Trifolium (11/2) who all have a great chance.
The Champion Hurdle (3.20pm)
The Champion Hurdle is the most famous race on the first day, it is run over 2 miles ½ furlongs with the winner taking in excess of £200,000 in prize money. Entries must be over 4 years old and the race brings together the best two mile hurdlers in the sport, in what is billed to be a fantastic display with the racing world greatly divided in opinion between Hurricane “The Fly” Fly (3/1), The New One (3/1), Our Connor (9/2) and My Tent Or Yours (9/2), all adding complicated pieces to the betting puzzle. Within that quartet they all have solid Cheltenham form and will be a fascinating affair.
Hurricane Fly will be aiming to join a select band of just five horses to have won The Champion Hurdle on three occasions which include Istabraq, Hatton’s Grace, Sir Ken, Persian War and See You Then. Hurricane Fly would also become the oldest winner since Sea Pigeon won in 1981 at the age of 11.
OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (4.00pm)
The David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle is a Grade 2 race over two and a half miles restricted to mares only and has been dominated by Quevega in recent years and bids for title number 6, being a best price 10/11 for victory. There will undoubtedly be some free bets and specials run by bookmakers on the day and you can expect to see Quevega amongst many punters coupons for the day and the festival. Next best in the betting is Annie Power at 6/1 with Paddy Power but with Willie Mullins being coy over where he will run her (entered over three races during the festival), it would only be wise having a bet using a bookmakers "Non Runner No Bet" offer. Quevega had to work through the field last year to claim success but we can’t see past another victory and she is already involved in several of our ante post bets.
We have been asked by several people if we will be doing our highly successful Cheltenham Blog from the past two years and the answer is yes we will be doing it! Members will receive a blog password the evening before each day of the festival with the blog being opened for public viewing on 10am of race day.
For those that are lucky enough to be travelling to the Cotswolds for any part of the week, have a great time!