The 2017 Cheltenham Festival will take place between the 14th and 18th March. The Festival always brings about big betting with £600 million pounds expected to change hands during the 28 scheduled races.
With the Festival just over a week away, now is as good a time as any to take a look at some of the feature races and come up with a few pointers…
Day One – Champion Day
The twelve month wait and the anticipation is over as the tapes rise for race one of The Festival as the stands resonate from the famous Cheltenham roar.
The first day of The Cheltenham Festival features the most important hurdle race of the season, the Champion Hurdle, won in 2016 by Annie Power.
She scored in a course record time of 3m 45.10s, eclipsing the previous record of 3m 45.25s set by Jezki in 2014 and became the first mare since Flakey Dove in 1994 to win the Champion Hurdle and only the fourth in the race’s history.
Annie Power is sadly unable to defend her title this year so the race has a brand new look to it. So who are the main contenders?
- Buveur D’Air is a sizeable six-year-old with a big engine and he jumps his hurdles quickly and with ease.
- Brain Power put himself in the mix when bolting up in the Ascot Hurdle just before Christmas.
- Yanworth has won both his starts this season, the latest being the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton when beating The New One.
- Petit Mouchoir’s Irish Champion Hurdle victory puts him in with a big chance of making it a double here.
- Limini beat Apple’s Jade in a Listed event at Punchestown last Wednesday and she may well be rerouted to this race.
- My Tent Or Yours saves his best for Cheltenham and has been the runner-up in the Supreme Novices’ and two Champion Hurdles.
Day Two – Ladies Day
Wednesday is Ladies Day, which gives you an opportunity to enjoy the very best in jump racing as well as dressing up in all your finery to join in with the fashionable crowd of racegoers. Mustard coloured trousers with a tweed jacket anyone?
The feature race today is the Queen Mother Champion Chase and entered is the jumping machine they call Douvan. He will head to Cheltenham having won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Arkle on his last two visits to the Festival.
He has won his last thirteen outings and in the last two seasons, no horse has been within seven lengths of him when he has scooted past the winning post.
Horses with the unenviable task of trying to lower Douvan’s colours are as follows:
Colin Tizzard’s Fox Norton will line up in this race looking for a fourth successive win in a row around Cheltenham. Sire De Grugy won this back in 2014 as an eight-year-old but it is a big ask for him now at the age of eleven.
Special Tiara won the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton’s Christmas Festival this year. He will more than likely take on the field from the front but one suspects he will be a sitting duck for Douvan coming to the final few fences.
God’s Own beat the mighty Vautour twice last season and must come into each-way calculations.
Day Three – St Patrick’s Thursday
St Patrick’s Day comes a day early to The Festival – any excuse to do it all again tomorrow don’t you think?
There will be plenty of Guinness available, Irish music to lift the spirits and all the action on the race track, including the two big races The Stayers’ Hurdle and the Ryanair Chase.
As is often the case in the Ryanair Chase plenty of the horses entered have other race options at the Festival and it is hard to be certain about the exact field until much nearer the day.
With the Paddy Power Cheltenham Offer of NRNB (non-runner no bet) on all the races at the Cheltenham Festival you do not have to worry about any late switching of horses by their trainers.
Uxizandre has put in most of his career best performances at Cheltenham, second in the JLT in 2014, before winning a listed race there. Un De Sceaux has won both his starts this season, just getting home at Sandown before a good display at Cheltenham last time out.
Empire Of Dirt won the handicap chase run over the Ryanair trip at last year’s Festival and his recent three quarters of a length beating by Sizing John was great form.
The Stayers’ Hurdle sees Unowhatimeanharry hoping to emulate the modern-day greats like Big Buck’s, Inglis Drever and Thistlecrack. He has won all his eight starts for Harry Fry and is going to take some stopping.
Shaneshill fell at Christmas but bounced back well with a good jumping performance to win the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park last time out.
Cole Harden tried to give Unowhatimeanharry a race in the Cleeve Hurdle and will be much better suited by the ground this time around.
Day Four – Gold Cup Day
The climax of the entire Jump racing season is the Cheltenham Gold Cup; the highlight of arguably the best day’s racing of the year, with an atmosphere to match. If you can’t get excited about this one then it’s surely time to take up knitting.
In an ever-changing and developing Gold Cup market, Cue Card now holds favouritism. The eleven-year-old looked sure to make his presence felt in last year’s Festival feature before crashing out at the third-last fence. If Cue Card could lift the Gold Cup on what will be his sixth Festival appearance, there would be little left for him to achieve and his retirement would be pretty much instantaneous.
Native River, also trained by Colin Tizzard, has already won the Hennessy Gold Cup and the Welsh Grand National this season. Not only is he an out-and-out stayer but he also has a little bit of pace about him.
Djakadam has twice finished second in the Gold Cup, first in 2015 to Coneygree and then last year to Don Cossack, both of whom he won’t be meeting on this occasion. He’s a big player once again for Willie Mullins who surprisingly has still not managed to train a Gold Cup winner.