It is hard to quantify in sheer words and anecdotes, but for horse racing fans and punters the second week of March is traditionally the finest of the year. That is when the Cheltenham Festival is held; four days of explosive equine action and millions of pounds wagered across the globe.
If knowledge is power then allow this guide to be your Kryptonite; bookmark this page and allow it to guide you through proceedings, which kick off on Tuesday March 14.
Day 1: Tuesday March 14 – Champion Day
What a way to kickstart the festivities. The feature race here is the Champion Hurdle (3:20pm) sponsored by Stan James, but an eye-popping card also includes the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (1:30pm), the Arkle Trophy (1:05pm) and the Mares’ Hurdle (4pm).
Altior provided the first shock of Cheltenham Festival 2016 when overcoming the much-fancied Min in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 12 months ago, and this year’s renewal looks a much more open affair. The fantastically-named Melon is the tentative ante-post favourite at 4/1, although the major market mover has been Neon Wolf, into 8s from 12s.
Altior will switch his attention to the Arkle Trophy this time around, and at 1/3 it is hard to make a case for him being denied successive victories on the Cheltenham turf. Yorkhill (5/1) is a decent enough chaser but not quite in the class of Nicky Henderson’s steed.
Vroum Vroum Mag (6/4) has already won the Mares’ Hurdle double, having triumphed at Cheltenham 12 months ago and Ascot in January, ad her connections will be seeking a hat-trick next week. Apples Jade (11/4) will provide worthy competition.
But it is the Champion Hurdle that headlines Tuesday’s card, and we may yet see Vroum Vroum Mag make a dramatic switch to this race in the same vein as Willie Mullins yard stablemate Annie Power did a year ago. Others very much worthy of consideration here are the favourite, Yanworth (7/2), and Yorkhill (4/1).
Day 2: Wednesday March 15 – Ladies Day
Wednesday is Ladies Day, and we can expect some fine fillies to be in attendance on both sides of the rails.
Proceedings commence with the Neptune Novices Hurdle, but business really picks up with the RSA Chase, a three-mile trek that often acts as a fantastic precursor to the Grand National. Powerhouse Might Bite (7/2) has taken all of the early money, although Royal Vacation (in from 18s to 12s) is clearly well fancied in the market.
The focal point of Ladies Day is the Queen Mother Champion Chase, where some of the finest chasers in the business look set to do battle. The likes of Douvan, Altior and Sire De Grugy are all listed on the preliminary racecard, so keep your eyes peeled as to who makes the final grade.
Day 3: Thursday March 16 – St Patrick’s Day
Guinness and betting….what’s not to love? St Patrick’s Day at the Cheltenham Festival becomes a shrine to the black stuff and a pretty decent location for punting too, with a number of standout races on the card.
The JLT Novices’ Hurdle kicks things off, and this is an excellent starting point given the quality of former winners. The likes of Vautour, Black Hercules and Sir Des Champs have all taken the honours here, and so it is a identifier of outstanding potential. As such, outstanding young horses including the aforementioned Yorkhill and Might Bite are in contention for a start here.
The feature is the Ryanair Chase, claimed in commanding fashion 12 months ago by the unstoppable Vautour. This 2m 5f jaunt can be the making of a horse, with Imperial Commander and Cue Card also former Ryanair winners, and that’s why a glittering array of potential starters have been pencilled, rather than inked, in: Un De Sceaux, Sizing John, Josses Hill, Vroum Vroum Mag and even Douvan. Wait for the supplementations before getting involved with this one.
Day 4: Friday March 17 – Gold Cup Day
Friday is the culmination of the festival and features perhaps the jewel in the crown of the whole meeting: the Gold Cup.
Fortunes have been made and hearts broken in this 3m 2f jolly, which in 2017 will be sponsored by Betfred. Connections of Cue Card had their hopes dashed 12 months ago when their favourite crashed to the turf when well placed three out, and a certain amount of redemption is being sought this time around by the 3/1 favourite.
Strong competition is expected from Djakadam, Don Poli and quite possibly Native River, the Welsh Grand National and Hennessy Gold Cup Chase winner. His connections are seemingly still uncertain which race to enter him into, but at 4/1 he represents outstanding ante post value for punters seeking Gold Cup glory.