This week sees one of the biggest horse racing festivals of the year take place - the Cheltenham Festival.
Paul Darville, a horse racing enthusiast and Crystal Palace fan, gives some friendly guidance and some top tips ahead of the festival.
1. Why is the Cheltenham Festival such a big deal? It is the home of National Hunt racing, the famous Cheltenham roar which greets the first race of the meeting is a sign of the end of the anticipation and the continuous buzzing atmosphere that surrounds the entire 4 days from Tuesday 11th-Friday 14th March. The hill at the end claims many horses as fresher, stronger horses power up the hill to victory.
Tip: Horses with previous winning experience at the Cheltenham racecourse are horses to note, as not every horse finds it easy to get up the hill to the winning post.
2. The Big Races. Every race in the festival is built up throughout the Jumps Racing calendar beginning in October. The big races on each day are the Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase, the World Hurdle and the big one that is the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
3. The Prestbury Cup. The fun competition between the British and Irish contingents for who has the most winners has this year received a new trophy. The Irish raiders are mainly represented by Willie Mullins, who is bringing over a 50-strong string of horses to Cheltenham this year and is a cert to pick up the Top Trainer honours. Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson will be aiming to bounce back this year to attempt to reclaim the crown for the British, and both have big hopes in multiple races. The 10,000+ daily visitors from Ireland will be hoping for big successes, especially on “St Patricks Thursday” where the stands will be full of green!
4. The jockeys. If you have a passing interest in racing, you will have heard the names of AP (Tony McCoy) and Ruby Walsh. The best jumps jockeys of this current generation, Ruby is a big favourite to be top jockey for the 8th year out of 11, and has the pick of the Mullins horses to ride. Two jockeys to keep an eye out for are Sam Twiston-Davies and Bryan Cooper, who appear to be the future of the sport.
5. This year’s most anticipated race is the Champion Hurdle on the first day. It starts at 3.20pm and is run over 2 miles. British horses are represented by The New One and My Tent Or Yours who will be ridden by Tony McCoy. The Irish raiders are Hurricane Fly, Our Conor and Jezki. The story of this race is whether the new generation of hurdlers can finally defeat Hurricane Fly, a 2 time CH winner and World Record 19 time Grade 1 winner, who is trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh, who has the most wins at Cheltenham of any jockey.
6. The race following the Champion Hurdle offers a piece of history. Willie Mullins’ wondermare Quevega attempts to win the Mares Hurdle for the 6th time. Quevega may become the first horse to win the same race at the Festival 6 times, and has little competition.
7. This year’s Queen Mother Champion Chase is lacking the superstar power of Sprinter Sacre. Nicky Henderson’s horse is normally the Festival banker, but after suffering a heart scare in December, hasn’t taken to a racetrack since, and was ruled out of the festival at the end of February as the horse was in good condition, but not his usual elite self. The current favourite is Sire de Grugy, who on previous appearances is not of the same calibre as the previous winner.
8. Wednesday’s 4pm race is the Festivals’ quirky Cross Country Chase. A race that is as hard to follow from the stands as it is on the TV. This is the first year it has been shown live on Channel 4 on Festival Day and is one to watch as horses race 3 times around the centre of the track over various obstacles before eventually finding their way on to the straight and finishing along the usual home straight.
9. Thursday’s big race is the World Hurdle. Returning from an injury absence in 2013 is Big Bucks, renowned as the best staying hurdler of all time. He is up against another of Willie Mullins’ Irish team, Annie Power. A mare that could have defeated Quevega if it had lined up in the Mares Race, and looks to be the next big thing by being touted as a future Gold Cup horse. Big Bucks’ previous 4 wins at Cheltenham were all ridden by Ruby Walsh, who will now be riding the young pretender, whereas the older Big Bucks is being ridden for only the 2nd time by likely future Champion Jockey Sam Twiston-Davies. At Fishers Cross is a threat to both on his day and is being ridden by McCoy, who defeated Big Bucks at Cheltenham in his comeback race in January.
10. This years’ Cheltenham Gold Cup has 3 lead competitors in the market. Bobs Worth was a comfortable winner last year, and is favourite to do so again. Silviniaco Conti was travelling well before falling three fences from the finish, and has looked an improved horse this season. Last Instalment returned in January from a two year layoff and is highly fancied by the Irish as a potential winner. His trainer is currently under investigation for anabolic steroid possession , which had thrown doubts over his participation in the race but his Owners are confident he will run.
THREE tips to win:
The New One (3/1 available), Tuesday 3.20 – A horse that knows what it takes to win at Cheltenham, winning its last 2 appearances here. Trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies and jockeyed by his son Sam, TNO is the biggest threat to Hurricane Fly’s crown in a race that has been anticipated all season long.
Balthazar King, Wednesday 4.00 (11/2) – A previous winner of the Cross Country at the Festival, and a 2-time Cheltenham winner this season. The drier the ground, the better Balthazar King will run, and the weather forecast will have his Connections happier about committing the horse to compete this week.
Calipto, Friday 1.30 (5/1) – 2 comfortable wins under his belt this season, and Paul Nicholls has been very confident in his young Triumph Hurdle hope in what looks a race with lesser quality competition than usual.
Gold Cup Selection: The Giant Bolster (each-way) (16/1 available) – Has won at Cheltenham as recently as January. The Giant Bolster is a horse that can run forever, and will be there at the end of the race to pick up the pieces. If the ground is testing, then the horse has a good chance.
TOP TIP for Crystal Palace fans!!
Kings Palace (3/1 available) – The class horse in the Albert Bartlett, Kings Palace has 2 wins at Cheltenham by a combined 32 lengths form this season. The big threat comes from Ireland in Briar Hill, but Kings Palace will love the drying ground.
Longshots to look out for: Vieux Lion Rouge (multiple entries, likely Fri 4.40), Salubrious (Thurs 2.40), Tranquil Sea (Thurs 4.40) and Mozoltov (multiple entries, likely Thurs 1.30).
Day One Tips:
1.30 Wicklow Brave e/w
2.05 Champagne Fever
2.40 Vintage Star e/w
3.20 The New One
4.00 Cockney Sparrow
Follow Paul on twitter @cpfcpatriot for updates throughout the festival.