Four days of championship National Hunt racing gets underway at Cheltenham on Tuesday March 12th for the annual festival – a celebration of the best jumpers and hurdlers of the UK and Ireland, all doing battle to win the prestigious races they have been primed for across the 2019 National Hunt season.
Here we look at the four days racing, picking out some of the top races and the star names running, in their quest to go down in racing folklore of being named a Cheltenham winner:
TUESDAY – CHAMPION HURDLE
The opening day of the Cheltenham Festival is always an exciting one, getting underway with the Supreme Novices Hurdle. But the highlight of the day is without doubt the Champion Hurdle, bringing the best 2 mile hurdlers together to determine who will be crowned Champion of this discipline. Favourite going into the race is defending Champion Buveur D’Air (pictured above) – Nicky Henderson’s charge will be ridden by Barry Geraghty, and it was this duo who won the 2018 renewal holding off the spirited challenge of Melon, who again tries his luck to go one better. But the main challengers this year will come in the form of Apples Jade and Laurina – the latter so far unbeaten in all her starts and will have the benefit of a weight allowance for being a mare. The race would seem to be between these three, although there could well be a surprise from the supporting cast as to who makes the frame.
WEDNESDAY – QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE
One race – and one horse – will dominate proceedings on the Wednesday of the Cheltenham Festival – the mighty Altior (pictured above). Bidding to win his third successive 2 mile Champion Chase and unbeaten in all of his 17 starts under NH rules to date, it seems only the fences stand between him and history. Of his rivals only Min and, on his best form, Politologue, look capable of making Altior break sweat…but this is Cheltenham and anything is possible. It will be interesting to see whether 2018 Grand National winner Tiger Roll can repeat his success in the Cross Country race the one after the Queen Mother….but all eyes will be on Altior….and a fair few pound notes also.
THURSDAY – RYANAIR CHASE
Whilst maybe not having a true blue riband race to showcase, Thursday will still be another exciting days racing, with the Ryanair Chase, and then the Stayers Hurdle being the main two contests of the day. In the Ryanair, it is a highly competitive field with Irish challenger Footpad likely to go off favourite – but with the likes of Un De Sceaux, Monalee, Road to Respect and Frodon, ridden by rising sensation lady jockey Bryony Frost – it will be a race we wont know the winner of until one crosses the line. The Stayers Hurdle may not have the big names in it like Big Bucks any more, but Faugheen will be there to challenge favourite Paisley Park for the title.
FRIDAY – CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP
And so we reach Friday….livers and wallets allowing…and Gold Cup day. This is, arguably, THE race of the National Hunt season, where we crown the Champion chaser over a testing 3 miles 2 furlongs and 20 odd stiff fences on the famous undulating Cheltenham track. Some of the most famous racehorses of all time have won this race and etched themselves in racing immortality….Golden Miller, Arkle, Desert Orchid, Best Mate, Denman and of course Kauto Star (pictured above) amongst them. In 2018 it was Native River, under Richard Johnson who prevailed after an almighty battle with Might Bite and the two square off again this year….but impressive King George winner Clan Des Obeaux along with Irish raiders Presenting Percy and Kemboy also line up, with a host of other brilliant horses all in with a realistic chance of success. It could be the race of the week and a fantastic way to conclude what is bound to be a thrilling weeks racing.