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Although there are many lucrative meetings at weekends and during the festive season within the national hunt calendar, it is the mid-March Cheltenham Festival which is regarded as the annual championships with featured horses trained to achieve peak fitness for the four-day highlight of the jumping season.
Until 2005, the Cheltenham fixture had traditionally been a three-day midweek meeting attracting thousands of spectators from Ireland. Then a fourth day was introduced for the Friday with the Irish still arriving at the racecourse in numbers, but with more punters from various parts of England now converging on the Cotswolds as they are captivated by the extra publicity and betting opportunities available.
Quite often, the arrival of the festival often coincides with the first signs of Spring weather, although snow has sometimes fallen on the racecourse, but what actually will be awaiting the punters on each day of the 2017 meeting….
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Latest Betting News
21st February 2017: Thistlecrack Withdrawn From Gold Cup Due to Injury
Another entry was added to list of high-profile absentees from the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup when favourite Thistlecrack was ruled out of action for the rest of the season when he was diagnosed with a slight tendon tear after a veterinary examination. He joins former winners Coneygree and Don Cossack on the sidelines.
Thistlecrack had created such a good impression when winning the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day to complete a fourth victory in as many attempts over fences, but his narrow defeat behind the ill-fated Many Clouds at Cheltenham last month suggested that the 3m2f distance of the Gold Cup could expose the gelding.
Many Clouds had demonstrated the superior stamina in that race in soft ground although Thistlecrack did win the World Hurdle over three miles on a better surface at last season’s festival.
It is a blow for the Colin Tizzard stable, but he could still saddle three representatives in the Gold Cup with Native River and Cue Card both well supported for this race, and they are set to be joined by Theatre Guide who won a handicap chase back in December at Cheltenham.
- 21st February: Cue Card looks to be favourite for the Gold Cup after Thistlecrack’s withdrawal
- 12th February: Sizing John Becomes a Cheltenham Contender After Irish Gold Cup glory
- 12th February: Altior and Native River consolidate their Cheltenham claims with Newbury victories
- 5th February: Buveur D’air and Top Notch Stake Cheltenham Claims as Douvan Canters to Another Victory
- 30th January: Thistlecrack Defeat Is Overshadowed By Death Of Many Clouds
A quick overview of each day. Click the links for detailed race previews and extended coverage of each day of the festival.
As per every day during the week, racing begins at 1.30pm and the Supreme Novice Hurdle opens proceedings with the two-mile novice chasers competing in the Arkle trophy thereafter. Yet the feature race of the afternoon is the Champion Hurdle which could feature the previous two winners of the coveted prize with Irish raiders Faugheen and Annie Power hoping to be among the entrants alongside the English challengers.
The two-mile Queen Mother Champion Chase dominates the second day of the festival and who can forget Sprinter Sacre regaining his crown last season after a health scare interrupted his previously successful career. The gelding has now been retired but Irish horse Douvan will be hoping to add this prize to his Arkle victory from 2016.
Racegoers on Thursday will be deprived of the opportunity of watching last season’s winners of the Ryanair Chase and World Hurdle defend their crowns, with the sad death during training of Vautour, allowing for an open contest in the former race. The three-mile World Hurdle was won last March by the impressive Thistlecrack who is now being aimed at the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and those horses deemed unsuited by the shorter distance hurdle races may be primed for this race.
Although the final day of the meeting begins with two novice hurdle races, the Gold Cup is arguably the most prestigious contest of the four-day festival and the National Hunt season. Both 2015 winner Coneygree and 2016 conqueror Don Cossack are out from illness and injury and unable claim the crown once again, so there will be a strong challenge from the Colin Tizzard stable plus several capable horses from Ireland with the reliable Djakadam set to reappear.
Trainers to Note
Willie Mullins – The Irish trainer saddled the winners of seven races at the 2016 festival which was one fewer than his performance in 2015, but his stable has suffered from the withdrawal of horses from the Michael O’Leary Gigginstown House Stud, and he may not dominate the racing as in previous years.
Gordon Elliott and Henry De Bromhead – Both Irish trainers among others have benefited from the Gigginstown transfer of horses with Elliott now providing a serious challenge to Mullins as the champion trainer in the Emerald Isle.
Paul Nicholls – He began the current season with a flourish and has maintained his reputation as a good Saturday trainer with many winners among the televised races. However, the current UK Champion Trainer has not been so successful in recent seasons at Cheltenham with Kauto Star, Denman and Big Bucks among his more famous previous stars at the meeting.
Nicky Henderson – He produced one of the greatest ever training performances when saddling Sprinter Sacre to win last season’s Champion Chase and can usually win some prizes at this meeting especially with his novices, and Altior has emerged as potentially his most promising young chaser.
Colin Tizzard – The West Country Trainer was hoping that Cue Card would win the chasing triple crown last season when his star horse won the Betfair Chase at Haydock and the Kempton King George only to fall in the Gold Cup. Tizzard now has both Thistlecrack and Welsh National winner Native River lined up as potential Cheltenham winners among others in his stable.
Tony Martin – The shrewd Irish trainer rarely wins any of the most prestigious races at the meeting, but tends to focus on the big handicaps and can usually win some useful prize money.
Factors To Take Into Account When Betting On The Festival
Ground conditions – During mid-March, there is often a tendency for underfoot conditions to be much easier than during the depths of winter. ‘Good’ ground often prevails and this does not always suit horses campaigned with success in the mud (‘soft’) during the preceding months.
The famous Cheltenham hill – The final two furlongs of each race features a stiff uphill finish with horses racing successfully at less undulating circuits such as Newbury and Haydock not necessarily suited by the demands of this track. Horses which have won previously at Cheltenham should be noted.
The Bookies – There is so much competition among the bookmakers, even on the High Street, that it pays to watch the offers available. Money back when the favourite wins is one to note especially with several odds-on favourites winning in recent seasons from the Willie Mullins yard. For anybody wishing to use Ladbrokes or William Hill in Cheltenham town centre, it is worth bearing in mind that these shops can become very busy during lunchtimes of festival week.