Cheltenham Festival Betting Tips – 13th to 16th March 2018

The moment so many of you have been waiting for has almost arrived. The Cheltenham Festival kicks off on Tuesday and there are several high quality races to look forward to on the opening day alone. It’s a day that boasts over £1m in prize money and for the first time ever, this is something that will apply to every single day of the Festival.

Day One

The race that gets everything underway and is greeted by the famous Cheltenham roar, is the Grade 1 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Often featuring a busy field, this race has crowned some top class winners in recent years such as Douvan in 2015 and Altior in 2016. Following this event, there is the two mile Arkle which provides novice chasers with a huge stage on which to impress. It’s another race that has recently been won by Douvan and Altior, both of them winning the race a year after their success in the Supreme Novices’

The Champion Hurdle, the most prestigious hurdle race of the entire season, marks the halfway point in the day. The 2016 renewal saw its first mare winner since 1994 when Annie Power was first past the line. This year looks like seeing the boys on top though with Buveur d’Air the odds on favourite and the NAP of the week for many pundits. The final Grade 1 of the day is the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle. It’s a rather new addition to the Festival, introduced in 2008, and one that was won on an incredible six consecutive occasions by the Willie Mullins-trained Quevega.

  • Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – Samcro (13/8 at Betfred)
  • Arkle Challenge Trophy – Footpad (11/8 at Betfair)
  • Champion Hurdle – Buveur d’Air (8/15 at Coral)
  • OLBG Mares’ Hurdle – Lets’ Dance (8/1 at Ladbrokes)

1:30pm – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1), 2m 87y

Willie Mullins has enjoyed a fair amount of success in this race (though in truth you can say that about almost every race at the Festival!), saddling five winners since 1995 and it’s his horse who narrowly leads the betting for this renewal. The unbeaten Getabird won emphatically over this distance during a Grade 2 at Punchestown in December. Forced to miss Cheltenham last year due to injury, the six-year-old will be looking to make up for lost time on what will be just his fifth career start.

Also coming into this race unbeaten is Samcro, whose record reads six wins from six including three over the hurdles. While initially taking on the hurdles at a low class, he has since won at both Grade 3 and Grade 1 making him a standout contender here. He boasts the highest Official Rating and Racing Post Rating and we should get the chance to see why come Tuesday afternoon.

Kalashnikov’s only disappointing shift over hurdles came in heavy conditions at Sandown and less boggy ground will be to his advantage. On soft going or firmer he’s often looked impressive. It’s important not to look too much into his Betfair Hurdle victory last month however as no Betfair Hurdle winners have won this race in the last 10 years.

Samcro to win – 13/8 at Betfred

2:10pm – Arkle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1), 1m 7f 199y

There are four genuine contenders left in contention to become the next Arkle winner. Footpad is the most fancied from them all having won three consecutive races this season. His last two starts have seen him win comfortably at Leopardstown during Grade 1 contests and he appears to have hit form at just the right time. With the last eight Arkle winners all having won last time out, this is good news for the six-year-old, his connections and his many backers.

Unable to secure a win last time out was Petit Mouchoir who was five lengths behind Footpad at Leopardstown. It’s hard to know if this was just a one off performance as he hadn’t featured for 108 days prior to that contest. He won a low class event easily on his seasonal debut but at odds of around 9/4, it’s hard to justify sticking money on him with little to show this season.

Saint Calvados has the form but his age is a concern. There hasn’t been a five-year-old winner since 2006 and this race is a big step up for him. He may have collected a Grade 2 win last month but in a weak field of four runners, anything less would have been a disappointment. Finally there is Brain Power who unseated his rider in December and then fell in January. With a record like this, Nicky Henderson’s horse looks best avoided here given the odds.

Footpad to win – 11/8 at Betfair

3:30pm – Champion Hurdle (Grade 1), 2m 87y

The question in this race is whether anyone can stop Buveur d’Air who won this race stylishly last year. The odds-on favourite hasn’t tailed off since his success 12 months ago, winning the following four races and extending his unbeaten streak to nine. He didn’t win at Sandown anywhere near as comfortably as expected last month but the 1/16 favourite was clearly taking it easy and will have far more to offer here.

It looks as though Faugheen will be let loose in this race with Willie Mullins pleased with the way he has been looking in training. This is his first Festival appearance since winning this race three years ago, hit by a string of injuries since. Unfortunately it looks as though the 10-year-old’s past problems have hit his ability and a return to his peak looks very unlikely. Beaten fairly comfortably on his last outing, he no longer looks like having what’s required to challenge this year’s favourite.

A year older than Faugheen is My Tent or Yours who isn’t entered for any other race at the Festival. There hasn’t been a winner older than a nine-year-old since 1956 let alone 11-years-old, however, so age looks set to rule the Nicky Henderson runner out. Then there is Yorkhill who has had a season to forget so far, not even challenging on his two appearance of the campaign. It could just be a case of him blowing hot and cold but there’s no guarantee he’ll blow hot here and as such we simply cannot look past the favourite.

Buveur D’Air to win – 8/15 at Coral

4:10pm – OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1), 2m 3f 200y

Apple’s Jade has seen her odds shorten for this race following the recent retirement of Vroum Vroum Mag. With one main challenger out of the way, Apple’s Jade could well be set for back to back victories in this race. She’s been in fine form this season, winning all three starts including two at this distance. The six-year-old is entered for the Champion Hurdle and Stayers’ Hurdle but it looks very likely that she’ll be given the chance to defend her Mares’ Hurdle crown.

Willie Mullins will be out to spoil the party for Apple’s Jade however as he saddles both the second and third favourite in the ante post market. There is the well-regarded Benie Des Dieux who has only featured three times since switching stables in 2016. She has won on all three occasions but this lack of experience could prove to be telling as could her lack of success at graded level.

Offering more appeal is former Festival winner Let’s Dance, who breezed past the field during a Grade 3 at Leopardstown over this distance in December. She didn’t enjoy herself on her most recent test but the heavy ground and increased trip clearly were not to her liking. Back at the two and a half mile mark, she looks to stand a real chance of besting Apple’s Jade providing the ground at Cheltenham isn’t too soft.

Let’s Dance to win – 8/1 at William Hill

Day Two

Day two of the Cheltenham Festival looks set to provide plenty of excitement with several high class races in store. First up is the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, formerly known as the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle, one of four races boasting Grade 1 status on Wednesday. Willie Mullins has saddled two of the last four winners and he’s got a whole host of entries this time around as he looks to improve his record.

Following this race is the RSA Chase which has proven to be somewhat of a breeding ground for eventual Gold Cup winners. Last to win the Gold Cup after RSA Chase success was Lord Windermere in 2014 but Might Bite could well be the latest addition come Friday. Also designed to aid the progress of future jumpers is the Champion Bumper, the only flat race (under NH rules) to take place during the entire Festival. It’s the most prestigious of its kind to feature all season and has helped kick-start the career of some fine horses such as Florida Peal and Cue Card.

The showpiece of day two is of course the Queen Mother Champion Chase. This year sees the return of Douvan whose fractured pelvis saw him manage just a seventh place finish in this race 12 months ago. He faces a highly anticipated showdown with Altior who has undergone some treatment himself this season. It’s the top minimum distance chase of the season and one you simply do not want to miss.

  • Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle – On The Blind Side (6/1 at Coral)
  • RSA Novices’ Chase – Black Cotton (15/2 at Betfair)
  • Queen Mother Champion Chase – Altior (8/11 at Betfair)
  • Champion Bumper – Tornado Flyer (10/1 at Ladbrokes)

1:30pm – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1), 2m 5f 26y

It’ll be interesting to see whether Samcro runs here or in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. It could go either way but if Gordon Elliot fancies him for this test then he looks set to be the race favourite after making a strong start to his hurdles career. He’s won all three of his tests so far with ease including a Grade 3 over two and a half miles. An extra furlong this time won’t be an issue as he didn’t look at all short of energy over the slightly shorter trip.

Next Destination also has another alternative for the Festival in Friday’s Albert Bartlett, but Mullins did say earlier in the year that this race was the aim. The six-year-old has certainly impressed over two and half miles, claiming two graded victories either side of the New Year. With Mullins the leading trainer in this race, he’s one you want to keep a keen eye on especially if the ground is on the boggier side as has been anticipated in some quarters.

If the ground is more towards good to soft, which some other early predictions are saying, then On The Blind Side should be favoured. It’s this race or nothing for Nicky Henderson’s horse who has clearly had this event in mind ever since his bay gelding claimed a course and distance win in November. He’s gone from strength to strength in his three performances so far and even more is expected from the six-year-old this time out.

On The Blind Side to win – 6/1 at Coral

2:10pm – RSA Novices’ Chase (Grade 1), 3m 80y

The finishing post came too soon for Presenting Percy at Gowran Park last month as he was unable to wear out the winner, Our Duke, despite the testing conditions. A step back up to three miles should suit as it’s over this trip where he won the John Mulhern Galmoy Hurdle so comfortably. Adding to his claim here is that the seven-year-old is a former Festival winner, crowned Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle victor 12 months ago.

Very close behind in the betting is Henry De Bromhead’s Monalee who suffered a surprise fall just before the turn of the New Year. Given another try at Leopardstown just over a month later, the seven-year-old took on the fences without issue to claim victory in the competitive Flogas Novice Chase. With the fences at Cheltenham particularly stiff though, you do wonder if he’ll be able to manage another smooth performance over the obstacles.

Black Cotton’s record at Cheltenham makes him an appealing option given his price. He’s twice won on the Old Course this season and both by comfortable margins despite not being the favourite. Both ground versatile and a sound jumper, Paul Nicholls’ brown gelding certainly catches the eye. With no other entries elsewhere during the week either, it seems wise to get your money on him quick before his odds shorten even more.

Black Cotton to win – 15/2 at Betfair

3:30pm – Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1), 1m 7f 199y

Douvan was originally ruled out for the season due to intermittent lameness but he’s recovered far quicker than expected and is reportedly in great form right now. If he can return to his former greatness then he’ll stand a fantastic chance at winning this race on the second attempt. It wouldn’t be the first time a talented horse has been caught out on their first start after a lengthy break though. He’s certainly not poorly valued at 9/2 (Ladbrokes) but the lack of market confidence suggests he’s unlikely to hit top form.

Altior has had troubles of his own, undergoing wind surgery in November but the procedure was a success and he showed no signs of being hindered by it last month. Given a run out at Newbury, the eight-year-old won comfortably although there were only two other runners involved. While the winning margin of four lengths is the shortest he’s managed since November 2015, Nico de Boinville clearly wasn’t pushing Altior to his limits. He’s now unbeaten in his last 12 starts and last year’s Arkle champion looks set for more Festival success this time around.

Min was seven lengths behind Altior two years ago during the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle but Willie Mullins’ horse has improved since then. He wasn’t at his best just after Christmas when losing to Simply Ned at Leopardstown but made amends when beating him by 12 lengths early last month. It was the perfect pre-Festival performance but at odds of 11/4 (Betfred), there’s not enough value having a gamble on the seven-year-old.

Altior to win – 8/11 at Betfair

5:30pm – Champion Bumper (Grade 1), 2m 87y

Following the trends is your best option of finding the winner in this intensely competitive bumper. All but two of the last 25 champions won last time out and 19 of them were Irish bred. Seventeen of them in this time came from the top six in the betting although the favourite has won only one of the last 10. Be wary of backing a horse with more than three NH flat starts but give extra weight to those with a distance win as this had been present among the last six champions.

Ticking all of these boxes is Felix Desjy who is set to make his first start on British soil. He’s impressed in Ireland this season although his two victories were at a low level. It would be a surprise to see him completely caught by the higher standard here but better options are available. One of which is Rhinestone who was close to a Grade 2 victory last month. Had he not given himself so much work to do following the halfway point, the six-year-old could have perhaps pipped Blackbow to the line.

Blackbow is also set to feature here and his Grade 2 success at Leopardstown has made him the early favourite. His trainer, the inimitable Willie Mullins, has an impressive record in this race but the poor recent history of the favourites is a concern. At just 5/1 (Betfair), it’s hard to say he’s worth the gamble. You should be more persuaded by stablemate Tornado Flyer whose price has dropped significantly following the withdrawal of Hollowgraphic. He won well on his debut at Fairyhouse, edging out Gordon Elliot’s Getaway John and further progress is expected from the five-year-old.

Tornado Flyer to win – 10/1 at Ladbrokes

Day Three

Thursday brings us into the second half of the Cheltenham Festival and it’s the JLT Novices’ Chase that gets the day underway. Having been introduced in 2011, it’s one of the most recent addition to the Festival’s schedule. Willie Mullins has wasted no time stamping his authority on it, saddling four of the seven winners including each of the last three.

The Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle is the race that follows and it’s been a great one for big returns over the years. Between 2004 and 2013, every winner was priced at least 14/1 with two horses claiming victory at 50/1. This is quite the contrast to the Ryanair Chase which has seen the favourite or second favourite win seven of the last nine renewals. The Grade 1 contest welcomes back reigning champion Un De Sceaux who will look to join Albertas Run as the only double winner of the race.

Marking the halfway point in the day’s action is the Stayers’ Hurdle which sees horses take on 12 hurdles over a distance of three miles. Stamina is a must especially with the going expected to be soft at Cheltenham on Thursday. It’s a race that was famously won by Big Buck’s on four consecutive occasions between 2009 and 2012, a record likely to stand for some time.

  • JLT Novices’ Chase – Modus (15/2 at Coral)
  • Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle – Tommy Rapper – each way (16/1 at Coral)
  • Ryanair Chase – Un De Sceaux (6/4 at Betfred)
  • Stayers’ Hurdle – Sam Spinner (9/2 at Betfair)

1:30pm – JLT Novices’ Chase (Grade 1), 2m 3f 198y

With Footpad seemingly heading towards the Arkle and Monalee set for the RSA Chase, this will really shake up the betting for Thursday’s opening race. Invitation Only (7/2, Betfair) will find himself leading the field despite finishing third last time out, one place behind stablemate Al Boum Photo (10/1, Ladbrokes). Only a head separated the Mullins pair at Leopardstown during the Flogas Chase however and if Invitation Only can avoid any mistakes this time then you’d fancy him to turn the tables.

Mullins has a fantastic record in this event but it is rare for a horse to win here having not finished in the top two last time out. Terrefort (6/1, BetVictor) was victorious in his last appearance, impressing on his Grade 1 debut to win at Sandown over this distance. This performance has put him in real contention here although the trends in this race say his lack of Cheltenham experience could be a hindrance. All of the last seven JLT winners had previously featured at least once at the Festival.

This will be a seventh Cheltenham appearance for Modus who put in a respectable showing to finish fifth from 25 in the Coral Handicap Cup a year ago. He’s not taken to the fences particularly quickly this season though, showing signs of his inexperience at Bangor and Wincanton before falling at Exeter. There were significant signs of improvement at Kempton last month however despite his awfully slow start. Providing he can immediately break into a gallop this time, he’s worth taking a gamble on.

Modus to win – 15/2 at Coral

2:10pm – Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3), 2m 7f 213y

Glenloe looks like he’ll be the shortest price option for this race which has seen just one winning favourite in the past 12 renewals. At 8/1 with Betfair he’s not especially well priced for a horse without a win since 2016. He has put in some very respectable shifts this season though, placing on the last three occasions and won’t carry too much weight here. Enjoying victory more recently was Louis’ Van Pouch (9/1, Ladbrokes) but he’s not featured since November’s win and a four month absence could hinder his chances.

Ten of the last 17 winners of this race have come from outside the top five in the betting. Having an each way flutter on someone further down the betting may be the way to go as a result. Boasting both a course and distance win is Calett Mad (20/1, BetVictor). He returned sluggishly after having wind surgery but showed huge signs of improvement when winning at Musselburgh over three miles and two furlongs. A repeat showing could well see him in the mix for this race.

Tommy Rapper has some rather eye catching form coming into this race. Dan Skelton also has him entered in the Martin Pipe Hurdle but he looks more suited for a three mile test following his display at Haydock a month ago. The ground was incredibly testing at the Merseyside course but the seven-year-old showed enough stamina to defend his lead from a strong challenge. The seven-year-old was way off the pace on his last Cheltenham appearance but large improvements since should give him a genuine chance here.

Tommy Rapper each way – 16/1 at Ladbrokes

2:50pm – Ryanair Chase (Grade 1), 2m 4f 166y

Last year’s winner Un De Sceaux is back for more Ryanair Chase glory and has been well backed to do just that. The 10-year-old hasn’t been given too much work to do this season, handed just the two starts, but he’s looked impressive both times. Conditions suited the 10-year-old during wins at Ascot and Cork as he’s only that performs better on soft going. If the ground at Cheltenham doesn’t firm up in the coming days, which isn’t forecast, it’s hard to see anyone having the beating of the favourite.

On the off chance the ground does turn good though, Balko Des Flos (7/1, Betfair) should be preferred. He struggled in soft/heavy going on his first two starts of the season, unable to show off his talent in such conditions. On slightly firmer ground at Leopardstown improvements were made but he ideally would like the going to be good. When last tested on such going he breezed past 21 others in the Galway Plate and similar conditions would allow him to make amends for his Festival fall last year. Also looking to make amends is Douvan who may be preferred in this race but at 3/1 with Ladbrokes he’s not quite worth the risk following a 12 month lay-off.

Cue Card (7/1, Betfair) will not be risked for the Gold Cup and is set to feature in this event instead. The decorated 12-year-old has made just the one outing this year but it was a credible one which came over this distance at Ascot. A second place finish to Waiting Patiently isn’t the sort of performance that makes you think he can beat Un De Sceaux however. With two falls on his last two Cheltenham appearances, Colin Tizzard’s horse looks one to avoid.

Un De Seaux to win – 6/4 at Betfred

3:30pm – Stayers’ Hurdle (Grade 1), 2m 7f 213y

After being tested for a banned substance last year, Yanworth (6/1, Betfair) is back to try his luck at the Festival. He did win the Stayers’ Liverpool Hurdle to end last season, beating Supasundae but hasn’t really pushed on from it, twice the beaten favourite this campaign. Supasundae (5/1, Betfair) on the other hand performed better than expected when beating Faugheen at Leopardstown last month. It was only over two miles however so it’s important not to get too carried away by the win.

Jane Harrington’s horse did come close to a three mile triumph just before the turn of the New Year, beaten narrowly by Apple’s Jade. The talented mare is entered in this race but it appears that Gordon Elliot may prefer her in the OLGB Mares’ Hurdle where she is the odds-on favourite. Her absence would certainly be a huge boost to Supsasundae who has twice found himself behind the six-year-old mare this season.

Sam Spinner’s stamina for this test cannot be under any doubt after emphatically winning at boggy Haydock Park in November. Jedd O’Keeffe’s gelding won by 17 lengths that day, showing no signs of wavering towards the end. He followed it up with a win in Long Walk Hurdle, a race which has proven to be a useful guide for this race. The soft ground expected at Cheltenham will be much to his liking and on such going it’s hard to see anyone having the legs to match him.

Sam Spinner to win – 9/2 at Betfair

Day Four

We bid farewell to the 2018 Cheltenham Festival on Friday but things will end in climatic style with plenty of big races on the final day. Kicking things off is the Triumph Hurdle, open to juveniles only. You’ll no doubt see many of the young horses involved in that one in the bigger races in the years to come. Four previous winners have go on to win the Champion Hurdle, most recently Katchit in 2007.

The third race of the day is the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, another Grade 1 affair and one that usually draws in a big field. Runners will compete across three miles, giving those involved a stern test of their stamina. There will also be plenty of horses competing in the St. James’s Place Foxhunter Chase. Eight horses have won this race on two occasions but On The Fringe could be the first to make it three if able to repeat his 2015 & 2016 successes.

Without doubt though, the highlight race of the day is the incredibly prestigious Cheltenham Gold Cup. For many it’s the biggest event on the National Hunt calendar bar none and its high status will help it attract viewers from all over the world. This year the Grade 1 affair comes with a huge purse of £625,000 and Might Bite is the bookies’ slight favourite to claim the biggest slice of the pie.

  • Triumph Hurdle – Apple’s Shakira (11/4 at Coral)
  • Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle – Chef Des Obeaux (6/1 at Ladbrokes)
  • Cheltenham Gold Cup – Might Bite (10/3 at Betfair)
  • St. James’s Place Foxhunter Chase – Wonderful Charm (6/1 at Coral)

1:30pm – JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1), 2m 179y

Several entries for this race are yet to lose a race but none of them have claimed as many victories as Apple’s Shakira’s four. She was the 1/7 favourite on her last outing, a Grade 2 win at Cheltenham which was her third victory at the course. Nicky Henderson’s horse seems to have taken fondly to the galloping nature of Cheltenham and three C&D victories are the perfect preparation for this test. She’ll also enjoy being ridden by Barry Geraghty, who is the leading jockey in this race. That obviously makes them a formidable partnership and one we struggle to see being bettered.

We Have A Dream (9/1, Betfair) made an unconvincing start to his career but things have improved markedly since making the switch to the Henderson stable. Two graded victories including one by 10 lengths at Doncaster make him a genuine rival to his stablemate. His record would suggest that soft ground is not his preference though so if things don’t firm up at Cheltenham then it’s hard to see him challenging. Given the current forecast it’s hard to see enough change for us to be tempted.

Redicean is another whose form has taken a massive turn after a change in yard. He enjoyed two wins from 10 earlier in his career but is unbeaten from three starts under Alan King. A strong showing in a Grade 2 at Kempton last month saw him demonstrate great jumping ability as well as a wonderful turn of speed. The offspring of Medicean and Red Halo looks set for a bright future but at 9/2 (Betfair) he can’t be preferred over the impeccable looking Apple’s Shakira.

Apple’s Shakira to win – 11/4 at Coral

2:50pm – Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1), 2m 7f 213y

The last five winners of this race had all previously won over three miles but Next Destination (5/1, Coral) is yet to compete at further than two and half. He did win over this trip but his lead was diminishing towards the latter stages. Santini (9/2, Ladbrokes) finished his two and a half mile race in January in stronger fashion despite tough conditions at Cheltenham. The performance suggests he can run further but will his inexperience be an issue?

More familiar with competitive action is Chef Des Obeaux who has impressed far more over the hurdles than on the flat. Stamina is no concern either after winning at two miles, seven furlong in heavy going at Cheltenham by 15 lengths. This was a Grade 2 contest and while he was the favourite, few were expecting him to win with such ease. The more rainfall there is at Cheltenham the better his chances and if things are soft or heavy on Friday then there is no better option as we view it.

Chris’s Dream was not a horse on anyone’s radar at the beginning of the season. In November however he almost claimed a shock 50/1 win at Clonmel, losing out by just half a length. The six-year-old was picked up by Henry De Bromhead after a win at Limerick and given another run out at Clonmel, this time over three miles. His emphatic 64 length victory makes him an appealing each way option at odds of 12/1 with BetVictor, even considering there is a jump in the quality of the opposition here.

Chef Des Obeaux to win – 6/1 at Ladbrokes

3:30pm – Cheltenham Gold Cup (Grade 1), 3m 2f 70y

Might Bite will be looking to extend his unbeaten run to six races with a win in this top class race. He made headlines last Festival when almost throwing his huge lead in the RSA Chase after idling and veering off to the right. Nicky Henderson’s horse has won with far less drama since but was pushed all the way by Double Shuffle in the King George VI. His jumping ability cannot be questioned and although soft ground isn’t ideal, he should still have the legs for a test like this.

Native River (11/2, Bet365) was one many fancied for Gold Cup glory last year but was never quite up to speed with Sizing John when finishing third. Colin Tizzard has sent him out just once since but there were no cobwebs on show despite an 11 month absence. The eight-year-old had the beating of Cloudy Dream and Saphir Du Rheu, jumping well throughout. Another placed finish in this race would be no surprise at all but it looks like Might Bite may have too much for him.

15 of the last 17 Gold Cup Champions hailed from the top three in the betting so the chances of Our Duke must be looked at. He’ll be making his Cheltenham debut on Friday after racing exclusively in Ireland up to now. His season began very poorly, easily a beaten favourite at Leopardstown but he bounced back in the Red Mills Chase, beating the talented Presenting Percy. There’s been little to say he’s on the same level as the two front runners for this race though and even at 7/1 (Betfred), he’s not particularly tempting.

Might Bite to win – 10/3 at Betfair

4:10pm – St. James’s Place Foxhunter Chase (Class 2), 3m 2f 70y

With 23 or 24 runners the norm for this race, following the trends is your best way of picking out the winner or at the very least narrowing down your options. Horses over 10-years-old haven’t fared too well in this race and only a quarter of the last 32 winners failed to win last time out. A recent run as well as a winning one is important too as 10 of the last 12 champions had been in action no more than 34 days prior. The odds have been a useful guide in this race as well, despite the large fields, with seven of the last nine winners priced at odds of 15/2 or shorter.

Burning Ambition ticks a lot of the key boxes for this race but not the win last time out. You can forgive him for losing his five race unbeaten streak however as he was never expected to have the beating of Gilgambao at Punchestown. A huge hit at point to point racing, the seven-year-old has largely taken well to fences in his novice season despite some untidiness on his debut. He is certainly a credible option here but not an especially well priced one at 10/3 with Coral.

Foxrock (7/1, Ladbrokes) is another who was a runner-up last time out, he too beaten by Gilgamboa but by a much larger margin. With this the only performance to judge him one since being pulled up at Fairyhouse last April, he’s too much of a risk.

Wonderful Charm claimed a distance victory last month, a fine way to end a 239 day break without racing. Paul Nicholls’ 10-year-old very nearly won this race last year, missing out by just a neck. He’s a horse that still has plenty more to give and avenging last year’s defeat looks a real possibility.

Wonderful Charm to win – 6/1 at Coral

About the Meeting

The Cheltenham Festival is simply the biggest National Hunt racing meeting in the world. For four days the best horses over hurdles and fences gather at Prestbury Park for a collection of exciting races that includes a staggering 14 Grade 1s.

Known simply as the Festival, the meeting always takes place in March, from Tuesday to Friday, and often includes St Patrick’s Day. For that reason, among others, it’s hugely popular with Irish racing fans and the battle between British- and Irish-trained horses is a key storyline throughout the Cheltenham Festival.

Championship Races

Prestigious as they are, not all Grade 1 races are created equally. Amongst the 14 top level races at the Cheltenham Festival it’s the four championship races that stand alone. These are the feature races of each day at the Festival and some of the biggest races of the National Hunt season.

Champion Hurdle

The Champion Hurdle is the feature race of the first day of the Cheltenham Festival. It’s the biggest hurdle race of the season and forms the third leg of the Triple Crown of Hurdling alongside the Fighting Fifth Hurdle and the Christmas Hurdle.

Run over 2 miles and ½ furlong on the Cheltenham Old Course, this is a race that focuses heavily on the ability to finish strongly. It’s also often a very tactical race with jockeys doing all they can to ensure they are in the perfect position after the final of the eight hurdles to kick for home.

As you’d expect for the biggest hurdling race, the Champion Hurdle has been won by many of the best known hurdlers of all time since its inauguration in 1927. Hatton’s Grace became the first horse to win the Champion Hurdle three times in 1951 whilst Istabraq (1998, 1999, 2000) is the most recent to achieve the hat-trick. More recent years have seen the likes of Buveur d’Air, Faugheen and Hurricane Fly claim the winner’s share of a prize fund that reached £400,000 in 2018.

Queen Mother Champion Chase

When you think of steeplechase racing, lung-busting contests like the Grand National and Cheltenham Gold Cup immediately come to mind. Chases come in many different forms though and the Queen Mother Champion Chase is the championship race for minimum distance chasers. A much-loved contest, the thrilling speed of the horses tackling truly testing obstacles is a sight to behold.

Taking place over just under 2 miles (1m 7f 199y to be precise) on the Cheltenham Old Course, the Champion Chase is among the most fascinating spectacles of the Festival. The way the race unfolds means it could almost be where the phrase ‘jockeying for position’ comes from, as this is all about being in the right position for the closing straight up the Cheltenham hill.

Since being first run in 1959, the Champion Chase has been won by horses who made all and by those who burst through the pack late on. Badsworth Boy is the only horse to win the Queen Mother Chase three times but it is a race in which multiple winners and winners aged eight or over are common, so the “three-peat” may well be achieved in the coming years.

Stayers’ Hurdle

Just as steeplechases are not all simply tests of stamina, hurdling is not all about speed. The Stayers’ Hurdle is the championship race for the specialist long distance hurdling division. It’s run over 3 miles on the New Course at Cheltenham on St Patrick’s Thursday and includes a dozen hurdles to really test both horses and jockeys.

The first running of the Stayers’ Hurdle was all the way back in 1912. The winner, Aftermath, secured £100 for his connections. 100 years later and the prize fund had ballooned to more than a quarter of a million pounds. It’s the combination of that lucrative prize and the prestige that comes with winning the Stayers’ Hurdle that ensures high quality fields turn up year after year.

Big Buck’s dominated the Stayers’ Hurdle (known then as the World Hurdle) with four wins on the trot between 2009 and 2012. Since then it’s been much more open with winners priced between evens and 12/1, so this is a race full of opportunity for punters.

Cheltenham Gold Cup

The Cheltenham Gold Cup is not just Friday’s feature race, it’s the feature of the entire Cheltenham Festival. Whilst some will claim to prefer other races, for the average punter and casual racing fan, it’s all about the Gold Cup.

Simply put, National Hunt races do not come more prestigious than this one. They don’t come much more lucrative either as this is the most valuable chase save for a select few handicaps.

The Cheltenham Gold Cup takes place over 3 miles 2½ furlongs. Combine that with the 22 fences that must be negotiated and you have a tough test of stamina but the best Gold Cup horses are so much more than just stayers. The likes of Kauto Star, Best Mate and L’Escargot had almost the perfect combination of speed, stamina and jumping ability, which is exactly how it should be for this race.

In 1959 the New Course at Cheltenham became the host for the Gold Cup. In years gone by we have seen a 100/1 winner in the shape of Norton’s Coin and a 1/10 winner in the legendary Arkle, who dominated this race in the 1960s. More recently, fans’ favourite Kauto Star became the first horse to regain the Gold Cup in 2009, having previously triumphed in 2007.

Other Big Grade 1s

In addition to the four championship races there are several other big Grade 1 races to enjoy during the Cheltenham Festival. The following are the pick of these big contests.

Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

The famous Cheltenham Roar that greets the start of the Supreme Novice’s Hurdle is one of the best known sounds in sport. It highlights the levels of excitement about the start of the Cheltenham Festival but this is more than just a warm up act. The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is a Grade 1 race open to novice hurdlers aged four and older.

The race takes place over 2 miles ½ furlong and sees up to 20 horses competing for a prize fund that reached a new high of £125,000 for the 2018 renewal. Douvan’s win in 2015 saw Ruby Walsh become the first jockey to ride five winners of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Willie Mullins the first trainer to reach the same number.

Arkle Challenge Trophy

The Arkle Challenge Trophy is the second Grade 1 of the Cheltenham Festival. It’s a steeplechase run over a distance of just shy of two miles, which is a specialist distance in chasing. The Arkle is also a novices chase and was introduced in 1969, with its name paying tribute to the three time winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The Arkle is often used as a stepping stone for minimum distance chasers to go on and contend the Champion Chase, so it’s well worth noting the winner of the race for future reference.

Mares’ Hurdle

Only fillies and mares aged four and older are permitted to race in the Mares’ Hurdle. This race was for a long time known as the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle after the successful jockey and trainer and the trophy still bears his name. Run over 2 miles 4 furlongs, this is the final Grade 1 of the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.

Willie Mullins is the dominant trainer of the Mares’ Hurdle. He won nine of the first nine editions of the race with six of those wins coming from super mare, Quevaga. Mullins and Quevaga played a vital role in the growing popularity of the Mares’ Hurdle, which was promoted to Grade 1 level in 2015.

RSA Chase

The RSA Chase is a Grade 1 steeplechase for novices and is run over a shade over 3 miles. The earlier editions of the race contained two divisions but it was soon amalgamated into one race.

Although the novices competing in the RSA Chase still have plenty of room for improvement, it’s a race that has provided plenty of leading contender for more big contests including the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National. That tells you a lot about the importance of stamina, whilst a certain amount of experience is also important as the vast majority of winners were older than the minimum age of five.

Ryanair Chase

Registered as the Festival Trophy, the Ryanair Chase is a Grade 1 open to horses aged five or older. There are 17 fences to be jumped during the 2 mile 5 furlong trip in what has become an increasingly prestigious race.

The Ryanair Chase is one of the races that was added to the Cheltenham Festival when it became a four day meeting in 2005. For many racing pundits, the Ryanair is the most prestigious non-championship race of the Festival. In its relatively short history, Albertas Run is the only horse to win more than once (as of 2018), whilst it’s Ruby Walsh who leads the jockey stats with four wins.

JCB Triumph Hurdle

The JCB Triumph Hurdle is open only to four-year-old novice hurdlers. It is run over 2 miles 1 furlong but has produced winners of big races at longer distances including 2014 winner, Tiger Roll, who won the 2018 Grand National.

The most common next step for winners of the Triumph Hurdle, however, is the Champion Hurdle. Four horses have completed the double but whatever route future winners take they tend to be horses worth following.

Best of the Rest

As you can tell from the list of races above, there is tremendous variety in the races that comprise the Cheltenham Festival. In addition to those Grade 1s there are a host of other Grade level races and competitive handicaps to excite punters during the four days. Here’s our pick of the best of the rest.

National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup

The National Hunt Chase is a special race at Cheltenham Festival as it is open only to amateur riders. The Grade 2 contest is for novice chasers and takes in 24 fences during a monster trip of 4 miles. No race has been run more times at the Festival than the National Hunt Chase which was first held in 1860.

Novices’ Hurdle

The Novices’ Hurdle has been known by a few names since being introduced in 1971 but it has continued to rise in stature and has been won by some hugely promising horses in recent years including Samcro, Faugheen and The New One. Although it’s open to horses aged four and older, it’s rare to find a winner aged anything other than five or six.

JLT Novices’ Chase

Five-year-olds and older are eligible to compete in the JLT Novices’ Chase which is a Grade 1 run over 2 miles 4 furlongs. The winner must navigate 17 fences which is far from easy given the novice status of all the competitors. The big Irish yards have had a great time in the JLT Novices’ Chase and Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott look set to contest it for a long time to come.

Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle

There are 12 fences to be jumped during the 3 miles of the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. This Grade 1 contest regularly includes the best up and coming hurdlers in National Hunt racing. While some stay over the smaller obstacles, others kick on to big things over fences including Bobs Worth, who won in 2011 before winning the RSA Chase in 2012 and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2013.

Foxhunter Chase

The crowds at Prestbury Park are still digesting the Gold Cup by the time the Foxhunter Chase gets underway over exactly the same course and distance. Known as the ‘amateur Gold Cup’ because only amateur riders can compete, the Foxhunter Chase is a real speciality race which punters must keep in mind when making their bets.

History

The Cheltenham Festival was first held in 1860 but in those early days races were not actually held in Cheltenham. Then known as the Grand National Hunt Meeting, the Festival moved around a few different racecourses including Prestbury Park before a committee decided to settle on its current home in 1911. The National Hunt Chase is the oldest race still run in the Cheltenham Festival while the Stayers’ Hurdle is the oldest of the four championship races.

It wasn’t until 2005 that the Cheltenham Festival became a four day meeting. That saw the introduction of a number of new races and provided a certain amount of symmetry with one championship race held on each day.

There have been clamours to extend the Festival to five days but they’ve so far been resisted with the emphasis remaining on ensuring the current races are as well subscribed as possible. We may see a fifth day added, so lucrative is the Festival, but regardless, we look forward to Cheltenham having a future as long and illustrious as its past.