Monday 26 February 2018

Your Guide to Cheltenham Festival 2018

A little bird told me the Cheltenham Festival 2018 is just around the corner. Scratch that, it's not a little bird but giant ostrich wearing a jumper with ''I Love Cheltenham Winners'' storming about the members' enclosure.

So much for the dress code!

Now, I don't like to teach your grandmother to suck eggs - large or small. But let's face it, we all know Cheltenham is a betting bonanza. You know the score: bookmakers bending over backwards to get a slice of the pie with free offers, bets, incentives. If you're betting, why wouldn't you want to get more for your hard-earned cash!

From the 13th - 16th March, Prestbury Park, Gloucestershire sees four action-packed days of National Hunt racing.

Cheltenham is a great venue and it gets better every year.

Take a look at this quick guide and all those key dates for the 2018 festival:

All days feature seven-race cards.

13th March – Champion Day

3:30 Cheltenham: Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy

The feature race being the Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1). This race is run over 2m 1/2f on the old course. There are 8 hurdles to jump. Historically, a number of horses have won this race on three occasions: Hatton's Grace, Sir Ken, Persian War & See You Then. Remember the last horse to win three times? Istabraq, trained by Aidan O'Brien in the ownership of J P McManus.

2018: The favourite for this year's race will be Nicky Henderson's Buveur D'Air. This French-bred son of Crillon is unbeaten in his last nine races. Considering he won this race last year, it's understandable this hot shot is priced 4/7f. Faugheen, so long the dream horse at Cheltenham, is on a recovery mission after pulling up then second when fractionally odds on last time out.

14th March – Ladies' Day

3:30 Cheltenham: The Queen Mother Champion Chase

The feature race of the day is the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. This 2m contest has 13 fences to jump. It's run over the old course. Historically, one horse has achieve greatness. Badsworth Boy won three years consecutively from 1983. Last year saw Special Tiara win for Henry de Bromhead.

2018: Altior is likely to start favourite for Nicky Henderson. Unbeaten in no less than 12 races and only defeated twice in his career. This odds-on shot [8/11] doesn't have many quality opponents but Min & Fox Norton are worthy of note.

15th March – St Patrick's Day

2:50 Cheltenham: The Ryanair Chase (Registered as the Festival Trophy)

This race takes place on the new course over a 2m 5f with 7 fences to jump. Historically, Albertas Run is worthy of note winning twice. Ruby Walsh has been particularly successful with 4 wins, taking the last two victories with Vautour and Un Des Sceaux.

2018: The latter horse (Un Des Sceaux) is of interest as Willie Mullins' charge is heading back to defend his title. This French-bred gelding is priced 3/1. Other fancies include Waiting Patiently and Fox Norton.

16th March – Gold Cup Day

3:30 Cheltenham: Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase

The highlight of the day and meeting for many punters. This race has a history like no other. Golden Miller made this race his own back in the 1930s when winning 1,2,3,4,5 times!!! Exceptional. I know everyone has their favourite winners. Just a few names: L'Escargot, Dawn Run, Desert Orchid, Best Mate & Kauto Star.

Last year saw Sizing John win. Mrs Jessica Harrington's eight-year-old is priced 6/1. Intriguing to see how he goes in trying to defend his title. Native River finished third last time and is coming back for more. Minella Rocco was runner-up for Jonjo O'Neill and may well figure at odds of 20/1.

As noted earlier, Nicky Henderson could have a bumper festival. Might Bite has been a surprise package and attempting his first Gold Cup and presently favourite at 4/1. Experience counts for a lot around this 22 fence challenge. If pressed, I'd be tempted to have an each-way bet on Sizing John.

Good luck this Festival.