Cheltenham 2016 Preview

Are you ready for the off? Silly question...

It’s billed as the Champions League of horse racing and once again the Cheltenham Festival is offering more than a few mouthwatering prospects. Yep, the world’s premier equine jamboree is under starter’s orders, and with four thrilling days to look forward to during March 15-18, with no less than 27 races between them, Gloucestershire is guaranteed to be glorious.

Tuesday – Champion Day

At around half past one in the afternoon, the famous Cheltenham roar will echo around the Cotswolds and many pubs, bookies and living rooms alike. Getting things off to a flyer will be the most important hurdle race of the season, the Champion Hurdle. Last year’s winner, Faugheen, has sustained an unfortunate injury so trainer Willie Mullins will turn to Annie Power this time. For all his dominance at the festival, Mullins has yet to add a Gold Cup win to his CV so he’ll be desperate to do well on the opening day.

Wednesday – Ladies Day

Suffice to say, this is a little rougher around the edges than its Ascot counterpart. We shouldn’t scoff, however, because Britain and Ireland will be going head-to-head in the ‘Fashion Stakes’ to see who really is the best dressed. Off the catwalk, the strongly-fancied No More Heroes will be looking to outgun its close rival More Of That in the RSA Chase, whilst in the aptly-named Queen Mother Champion Chase, Cheltenham darling Sprinter Sacre will make its return and would surely be the most popular winner of the entire four days.

Thursday – St Patrick’s Day

It’s thought that around 10,000 punters from the Emerald Isle will pass throught the turnstiles over the course of the festival. With the Guinness flowing and folk bands making merry on March 17, there’ll be almost as much focus off the turf as on it. Be that as it may, there are two huge races in store – the World Hurdle and the Ryanair Chase. Thistlecrack is hotly-tipped to romp the former, while the latter was notable last year for providing an emotional final Cheltenham victory for AP McCoy on board Uxizandre.

Friday – Gold Cup Day

The grand finale begins with possibly the toughest test for juvenile horses, in the form of the Triumph Hurdle, a race that trainer Nicky Henderson has dominated with no fewer than six winners, of which Peace And Co became the latest last year. As for the big one, the 2015 Gold Cup victor, Coneygree, sadly won’t be back to defend its title through injury, so it’s the brilliant Cue Card that will grab much of the pre-race headlines. Looking to add to its Betfair Chase and King George VI wins and emulate Kauto Star in landing the Triple Crown (not to mention a non-too shabby £1m bonus), history is on the cards, but the likes of Don Cossack and Don Poli will have something to say about that.

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