The Cheltenham Festival is the highlight of the National Hunt season and takes place this year between 15th and 18th March. It is estimated that in excess of £500 million will be gambled over the four days and here is an early look at how the big races are shaping up.
Bookies braced for Black Tuesday repeat
The opening day of the meeting last season was dubbed “Black Tuesday” by bookmakers as they faced a multi-million pound pay-out on four Willie Mullins-trained winners. Douvan, Un De Sceaux and Faugheen powered to victory but the dramatic last flight fall of Annie Power saved the bookmakers a fortune.
Mullins still completed his four-timer when Glens Melody profited from the favourite’s fall and the leading Irish trainer is threatening to repeat the feat in 2016. He has the ante-post favourite in each of the four main races again on Tuesday. Min is hot favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Douvan is already odds-on for the Arkle Trophy. Faugheen is difficult to oppose in the Champion Hurdle as he bids to repeat his 2015 victory.
Annie Power has been kept off the track since May with a minor injury but is expected to go straight to Cheltenham in March. She is thought more likely to contest the Mares’ Hurdle than the World Hurdle and may again be carrying fortunes in Mullins’ accumulator bets at the Cheltenham festival.
Un De Sceaux odds-on for Champion Chase
Willie Mullins is expected to take the featured Champion Chase on day 2 of the meeting with Un De Sceaux. Last year’s Arkle winner put up a majestic display of jumping to beat Sire De Grugy at Ascot in January. He has won every race in which he has completed the course and is odds-on despite the presence of three previous winners.
Sprinter Sacre and Sire de Grugy clashed at Kempton in December with Nicky Henderson’s gelding coming out on top by three-quarters of a length. They could be joined in the race by reigning champion Dodging Bullets who has been side-lined by injury for the first half of the season.
Gordon Elliott’s No More Heroes is the likely favourite for the RSA Chase while Belshill and Yorkhill give Mullins a strong hand in the opening Neptune Hurdle.
Thistlecrack favourite for World Hurdle
Day 3 features the World Hurdle with Colin Tizzard’s Thistlecrack at the head of the market. The gelding stormed to victory at Aintree last April and has been impressive at Newbury and Ascot this season. He could face Vroum Vroum Mag who also holds an engagement in the Mares’ Hurdle for Willie Mullins.
The betting on the Ryanair Chase is dominated by yet another Mullins’ entry in Vautour, runner-up in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day. The trainer has warned punters that he is still considering running Vautour in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the race would be wide open in his absence.
Mullins dominates Gold Cup betting
There was high drama on Cheltenham Gold Cup day last year with Coneygree scoring an emotional victory for Mark Bradstock. Sadly the gelding will not be fit to defend his crown in March and runner-up Djakadam has assumed the mantle of favourite. His comprehensive victory at Punchestown in December took him to the top of the market, displacing stable companions Don Cossack and Don Poli. Cue Card emerged as the best of the home team when battling to a game victory over Vautour at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Nicky Henderson dominated the Triumph Hurdle last year with Peace And Co leading home a 1-2-3 for the Lambourn trainer. The favourite this year is Aidan O’Brien’s Ivanovich Gorbatov, although he is largely in the care of trainer’s son Joseph who is hoping to acquire a licence in time for Cheltenham.
All 28 races will be screened live on Channel 4