The Cheltenham Festival, one of the biggest and most widely viewed horse racing events on the planet, will be underway before we know it. The four-day festival comprises 28 different races and it all begins on 13 March at Prestbury Park, just outside the sleepy town of Cheltenham in the west of England.
Different days, different themes
For those who are new to the Cheltenham experience, each day has its own name and theme. It starts on Tuesday with Champions Day, then everything comes to a head on Friday with Gold Cup Day. Online tipsters cheltenhamracing.net will be providing daily advice and tips for this festival.
For the casual race-goers, it’s on Wednesday and Thursday that the real fun is to be had. Known as Ladies Day and St Patrick’s Day, the former is all about glasses of champagne and overdressing, while the latter is focused squarely on traditional Irish hospitality. Expect plenty of “Irish Gold” to disappear from those pint glasses!
However, the fact that attendees are having fun trackside doesn’t mean the racing on track is any less serious – Ladies Day in particular will see one of the biggest races of the entire festival.
A royal tradition
The major race meetings of Cheltenham, Aintree and Ascot have always attracted some seriously important spectators, and the Queen herself had to hurry across the country last year to avoid missing a race meeting that clashed with the State Opening of Parliament. At Cheltenham, however, it’s her late mother who’s still honoured and remembered in the showcase event. The Queen Mother, who passed away in 2002 at the age of 101, was as devoted a racegoer as her daughter, and was a regular at Ascot and Cheltenham well into her 90s.
This year’s favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase is Altior, trained by Cheltenham legend Nicky Henderson. The horse has an incredible run of 11 straight wins, and hasn’t been defeated in almost three years. A recent lay-off to deal with a breathing difficulty seems to have done him no harm, as he won again in his first race back last month.
Can anyone beat Altior? The Willie Mullins-trained Min has been long regarded as the second favourite, but there is a third option. Douvain, another from the Mullins stable, had been a question mark due to a long-standing leg injury, but the latest news from the Irish trainer is that he should be fit to race.
Mullins said: “I suppose vets are a bit like doctors, they’re ultra-cautious and sometimes you can end up running a hospital rather than a training yard, so you just have to kick on.” Since being pushed back into training, the horse has looked highly pleasing and bookmakers have reacted by reducing the odds from 6/1 to 4/1.
What of the Gold Cup?
Of course, the biggest race of the festival is the Cheltenham Gold Cup – this is the race that those seeking Cheltenham Festival 2018 tips are really focused on. Much has already been made of the battle to come between last year’s winner, Sizing John, and the Henderson-trained favourite Might Bite.
However, there’s another horse that’s garnering a growing following and again it’s from the Emerald Isle. Colin Tizzard has yet to train a Gold Cup winner, but those in the know say Native River could be the horse that’ll bring him the biggest prize of all.