Festival fever for racing fans as Cheltenham approaches

Here we go again then. On Tuesday at 1:30pm at Cheltenham, horse racing’s biggest week of the year gets underway with 28 races of the highest quality to keep fans enthralled and engaged over the following four days. The 2017 Cheltenham Festival promises to be the usual incredible spectacle for all those of us who love the game, with the usual action, tension and drama along with a range of unique and captivating stories that really are unlike anything else in the world of sport. 

On the first day we find out if Melon, Willie Mullins’ much-hyped hurdler really is as good as his reputation promises as he takes on a tricky field in the Supreme Novices’, while versatile mare Vroum Vroum Mag bids to make it back-to-back victories in the Mares Hurdle. Potential superstar Altior is also long odds-on to put his rivals to the sword in the Arkle Trophy, but the feature race on that first day looks a much more open affair; two horses, both owned by JP McManus, and neither of whom would have been expected to be here at the beginning of the season, will do battle in the Champion Hurdle. Their names are Yanworth and Buveur D’Air, and along with a talented supporting cast including Petit Mouchoir and Brain Power, it could prove one of the least predictable races of the week.

On Wednesday the mighty Douvan, unbeaten in 13 starts since moving from France to Ireland, looks to extend his unbeaten run at The Festival to three in the Champion Chase, and like Altior, it looks to only be the fences standing in his way. Meanwhile, we find out if Finian’s Oscar can live up to his hefty price tag in the Neptune (the day’s opener) and Might Bite, so unlucky at Christmas when falling when a mile clear in the Feltham Novices Chase, seeks to make amends in the RSA. Thursday brings not one, but two championship events in the Ryanair Chase and the Stayers Hurdle. In the former race a previous winner in Uxizandre opposes favourite Un De Sceaux, having been beaten by him in their most recent race, while Unowhatimeanharry is a strong favourite for the latter contest. 

And that brings us to the Friday. In addition to the excitement of the Triumph Hurdle and the Albert Bartlett, jump racing’s biggest six and a half minutes of the year take place in the form of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. With former winners Coneygree and Don Cossack out through injury and retirement respectively, and long-time favourite Thistlecrack also set to miss the race, other top staying chasers get a chance to shine, among them Welsh Grand National winner Native River and two-time Gold Cup runner-up Djakadam. But perhaps Cue Card, the people’s horse, who fell three fences from home when travelling maybe best of all in this race last year, can make amends this time around. That really would be a classic Festival story. 

John Gibby

Featured Image: Edward Whittaker

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