The opening race of the festival over 2m ½ furlong, is a race which continues to farm out superstars for the coming years with likes of Altior and Douvan a couple to name in recent years.
Always a very competitive race, the Grade 1 has been a minefield for favourite backers in recent years with only three winning favourites since 2004. However, the last ten renewals of this we have seen nine winners go off at an SP no bigger than 12/1. The only exception being Labaik last season returning a huge price of 25/1!
Working out the form in preparation for this race can be somewhat of a puzzle, epitomised by the victory of Labaik last season (it was a surprise to see the grey gelding leave the start!). With numerous trials races to keep an eye on throughout the season, it’s worth making note of the winners as they can play a key part in the race come spring.
For example, the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle was won by Slate House this year. The bay gelding currently sits at 20/1 for the festival curtain raiser in March and looks to be a big player.
One of my favourite races of the festival, the Grade 1 chase for novices ran over 2m on the old course. Some of the greats have won this in recent years including Sprinter Sacre, with Altior last year victorious at a very short price of 1/4F. With winners of this race having great success in the most prestigious 2m chase, the Queen Mother Champion Chase thereafter, it’s certainly a highlight each year.
Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson have both had very strong hands in this race over the years, both landing the prize with odds on favourites in the last three years (Altior 1/4, Douvan 1/4, Un De Sceaux 4/6).
At the time of writing Woodland Opera has won the first trial for this race so far this year and the market is currently headed by the mightily impressive Footpad 6/1, and Brain Power 8/1.
Sceau Royal landed the spoils in the second Arkle trial - the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase. Sent off as the outsider of the field at 11-1, on paper it seemed as though he had no chance of being victorious at Sandown. Looming up on the outside on the turn for home, it seemed at 3 out he had everything beaten. Finians Oscar was disappointing in the race, finishing well tailed off in third, having note travelled through the race at all, with another well touted individual Brain Power unseating when also looking beaten. Sceau Royal is now best priced at 8/1 for the Arkle Challenge Trophy at the festival.
The Cheltenham Festival betting and Cheltenham Festival free bets
The Champion Hurdle is the showcase for the best of the best when it comes to the hurdling division. Ran over 2m, with the elite stars able to leap over each hurdle with speed and consistency, every single moment is fundamental. The last leg of the Triple Crown of Hurdling is a spectacle in itself.
The majority of the winners of this race have been key players in Grade 1 races throughout the season, with all 15 of the last renewals consisting of the winners having won a Class 1 and ran in Grade 1’s.
Faugheen will be looking to regain his crown this season, after a stunning display at Punchestown on his return. He beat Jezki by 16l in the Morgiana Hurdle (Grade 1) following a 665 day break. The distance itself shows that the Mullins superstar could very well be back to his best. Last seasons Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’air will be looking to spoil the party for Mullins supporters. He made an equally pleasing return to action in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, landing the victory when breezing into the lead under the ride of Barry Geraghty. Both rides were nothing more than a steering job for both jockeys, it will be an extremely exciting battle come March, should both elite stars arrive fit and ready.
Nicky Henderson and Willie Mullins have dominated this race in the last 10 years, and this season there is no reason to think that record will change.
Faugheen is currently best priced at 7/4
Buveur D’air is currently best priced at 4/1
It may seem hard to live up to the race before this on the opening day, but the Mares Hurdle gives it everything and more. This yet another Grade 1 hurdle on day one see’s some of the most exciting mares compete over 2m 3 furlongs.
Bringing you the very best horse racing bets from the Cheltenham festival
With the tragic news that Gordon Elliott's superstar mare Fayonagh suffered an accident at home and is no longer with us, the race was blown wide open. Many believed she was destined to win the race. The dual Grade 1 winning mare will be truly missed, she was an exceptional talent.
The race has been a Mullins hunting ground for the last 10 years, with Quevega winning the race 6 times under the hands of Ruby Walsh, and Vroum Vroum Mag the latest of the Willie Mullins winners in 2016. Last year however, Gordon Elliot came away with the spoils after the wonderful mare Apples Jade came home 1 ½ lengths ahead of VVM.
Apples Jade heads the betting again this year, a short-priced favourite at 6/4. There are however dangers aplenty, with the re-opposing VVM and Limini to name two towards the top of the market.