WITH just under three weeks until the Cheltenham Festival gets underway, the novice chases and hurdles over the four days are taking shape with the unveiling of the latest acceptors following the February 21 scratchings deadline.
Tuesday March 14 gets underway with the £125,000 G1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (1.30pm), for which there are 58 acceptors. These include last month’s hugely impressive Leopardstown winner Melon (Willie Mullins IRE) and Moon Racer (David Pipe), who took the 2015 Weatherbys Champion Bumper at The Festival and is undefeated in two starts over hurdles including the G2 Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in November.
Altior (Nicky Henderson) is one of the shortest-priced favourites in the ante-post market and heads the 23 acceptors for the £175,000 G1 Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase (2.10pm). The seven-year-old, last season’s Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle hero, is undefeated in four starts over fences, most recently seeing off seasoned opposition in G2 company at Newbury on February 11. The second novices’ chase on Tuesday is the £120,000 G2 J T McNamara National Hunt Chase (4.50pm) over four miles, which has 41 acceptors including A Genie In Abottle (Noel Meade IRE).
On Ladies’ Day, Wednesday, March 15, the £125,000 Neptune Investment Novices’ Hurdle (1.30pm) gets proceedings underway and 80 contenders go forward, including Finian’s Oscar (Colin Tizzard), a hugely impressive winner of his three outings over hurdles including in the G1 Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown Park.
The G1 £175,000 RSA Novices’ Chase (2.10pm) on Ladies’ Day has 39 contenders remaining, including current market leader Might Bite (Nicky Henderson).
Opening St Patrick’s Thursday, March 16, is the £150,000 G1 JLT Novices’ Chase (1.30pm) which has 45 entries going forward including hot-favourite Yorkhill (Willie Mullins IRE), who is unbeaten in two starts over fences and is seeking a second success at The Festival following his 2016 victory in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle.
The £125,000 G1 JCB Triumph Hurdle (1.30pm) opens the action on Gold Cup Day, Friday, March 17. There are 43 four-year-olds going forward for this contest, including Defi Du Seuil (Philip Hobbs) who has won all five of his starts over hurdles, three of which have come at Cheltenham.
Also taking place on Gold Cup Day is the £125,000 G1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, which has 78 acceptors including Death Duty (Gordon Elliott IRE), who was deeply impressive when taking a G1 contest at Naas last month. Watch out for various offers from bookmakers for Cheltenham free bets over the next few weeks.