THE greatest show on turf starts on Tuesday. The constant intertwined whiff of Guinness and pulled pork will fill the air amid the optimistic chatter and bar-room philosophy of punters, some clued–up, others clueless. Cheltenham is the best sporting event in the calendar. Bar none.
The preview evenings rumble on. I don’t care much for them. I mean, if you can’t get excited about Cheltenham without listening to some tipsy pundit wittering on then you may as well not bother.
This year, history could be made in many areas. Here are a few potential headline makers…
Jessica Harrington needs one more winner to become the outright most successful female trainer of all time at The Festival. The County Kildare handler is currently joint top alongside Jenny Pitman with eight victories at the meeting. Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Sizing John and Jezki are among her team this year.
Melon, successful at Leopardstown on his only hurdle start,would be the least experienced winner of the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 25 years. The Nicky Henderson-trained Flown also captured the race on his second hurdle appearance in 1992.
Nicky Henderson is bidding for a record sixth victory in the Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase, with red-hot favourite Altior. Sybillin (sent off at 4/5 in 1993) was the last odds-on favourite to be turned over in the Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase, with subsequent odds-on shots Sprinter Sacre (8/11F, 2012), Simonsig (8/15F, 2013), Un De Sceaux (4/6F, 2015) and Douvan (1/4F, 2016) all obliging.
Willie Mullins is out to become the first trainer to win the Stan James Champion Hurdle in three successive years with three different horses following the victories of Faugheen (2015) and Annie Power (2016), who both miss out in 2017 through injury. Victory for the Nicky Henderson-trained My Tent Or Yours would make the 10-year-old the oldest scorer since Sea Pigeon (11) in 1981. Moon Racer, representing David Pipe, could become the first novice to win the Stan James Champion Hurdle since Make A Stand, trained by his father Martin, triumphed in 1997.
111101121F15 – Willie Mullins’ record in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle. The trainer is seeking a remarkable ninth consecutive victory in the race.
Joseph O’Brien will be aiming for a first official success at The Festival in his first season as a trainer, with J T McNamara National Hunt Chase entry Edwulf among his best chances. He was responsible for preparing the 2016 JCB Triumph Hurdle winner Ivanovich Gorbatov, but his father Aidan was listed as the trainer. Keiran Burke was the previous handler to enjoy success at The Festival in his first season with a licence – he saddled Hunt Ball to glory in the 2012 renewal of the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase.
Whisper would be the oldest winner of the RSA Chase since fellow nine-year-old Miinnehoma was successful in 1992.
Douvan could become the 12th horse to follow victory in the Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase with success in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. The Willie Mullins-trained chaser could also go off one of the shortest-priced favourites in the history of the two-mile championship contest – Flyingbolt scored at odds of 1/5 in 1966. Douvan is unbeaten at The Festival, having won the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2015 and the Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase in 2016, and, if successful, he would be the fourth horse to win three different races at The Festival in consecutive years, after Flyingbolt, Bob’s Worth and Vautour.
Cause Of Causes, as well as Douvan, is trying to win a third different race at The Festival in successive years when tackling the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase. He won the National Hunt Chase in 2015 and the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase in 2016. Trainer Enda Bolger and owner J P McManus are seeking their sixth victory in this race which was first run in 2005.
2016 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle scorer Unowhatimeanharry could be the first horse successful in that race to go on to win the Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle. Previous Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle winners to run in the Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle have been – 2006 Black Jack Ketchum (fell in 2007 Stayers’ Hurdle), 2007 Wichita Lineman (9th in 2008 Stayers’ Hurdle), 2010 Berties Dream (6th 2011 Stayers’ Hurdle), 2011 Bobs Worth (3rd in 2016 Stayers’ Hurdle), 2013 At Fishers Cross (3rd in 2014 Stayers’ Hurdle, 4th in 2015 Stayers’ Hurdle, PU in 2016 Stayers’ Hurdle), 2015 Martello Tower (7th in 2016 Stayers’ Hurdle).
Empire Of Dirt aims to provide Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary with a first victory in the Ryanair Chase – O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud has owned the runner-up three times – Mossbank (2008), First Lieutenant (2013) and Valseur Lido (2016).
Augusta Kate (Willie Mullins) would be the first mare to win the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.
11-year-old Cue Card is bidding to be the oldest winner of the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup in 48 years – What A Myth captured chasing’s Blue Riband at the age of 12 in 1969. Willie Mullins, yet to win the chasing championship, has saddled the runner-up on six occasions.
For punters there are so many great Cheltenham Festival offers from the bookmakers so feel free to check out some of the Best Horse Racing Sites before parting with your hard-earned cash.