Next week, the sports world will turn its attention to Prestbury Park for what is now surely Britain’s biggest horse racing event – the Cheltenham Festival. Four days of fast and furious action, running from 10th-13thMarch. The action is live on ITV from lunchtime each day, and it’s shaping up to be one of the best festivals in living memory. Below is our guide to everything you need to know:
When, Where and Why?
The Cheltenham Festival is the climax of the national hunt season, a type of racing usually confined to Britain and Ireland. As such, Cheltenham celebrates the best of jumps racing, with only the top horses in each discipline involved. Around 70,000 racegoers head to the festival each day, with millions more watching on television. It kicks off on Tuesday 10thMarch and wraps up Friday 13thMarch.
Could the Coronavirus Postpone the Festival?
Everyone is worried about the outbreak of COVID-19, and it has played havoc with sporting events in Italy and Switzerland already. The odds are it does go ahead as planned, but you shouldn’t dismiss the chances of postponement.
What are the Race Times?
The first race goes off at 1.30 pm every day, with the feature (main) race taking place at 3.30 pm. ITV covers the first five races of each day, but you’ll have to watch the last two (usually low-key races) on a specialist racing channel or online from about 4.30 onwards.
What are the Highlights?
Too many to list here. Of course, the Cheltenham Gold Cup is widely cited as the most prestigious race of the festival. This year, Al Boum Photo is 7/2 (Bet365) to retain the crown he won last year, but he has stern competition from the brilliant Santini (also 7/2), Delta Work (9/2) and a host of others. It looks difficult to call, but remember that bookies give out lots of promos for the festival, which you can see in this list of the top Cheltenham 2020 free bets. As such, you can back a few runners in what looks like a very open race.
Anything Else Grabbing the Headlines?
Sure. Everyone is talking about two horses in particular: Altior and Tiger Roll. Both of these horses have had very different careers, but both have become modern heroes in their own right. Altior is gunning for his third-straight Champion Chase, and his fifth Cheltenham win overall. He’s 2/1 with Betfair to retain his crown on Ladies’ Day. Tiger Roll, meanwhile, is 4/5 to win the Cross Country Chase. But some will see that as just the starter, as he will go on to contest the Grand National in April with a view to equalling the hat-trick record of Red Rum.
I Don’t Like Betting, Why Should I Care about Cheltenham?
There is no obligation to bet on any race, even if you are one of the 70,000 fans in attendance at the races. National hunt racing is a highly competitive sport, and Cheltenham is the highest level of competition. The races will deliver pulsating drama, whether you have a flutter or not.
Who to Keep an Eye On?
The greatest thing about Cheltenham is that it blends a new generation with the established one. Look out for horses like Benie Des Dieux, Envoi Allen, Notebook, Allaho, Defi Du Seuil and Honeysuckle. These are just some of the names that could have big futures on the horizon. On the other end of the scale, the legendary Faugheen will likely be at his last festival. Can he go out in style?