There are 14 Grade 1 races of the highest quality to look forward to at the Cheltenham Festival and they are all studded with star quality. The leading trainers, jockeys and runners from across the UK and Ireland will descend on the legendary racecourse in a bid for glory. The standout races with the highest prize purses are the Champion Hurdle, the Champion Chase, the Stayers’ Hurdle and the piece de resistance, the Gold Cup. Here are the leading contenders for each of these showpiece events:
There are four Grade 1 races on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival, and the most important contest of the lot is the 2 mile ½ furlong Champion Hurdle. Last year Buveur D’Air landed the race from stablemate My Tent Or Yours in a magnificent one-two for trainer Nicky Henderson. Since then, Buveur D’Air has landed four more victories, extending his winning streak to nine races. He won the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle last April, and then landed the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle on his reappearance this season, before taking the Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day. He is now the clear favourite to successfully defend his Champion Hurdle title at Cheltenham, and if he does he will become the first horse to win the Triple Crown of Hurdling since 1990. Willie Mullins’ Faugheen provides stern competition, but he is struggling for form and fitness, while My Tent Or Yours, Yorkhill and Melon are also in the mix.
Queen Mother Champion Chase
The Champion Chase is the main event on day two of the Festival and once again Henderson has the odds-on favourite in Altior. The eight-year-old is a Cheltenham legend after winning the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2016 and the Arkle last year. He has won his last 12 races in a row, a run stretching back three years, and he has not put a foot wrong in that time. He has only raced once this season, winning the Grade 2 Betfair Exchange Chase at Newbury last month, but that means he will be extremely fresh for the Champion Chase. Once again Mullins provides the stiffest competition in the form of Min and Douvan. The latter was the standout chaser in 2016/17 and had won all 13 career starts heading into this race last year. However, he suffered a pelvic injury and finished seventh, well behind the winner, Special Tiara. He has not seen any action since, and a huge question mark hangs over his chances of success this time around, so Min could well be Altior’s greatest opponent. He warmed up for the Champion Chase in style by landing the Grade 2 Dublin Chase at Leopardstown last month and looks in fine form.
The leading long-distance hurdle event in the National Hunt calendar is the showpiece race on the third day of the Cheltenham Festival. The Stayers’ Hurdle has had some superstar winners over the years, including Inglis Drever, Big Buck’s, Thistlecrack and the tragic Nichols Canyon. Several big names will bid to join that illustrious roll call this year, and the frontrunner is Supasundae. He is trained by Jessica Harrington, who won the Gold Cup last year, and he proved his class by beating Faugheen to land the Irish Champion Hurdle last month. This one looks wide open though and Sam Spinner, last seen winning the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December, will be in the mix, along with Yarnworth, Penhill and Unowhatimeanharry. This is an epic contest, taking place over 3 miles, and it should develop into another thrilling battle on the home straight.
This is the most prestigious race of the National Hunt season and carries a prize purse north of £600,000, so it always attracts the very best of the best. It is run over a distance of 3 miles 2½ furlongs and there are 22 fences to be jumped. The list of previous winners represents a who’s who of National Hunt legends, including Arkle, Best Mate, Golden Miller, Kauto Star and Mill House. Last year, Sizing John joined that illustrious list by beating Minella Rocco and Native River, rewarding Harrington’s shrewd decision to step him up in trip. He also won Gold Cups at Punchestown and Leopardstown, and landed the Grade 1 John Durkan Memorial Chase on his seasonal reappearance in December. That made him the ante post favourite to win this year’s Gold Cup, but then he was declared clinically abnormal when finishing seventh in the Christmas Chase at Leopardstown. The frontrunner in the SportingIndex.com lines is now Might Bite, another from the Henderson stable, who blitzed the field to land the King George VI Chase earlier this season. Native River is the second favourite after impressing in the Denman Chase last month, and Sizing John is then third in the betting, followed by talented stablemate Our Duke. Danger lurks further down the field from the likes of Definitely Red and Road To Respect, and this should develop into another fascinating battle.
Jason Coote is the founder of many websites and known gambler in Great Britain.