Racing has never been more popular, and there’s nothing that grabs the attention of racing fans more than one of the big events, or festivals. The Grand National and Royal Ascot both bring in huge TV audiences as well as big crowds at the course. Millions upon millions of pounds are waged, and everyone from professional gamblers to those taking part in office sweepstakes, tune in to cheer on their selection. For the racing purists though there is nothing that quite matches the Cheltenham Festival, one of the key festival dates. Steeped in tradition, the four days of competitive racing action bring out the best of the best, in terms of horses, jockeys and trainers. Coming out on top in one of the big races here has the power to get your name fast-tracked into the history books.
There are almost too many highlights during this four day racing Festival (which this year runs from Tuesday March 13th – Friday 16th) but if I had to isolate a highlight from each day, something that would make everyones list, I’d go for the following: The Champion Hurdle (Tuesday) , Queen Mother Champion Chase (Wednesday), Ryan Air Chase aka the Festival Trophy (Thusday) and least but most certainly not least the Cheltenham Gold Cup (Friday).
The Champion Hurdle, first ran all the way back in 1927 is a personal favourite of mine. It’s a Grade 1 race for horses aged four and over. Ran over 2 miles ½ furlong it’s a must see for National Hunt fans. Last year’s winner was the Nicky Henderson trained Buveur d’Air at 5-1. The one race though, that even those with a casual interest in racing will know of, is the one and only Cheltenham Gold Cup. This is again a Group 1 race. Run over 3 miles 2½ furlongs and with a who’s who of racing greats winners list (Arkle, Kauto Star, Best Mate) it’s the one Cheltenham Festival race you simply cannot miss. With priZe money of over £500,000 is it any wonder that the race attracts the cream of the crop? Who’s your money on for the Golc Cup his year?
Whether you’re just tuning in for the feast of racing, or intend to put your money where your mouth is, enjoy Cheltenham and be lucky!
I can almost hear the Cheltenham Roar already, as the prestigious four day festival nears and punters pick apart the declarations in search for the best tips for Cheltenham. Let us take a trip down memory lane at one of the more noteworthy thoroughbred horses to take part over the years.
Hardy Eustace, owned by Laurence Byrne and trained throughout his career by Dessie Hughes at The Curragh, Co. Kildare, is best remembered for his victories in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 2004 and 2005.
However, the Archway gelding made his first trip across the Irish Sea in 2003, beating the subsequently disqualified Coolnagorma by 1½ lengths in the Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle. He was subsequently beaten out of sight by Iris’s Gift in the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree and, despite winning a 30-runner maiden at Navan in October, was beaten on his first four starts over hurdles in 2003/04, including once at odds of 1/4.
By the time he lined up, in first-time blinkers, alongside Rooster Booster and company in the Champion Hurdle, he was probably, justifiably, a 33/1 chance. However, in the race itself he barely saw another rival and, despite being joined by Rooster Booster at the last flight, drew away again on the run-in to win by 5 lengths. He returned to defend his title in 2005 and, once again, made most of the running, holding on gamely to beat Harchibald and Brave Inca by a neck and the same
He never won at Cheltenham Festival again, but finished third in the Champion Hurdle in 2006, fourth in the Champion Hurdle in 2007, twelfth in the World Hurdle in 2008 and ninth – as a 12-year-old, at 100/1 – in the Champion Hurdle in 2009. When he was retired later that year, he’d won 12 of his 41 starts over hurdles and just over £1 million in total prize money.
In the Betway Sprint Handicap (3.05) at Southwell on Tuesday, Foolaad has returned to action at the top of his game and looks to have every chance of completing a course and distance hat-trick. Roy Bowring’s 7-year-old has won five of his last seven starts and foiled a gamble on Tricky Dicky in a 0-105 contest over course and distance two weeks ago. The Exceed And Excel gelding has been raised 3lb for that success, but the weight rise is partially offset by a drop back into 0-90 company and he’s still not fully exposed over the minimum trip on Fibresand. He’s 3-4 at the distance and didn’t race as a 2-year-old or 3-year-old, so he could conceivably be open to further improvement, despite his age. Unfortunately, he’s a progressive type who won’t have gone unnoticed by the bookmakers but, this being a sprint handicap, he should be hopefully be a working man’s price in any case.
Selection: Southwell 3.05 Foolaad to win 3/1
41% of the UK population watched horse racing in the last three months. That’s pretty good going really! I thought it was just me and my mate Dave :P.