The Cheltenham Festival is the undoubted highlight of the National Hunt racing calendar in the United Kingdom, with massive crowds flocking to what is now a four-day event.
Opinions vary as to the origins of the Cheltenham Festival but what is indisputable is that the feature race of the modern event, the Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase, first took place in 1924. Not many people know that Red Splash won the inaugural Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase, with history being considerably kinder to subsequent winners such as five-time champion Golden Miller, three-time victor Arkle and Kauto Star, which was the first horse to regain the title.
Most National Hunt racing fans have a favourite day of the Cheltenham Festival, with each one of the four featuring a championship race. The Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy is Tuesday’s main event, the Queen Mother Champion Chase is Wednesday’s crowd puller, the World Hurdle is Thursday’s headline act and the Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase, run over about three and a quarter miles, is Friday’s blockbuster.
As its name suggests, the Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy is the most prestigious hurdling race on the National Hunt racing calendar. Five horses have won the event three times but none more famously than Istabraq, the regally bred son of Sadler’s Wells who won the Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy in 1998, 1999 and 2000 and was odds on to win the 2001 edition before an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease led to the cancellation of that year’s Cheltenham Festival.
The Queen Mother Champion Chase is the top short-distance race for steeplechasers, with the two-mile event run at a frenetic pace. Badsworth Boy went back to back to back in the Queen Mother Champion Chase in the mid 1980s. The race was renamed to honour Queen Elizabeth II’s mother in 1980, recognising her love and support of National Hunt racing.
The World Hurdle is the most prized long-distance race for hurdlers, with the legendary Big Buck’s winning it for the fourth year in a row in 2012. Big Buck’s has not been sighted since extending his unbeaten run to 18 races by thrashing a small field at Newbury four months ago.
Before getting into the key trends day by day at Cheltenham – take a minute to look at the key bookmakers offering markets on the event. Remember bookies love Cheltenham and always offer free money and bets to new punters. Use these promotions to bolster your edge.
The Cheltenham Festival lends itself to trend analysis better than almost any other British horse racing meeting so, rather than try to tip specific winners of the various races, it makes sense to turn the spotlight on historical data that should enable one to narrow down the fields.
On Tuesday, no horse has won the Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy more than a year apart since Comedy of Errors took out the 1973 and 1975 editions. That statistic shows the task facing Hurricane Fly and the favourite is also bidding to become only the third nine-year-old or older to win the race in the last 30 years. Royal Gait (1992) and Rooster Booster (2003) were the most recent oldies to succeed.
Also in the Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy, likely second favourite Zarkandar has history against it because no horse has finished unplaced one year and won it the next since Morley Street went from fifth in 1990 to first in 1991.
Tuesday’s other trends include the Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase being something of a favourite’s paradise and the Irish almost monopolising the Cross Country Chase.
Sprinter Scare is trading at very short odds to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase and with good reason. Nicky Henderson’s charge fits the race profile perfectly at the age of seven and having won the Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase 12 months ago. Five of the last 10 Queen Mother Champion Chase winners had run in the Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase.
Just because only one Coral Cup favourite has obliged in the last 10 years one should not discount the market leaders for the handicap hurdle. All of the last 10 winners were among the top six in the betting so do not ignore the obvious.
Previous Cheltenham form usually holds the key to solving the World Hurdle puzzle, with 17 of the last 22 editions taken out by a horse that had run on the festival course within the last 12 months. Cheltenham is a testing track, while the World Hurdle is a testing race over more than three miles. Only the strong survive up the hill.
Most Ireland-trained horses are well supported during the Cheltenham Festival but competitors from across the Irish Sea have a terrible record in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase. The Irish are without a victory in this contest since Greasepaint in 1983. A prerequisite for success is a top amateur jockey also.
Favourites have a good recent record in the Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase, with six of the last 10 market leaders winning the feature event. Eight of the last 10 Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase winners did not appear from nowhere having either won or placed in a previous Cheltenham Festival race.
The Triumph Hurdle is not the lottery that many punters perceive it to be, with one of the top four favourites winning seven of its last eight editions, while Paul Nicholls is the trainer to follow in the Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle with three wins in recent times.
Check out the 2013 Cheltenham Gold Cup Preview from RacingPost.com