The Cheltenham Festival is the highlight of the National Hunt season in the United Kingdom & Ireland, featuring 28 races over four days of top quality racing. Here are four of the biggest to look forward to in 2019.
Cheltenham Gold Cup
According to a recent myracingtips poll of 691 people, this is the highlight of the entire Festival. The Grade 1 Steeplechase features a prize pool of £625,000 ($795,000) this year making it one of the highest prize pots in British racing – although it pales in comparison to the Breeders’ Cup races.
First run in 1924, this year also interestingly sees the return of the original trophy which will now be presented in perpetuity. Native River won this race in 2018 and will line up again this year against a stellar field.
The Cheltenham course – and in particular the infamous Cheltenham run in up the hill – is known for being tough and uncompromising. A mix of ability, stamina and perfect jumping is needed to win this race.
Almost the polar opposite to the Gold Cup, the Champion Hurdle is fast and furious. Run over two miles and featuring eight hurdles, the focus in this event is on speed although the Cheltenham course as always forces horses to have stamina reserves too.
There have been numerous classic Champion Hurdles, but the edition which best boasts a claim for being the greatest of all time is the 1977 Champion Hurdle.Featuring three horses who would go on to be dual winners of the two mile event, Night Nurse took victory ahead of Monksfield, who went on to win the race in 1978 and 1979.
Punters will be hoping for a race as memorable as that in 2019. Buveur D’Air has the opportunity and the bookmakers’ backing to make it three wins in a row. That feat would put him in an elite class of horses, alongside legends such as See You Then and Istabraq.
First run in 2005 when the Festival was expanded to four days, this is perhaps a surprise inclusion but it received strong support in the myracing survey.
Run over two and a half miles, it provides an opportunity for those horses without the speed for the Champion Chase or the stamina for the Gold Cup. Despite the supposed deficiencies of those entering, the race has grown in stature thanks to elite winners such as Vautour in 2016.
This year’s line up looks set to contain three top class horses. Min, winner of multiple Grade 1 chases already, has finished second at the Cheltenham Festival twice already including in the Champion Chase. Waiting Patiently looks set to take on the Ryanair Chase as his Cheltenham Festival target, despite being considered by many as a genuine Gold Cup contender. Meanwhile, Footpad won the Arkle Novices’ Chase by an impressive 14 lengths last season, is strong in the market for both the Ryanair Chase and the Champion Chase. The fact his trainer sees him as a potential future Gold Cup horse could see the Ryanair Chase used as a stepping stone this season.
Arguably a significant part of the reason for such a high quality line up for the Ryanair Chase is the presence of just one horse in the Champion Chase – Altior. Winner of all 11 of his chase starts to date, including the Champion Chase last year and the Arkle Chase the year before, he also won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2016 and has an incredible four wins from four at Cheltenham.
Assuming he lines up, he looks sure to be one of the bankers of the week for punters. It is difficult to see any contender currently in training who could beat him if he is at his best, with his Racing Post Rating of 180 for his demolition of a small field at Kempton on the 27th of December significantly above any other chase run by his main rivals this season.
While the other races look certain to be highlights based on the quality of the racing, the Champion Chase may be an opportunity for racing fans to sit back and watch a legend in the making who has still yet to be stretched over fences.