THE four championship races are the highlights of each day at Cheltenham’s National Hunt Festival. Here we look at them in depth.
Tuesday: Stan James Champion Hurdle
Tip: Hurricane Fly, currently 5-2 favourite
The two-mile hurdle championship looks to be a fight between four fine horses. The New One (11-4) was triumphant in the Neptune Investment Novices Hurdle at last year’s Festival and has improved this season, while Our Conor (4-1) won the Triumph Hurdle last year and has been aimed at this race ever since.
Nicky Henderson’s My Tent Or Yours (9-2) beat the New One in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, but Willie Mullins’ defending champion Hurricane Fly is in fine form and has the beating of the other three.
Wednesday: Betvictor Queen Mother Champion Chase
Tip: Sire De Grugy, currently 7-4 favourite
The injury to Sprinter Sacre has robbed Cheltenham of some lustre, but Sire De Grugy could be the horse to restore it. His performance in the Clarence House chase at Ascot in January was hugely impressive and he will not care what the going is like. Captain Conan from Nicky Henderson’s stable will give him a fight, and there’s been good money for Paul Nicholls’ Hinterland, but Sire De Grugy ticks all the boxes.
Thursday: Ladbroke World Hurdle
Tip: Annie Power, currently 6-4 favourite
Now going for an unprecedented fifth stayer’s championship, Big Buck’s was the banker bet at the Festival for four years running. From 2009 to 2012, he won the Ladbroke World Hurdle as part of an 18-race unbeaten streak that ended in January with a third place in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham on his return after a year out with a tendon injury.
If Paul Nicholl’s charge is back to his best, he should win, but Annie Power is coming over from Ireland with a fabulous reputation and a perfect record of ten runs, ten wins, and the smart money is for Willie Mullins’ mare.
Friday: Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup
Tip: Captain Chris (each way), currently 14-1
Defending champion Bob’s Worth is at the head of the betting after his sparkling return to form in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Silvianaco Conti is also near the head of the market following his tremendous win in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day, but we don’t know how he will act round Cheltenham as he fell in this race last year. There’s been an avalanche of money for Irish raider Last Instalment, but preference is for Captain Chris as a good each-way prospect following his impressive win in the Ascot Chase.