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THE preview nights are coming thick and fast, the price boosts and free bet offers are flooding in by email and every other WhatsApp group has someone touting a ‘good thing' that can't lose.
It can mean only one thing: the Cheltenham Festival is nearly here. Four days of absolute magic at the famous Gloucestershire track will start on Tuesday 16th March at 1.20pm and most horse racing fans can't wait for it.
Sadly we won't have any crowds at the Festival this year and that will be a huge loss but the quality of horse racing won't be diminished and it will be fun sitting in front of the TV watching the entire spectacle this year.
There are 28 races in total with seven on each day including championship races, handicaps, novice races and races only for mares. Here's a rundown of what to expect over the four days with the key names and big races to watch out for.
Day One – Tuesday
The big race on Tuesday is the Champion Hurdle, won in the recent past by horses such as Faugheen, Annie Power, Hurricane Fly and Buveur D'Air. You need a horse that can travel at top speed for 2 miles but also find an extra burst of pace up the hill at the end. The favourite is Honeysuckle, a mare who is unbeaten in her career so far and will be a tough nut to crack.
Other races on Tuesday include the Supreme Novice's Hurdle, run over the same course as the Champion Hurdle but for younger horses and the Arkle Novices' Chase which is usually an exhilarating 2 mile race over fences where speedy young chasers like Shiskin and Energumene will try to out-do each other with their jumping at top speed. Also on Tuesday, my favourite winner from last year's festival Concertista will try to win again, this time in the Mares Hurdle.
- Banker Bet of the Day: Concertista (Mares Hurdle) 11/10
Day Two – Wednesday
The feature race of the second day is the Champion Chase, where recent famous winners have included the fantastic Sprinter Sacre and Altior. This year Chacun Pour Soi is the hot favourite but Altior returns having missed last year due to injury. Can he regain his crown as a veteran at the age of 11?
The hugely impressive Monkfish is a novice running in the 3 mile Brown Advisory Novices' Chase on Wednesday and we might also see the famous Grand National Hero Tiger Roll line up in the Cross Country Chase which is an incredible spectacle as the horses run on a special course over banks, dips and a variety of unusual obstacles.
- Banker Bet of the Day: Monkfish (Brown Advisory) 8/11
Day Three – Thursday
The feature race officially is the Stayers' Hurdle where old favourite Paisley Park will line up again with a huge chance of winning but the Ryanair Chase is becoming a really big race on the Thursday too with the quality of entries improving almost year on year. This year it looks like Irish genius trainer Willie Mullins will have a strong hand in the race as he saddles four of the top fancies for the race and it remains to be seen whether festival regular Min can repeat his victory from last year.
Other races on the Thursday include the Marsh Novices' Chase where exciting novice chaser Envoi Allen aims to win an incredible 12th race in a row. He has never been beaten on the racecourse in has career to date which is quire remarkable.
- Banker Bet of the Day: Envoi Allen (Marsh Novices' Chase) 5/6
Day Four – Friday
The fourth and final day will see the world famous Cheltenham Gold Cup take centre stage and if you know who is going to win I'd like to hear about it. I can make a case for about six of them but perhaps the most obvious is Al Boum Photo who has won the last two renewals and comes back as a 9 year old with a huge chance of making it an incredible three in a row. My ante post pick to beat him was Champ who has now shortened in the betting and is second favourite but there are loads of other contenders including last year's runner up Santini and Festival winners from last year A Plus Tard and Frodon who now try their luck at the biggest race of all.
Elsewhere on the Friday we have the Triumph Hurdle which sees the pick of the four year old hurdlers face off against each other and a new race, the Mares Chase, where the best female jumpers will aim to make their own piece of history.
- Banker Bet of the Day: Zanahiyr (Triumph Hurdle) 5/2
Despite all the challenges that have been laid before us in the past year – not least the recent Gordon Elliott scandal and subsequent 6 month ban – this Festival looks like it could be one for the ages and I can't wait for 1.20pm next Tuesday to come around. There might not be a famous ‘Cheltenham roar' this year but there will be one in my front room I can assure you.