With the 2014 racing season now fully behind us, many racing fans will be turning their attention toward the events of the spring season. At the Yorkshire’s Garden Racecourse, that means circling April 16 on your calendar, as this is when the first standard race of the year. the Ripon ‘Cock o’ the North’ Handicap, will take place. The first feature race day is scheduled a week and a half later on Saturday, April 25.
Unfortunately, April is clearly still a long way off, and there are a few racing events in the UK that will start off the spring season before the Yorkshire’s Garden Racecourse is once again open for business. Chief among those races is the Cheltenham Festival, set to take place from March 10-13. This is always one of the great events of the year in racing, from both a sports and entertainment perspective, and it’s worth checking out if you just can’t wait for April in Yorkshire. So here’s a brief preview of the four days of Cheltenham.
The first day of the festival is known as Champion Day and starts off with the Supreme Novices Hurdle in the early afternoon. From that point on, there’s racing throughout the day, though it’s the Champion Hurdle in the middle of the afternoon that serves as the main attraction. Each day at Cheltenham essentially has a signature race, and on Day One, it’s the Champion Hurdle. Defending champion Jezki is expected to compete and will once again be among the favourites for this contest. Although, if you’re one to place bets on the races, Betfair‘s early odds have two other contenders ahead of Jezki. Faugheen is out front with 11/5 odds to take the Champion Hurdle while The New One is second at 7/2. Also of note is Hurricane Fly, a two-time winner who rounds out the top-four at 15/1 odds (behind Jezki’s 6/1). Hurricane Fly recently won November’s Morgiana Hurdle, where Jezki was the favourite. It’s safe to say the feature race of Day One should be tightly contested.
The second day is also known as the festival’s Ladies Day, which means that the fun, extravagant fashion of horse racing is emphasized even more. Fashion truly does take centre stage on Ladies Day, and if you’re planning on attending and dressing up for the occasion, you can refer to Telegraph‘s photos of Cheltenham 2014’s Ladies Day for inspiration and ideas. While this makes for a fun exhibition, there’s a full day of racing on Day Two as well, headlined by the Queen Mother Champion Chase. And the Champion Chase may carry more intrigue than any other race at Cheltenham this year, because the top two bets to win the race are the previous two champions. Sprinter Sacre is the current favourite (7/2 odds) after winning in 2013 and having to withdraw
for the 2014 race. But Sire de Grugy, who won in 2014 in Sprinter Sacre’s absence, is just behind (6/1 odds). The Cheltenham crowd will be buzzing for this one.
Like Ladies Day, the third day at Cheltenham carries a lot of focus for off-the-track activity. Specifically, it’s the St. Patrick’s Day celebration that takes over the grounds. It’s a great deal of fun for all involved—part of the grounds includes a “Guinness Village“—and in some ways represents the height of festivity for the entire event. The headline race of the day is the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, where defending champion More Of That is the betting favourite at 4/1 odds. The real intrigue at this year’s World Hurdle, however, will be looking for a dominant performance. Big names like Annie Power and Hurricane Fly will likely compete, but this is not the signature event for these horses and the cluster of favourites does not include a true seasoned champion. It will be interesting to see who emerges, and if More Of That can establish a legacy.
The final day of the festival is marked by the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which serves as the true feature race. And this year, it seems to be anybody’s race. Lord Windermere was a surprise winner in 2014 and will be competing to defend the title. However, there are five horses serving as popular favourites and they’re all packed in a narrow range between 8/1 and 12/1 odds. Silviniaco Conti is the favourite, but this in particular will be a tough event to predict (or bet on).
Add it all up and that’s a great deal of action and intrigue for one of the year’s earliest major racing events. It’s certainly a wonderful way to keep yourself occupied as we all wait for Yorkshire to open its tracks!