Cheltenham Festival 2019 is only a matter of days away and there’s much anticipation surrounding the eagerly-awaited four-day spectacular. Weeks and months of preparation finally come to an end with the opening day’s races, or Champion Day as it is known. Expect to hear the famous Cheltenham roar around the racecourse with punters and spectators alike revelling in its special atmosphere – and here we will take you through what to expect from day one.
The festival begins with the Supreme Novice Hurdle, a two mile and half a furlong race run over the old course. Since it opens the action, the race is held in quite high regard. Ruby Walsh is the most successful jockey to win the Supreme Novice Hurdle, with five wins; while Willie Mullins matches him as leading trainer in the race. This year, all eyes are on six-year-old Al Dancer, who has four wins from four hurdles races.
The Arkle Challenge Trophy is another race run on the old course, specifically for novices. But many winners of the Arkle have then gone on to win the Champion Chase, considered more prestigious; for example, the 2017 Arkle winner, Altior, who was victorious in the Champion Chase last year. Lalor is the current favourite for this year, despite his lack of preparation.
Difficult to call amongst bookmakers, with odds currently all in double-figures, the Handicap Steeple Chase is run on the old course, over three miles and a furlong and is a grade 3 race. Over the last 10 years, nine of the favourites have not won the race. The hoodoo ended last year with Coo Star Sivola winning at 5/1; however, this time, Give Me a Copper will also be looking to buck the trend at a price of 13/2.
On day one, it’s all about the Champion Hurdle, which is popular with racers and punters alike and is where the big money is to be won. In fact, the race is regarded as one of the top grade 1 races in the world. At current, Buveur D’Air is the favourite and will be looking to make it a hattrick of wins in the race, having won in 2017 and 2018, to join five other horses in the record books. Nicky Henderson is leading trainer and J.P. McManus, leading owner in the Champion Hurdle – and they will both be looking to add to their accolades. In the meantime, you can find Champion Hurdle 2019 betting on Betfair.
Only introduced a decade ago, the Mares’ Hurdle has fast become one of the most sought-after titles for mares over four years old. Last year’s winner Benie des Dieux ridden by Ruby Walsh, the most successful jockey in the race with eight wins and trained by the hugely successful Willie Mullins, was the leading favourite but has recently slipped to second with odds of 4/5. However, the favourite is now Apple’s Jade at 4/6 – and it’s sure to be a toughly-contested race.
The Novices’ Handicap Chase is the penultimate race and sees horses run over two miles and four-and-a-half furlongs, crossing 16 fences en route. The prize money here is the day’s lowest. Interestingly, since being introduced to the calendar in 2005, only two of the favourites have gone on to win, making it a tough race to call.
The day is drawn to a close by the historic National Hunt, which was inaugurated in 1860. The grade 2 event, which sees horses compete over four miles, has seen Jonjo O’Neill the most successful trainer. However, it looks as though Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson will be looking to battle it out this year, with the former hoping to make it two wins in successive years.
The prize money
An estimated £1,175,000 will be won on the opening day, with a large percentage of that (£450,000) in the prize pool for the Champion Hurdle. The Arkle Challenge Trophy, named after the three-time winner of the Gold Cup in the 1960s, comes in second with £175,000 of prize money. You can find the full figures, here.