There are now only 45 more sleeps before the first day of the Cheltenham Festival and its Trials day at the track. All roads now lead to the jumps meeting that matter most and trainers with live chances will be having many sleepless nights. This time last year the Cotswold Chase was a sad occasion because it led to the demise of Many Clouds but Bristol De Mai can get back on track for a run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The horse can be a stone better when the going is soft or heavy.
Horse racing is still the second most popular spectating sport in Britain after football. However, despite the great success of the festivals attendances overall are in decline. The typical profile of a midweek race goer is a male over the age of 40. That is a generalisation but there is an issue with regards a new breed of younger racing fans. Total attendance is high due to the quantity of racing but away from Friday and Saturday crowds at grassroots meetings are falling.
Prize money away from the lucrative days is generally low and it costs too much to get into meetings in midweek. The whole industry is holding its breath for the announcement of the new maximum stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. If is reduced to £2 there is talk of shop closures and less funding to racing. That means even lower levels of prize money and potentially smaller crowds. Racing fans will turn out in huge numbers at Cheltenham today and at the Festival in March. Good prize money attracts the best horses that get people coming through the turnstiles.
Cheltenham is not quite the be all and end all of the jumps season but the Festival stages the championship races over various distances in hurdling and chasing. Its dominance means there are few clashes between the best horses at any other time of the season. The Grade 1 races before the Festival are generally uncompetitive affairs with not enough runners to pay out on three places. There won’t be huge fields in the two feature races at Cheltenham today.
The Cotswold Chase is a trial for the Gold Cup and it is run over just short of three miles and two furlongs. However, two of the last seven winners also won the Grand National. Since 2000 only Looks Like Trouble has won the race and Gold Cup in the same year. Only See More Business and Many Clouds are multiple winners. Paul Nicholls and Tony McCoy are the leading trainer and jockey over the last 25 years. Bristol De Mai is trying to become the first Betfair Chase winner to oblige.
The horse loved conditions at Haydock when winning the Betfair Chase. The attempt at winning a £1 million bonus was scuppered in the King George which Might Bite won in impressive style. Bristol De Mai has now drifted like a barge in ante post betting for the Gold Cup and will have to win the Cotswold Chase impressively to get back in the mix. The going should suit the horse but the track At Cheltenham is not ideal. In fact the Cotswold Chase could provide more clues for the National.
The Last Samurai was second in that race in 2016 and finished 16th last year. Definitely Red was a leading contender in the race in 2017 but was pulled up in a race won by One For Arthur. Coneygree won the Gold Cup in 2015 and back to his best would win the Cotswold Chase but has been disappointing this season. Tea For two beat Cue Card at Aintree in April and on that form must have a chance. However, Bristol De Mai is the form choice to win the 2018 Cotswold Chase.