The 2015 Cheltenham Festival is rapidly approaching, with just less than a month to go until the tapes go up at on Tuesday, March 10. The countdown intensifies this week with the unveiling of the acceptors for the five main Grade One championship contests – the Stan James Champion Hurdle, the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, the Ryanair Chase and the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup, plus the newly-promoted OLBG Mares’ Hurdle.
The £400,000 Stan James Champion Hurdle is the highlight of the first day of The Festival, Champion Day, Tuesday, March 10. There are 16 contenders going forward for the hurdling championship, headed by Faugheen who is top-rated on 182p by Timeform. The Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old, unbeaten in eight starts, landed the Grade One Christmas Hurdle impressively at Kempton Park on Boxing Day on his latest appearance. Rated just 1lb inferior to her stable companion on 181 is the superstar mare Annie Power, who has yet to race this season, with last year’s winner,the Jessica Harrington-trained Jezki,on the same rating. The leading British-trained contender is the 2014 third The New One on 180 for Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Gloucestershire yard, with two more from Mullins’ stables next – 11-year-old Hurricane Fly, the Stan James Champion Hurdle winner in 2011 and 2013 and third in 2012 and fourth in 2014, on 179 and impressive front-running novice chaser Un De Sceaux on 179p.
Annie Power heads the 36 entries remaining in the Grade One OLBG Mares’ Hurdle, also run on Champion Day, and would have an easy task in the two and a half mile race according to Timeform, who rate her 12lb clear of closest rival Aurore D’Estruvial (167), followed by Glens Melody (166), Polly Peachum (165),Carole’s Spirit (163) and L’Unique (162).
Wednesday, March 11 is Ladies Day, with the £350,000 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase the highlight. The 26 entries going forward include the most recent two winners of the two-mile chasing championship – Sprinter Sacre, the imperious 2013 victor, who is top-rated on 186 with Timeform and last year’s scorer Sire De Grugy (181), who unseated Jamie Moore three out on his Newbury comeback on Saturday (February 7). Dodging Bullets, who got the better of Sprinter Sacre in last month’s Clarence House Chase at Ascot, is joint third-best on 180 with Timeform along with the pick of the 13 remaining Irish-trained entries, Don Cossack.
St Patrick’s Thursday, March 12, plays host to both the £300,000 Ladbrokes World Hurdle and the £300,000 Ryanair Chase. More Of That (182) and Annie Power (181) fought out the finish to the Ladbrokes World Hurdle in 2014 and are top-rated with Timeform for this year’s renewal of the three-mile hurdling championship, with 2012 Stan James Champion Hurdle victor Rock On Ruby third best on 176 among the 27 horses remaining.
Menorah (182), trained by Philip Hobbs, heads the 35 acceptors for the Ryanair Chase over two miles and five furlongs, with his closest pursuers according to Timeform being Irish challengers Don Cossack (180+) and Champagne Fever (178), followed by Ma Filleule (176) and Balder Succes (175) who are to due clash at Ascot on Saturday (February 14).
The fourth and final day of The Festival, Friday, March 13, is Gold Cup Day and there 24 contenders going forward for the feature £550,000 Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup. Paul Nicholls, the most successful current trainer in the chasing championship with four wins, is responsible for the current ante-post favourite Silviniaco Conti, who is top-rated with Timeform on 187, clear of Don Cossack (180+) and Champagne Fever (178). Hennessy Gold Cup and BetBright Cup Chase hero Many Clouds is on 176+, with Roads To Riches and the mare Ma Filleule both rated 176. Saturday’s impressive Denman Chase victor, the unbeaten novice Coneygree, also goes forward.
Happy punting troops,
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