The ones to watch at this year’s Cheltenham Festival

Horse Racing Thursday February 8, 2024 By: Harry Howes

They say the first sign of spring is the emergence of daffodils but for sports fans, it’s the start of the Cheltenham festival. Horse racing’s biggest event returns next month, with thousands of excited punters set to flock to Gloucestershire for the four-day event.

Ahead of the famous festival, we’ve taken an early look at all the key races and which horses are likely to be contenders.

When is Cheltenham?

The festival gets underway on Tuesday 12th March and if you want to see the world’s finest racehorses from the best seats in the house, you can make the most of our exclusive hospitality packages.

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Who are the favourites for the big races?

Cheltenham Gold Cup

One of horse racing’s most iconic races returns to Cheltenham next month and reigning champion Galopin Des Champs is the favourite to retain his crown. Paul Townend rode the star to glory last year and the pair are in good form having secured a second successive Irish Gold Cup last week. Willie Mullins is looking to win the Gold Cup for the fourth time having secured back-to-back victories with Al Boum Photo in 2019 and 2020.

Their likeliest competitor is Fastorslow, who has got the better of Galopin Des Champs twice in recent months. But Fastorslow, who came second in the Handicap Chase last year, had no reply as he was left in Galopin Des Champs’ wake at Leopardstown over the weekend.

Shishkin is also targeting Gold Cup success and will look to race into form in the Denman Chase at Newbury on Saturday. Nicky Henderson’s contender fell at the second last on his latest outing in the King George on Boxing Day. Meanwhile, Bravemansgame and Conflated return to the field having finished second and third in the Gold Cup a year ago.

Champion Hurdle

Just like the Gold Cup, the reigning champion is back to defend their title in the Champion Hurdle. Having won it last year, Constitution Hill and Nico de Boinville will reunite and they’re in strong form following a dominating performance in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day.

But State Man is out for revenge. Mullins’ horse came second to Constitution Hill last year and will be desperate to make amends this time around. The seven-year-old has won all four of his races since, including the Irish Champion Hurdle last weekend.

Zanahiyr did well to finish third in last year’s event but is unlikely to threaten again, while Mullins’ Lossiemouth could challenge.

Queen Mother Champion Chase

Another pair of rivals will go head-to-head in the Queen Mother Champion Chase in the form of El Fabiolo and Jonbon. The pair finished first and second in last year’s Arkle, with Mullins’ El Fabiolo coming out on top by 5 ½ lengths.

Ridden by Townend, he’s the favourite to go all the way again having won all three of his races since, including the Dublin Chase. Meanwhile, Jonbon is well practised against his opponents. He’s seen off challenges from fellow Champion Chase contender Edwardstone twice recently, while he suffered a narrow defeat to Elixir De Nutz last month.

Energumene has been victorious in the last two editions of the Champion Chase but will be denied the chance of a hat-trick having been ruled out through injury.

Stayers’ Hurdle

Sire Du Berlais was the shock 33/1 winner in last year’s Stayers’ Hurdle, ridden by Mark Walsh. The 12-year-old will run again this time around but is unlikely to repeat the feat.

Stablemate Teahupoo was third that day and is the favourite to come out on top this time. Gordon Elliott’s prospect has only run twice since the Stayers’ a year ago, winning just once. However, that victory came at the expense of Impaire Et Passe, who would have been among the favourites if he was racing this year.

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