Historic Cheltenham Festival in store

Davy Russell on Chosen Mate wins the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase at Cheltenham in 2020

Jockey Davy Russell wins the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase with Chosen Mate during day four of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse - Credit: PA

The Cheltenham Festival features four days of exhilarating National Hunt action and is all set to once again take over the sporting calendar next week.

Dubbed 'the greatest show on turf' the best equine athletes across Britain and Ireland come together amidst the rolling hills of Gloucestershire for action unmatched throughout the rest of the season.

The Cheltenham Festival is made up of 28 races, seven on each of the four days of the meeting at Prestbury Park, and the total meeting carries a prize fund of over £4.5 million, with the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup, the feature race of the event carrying a prize fund of £625,000.

This year’s meeting is, for the first time in its history, set to be behind closed doors due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Only those required to ensure the meeting can be held safely will be at the course over the four days. This includes medical staff, jockeys, trainers and selected members of the media.

With the Festival worth over £100 million in revenue for the local area, the financial implications are plain to see, but with the country as a whole working from home this year, viewing figures for the four days also look to rise, with ITV showing six live races every day.

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In terms of the action on the track, the biggest names in National Hunt racing are always worth following at the event.

Irish trainer Willie Mullins boasts the record of most wins by any trainer at the Cheltenham Festival with 72 victories. He has also been crowned the meeting’s leading trainer seven times in the last 10 years.

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His team this year is headed by Al Boum Photo who bids to emulate the great Best Mate as a three-time winner of the feature WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup. Successful in 2019 and 2020, Al Boum Photo warmed up for his date with sporting destiny with a smooth success at Tramore on New Year’s Day and is 3/1 for Jump Racing’s most prestigious event on Friday, March 19.

Other leading contenders trained by Mullins include the hugely exciting Monkfish who tasted victory in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at last year’s Cheltenham and is unbeaten in three starts over fences this term. He is the current 8/11 favourite for the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase on the Wednesday of the meeting.

Elsewhere, the horse on everyone’s lips going into the meeting is the unbeaten Envoi Allen. Winner of all 11 of his starts under Rules, the seven-year-old is a dual Cheltenham Festival hero and has continued his upward progression with three victories over fences this term.

Following the revelations surrounding disgraced trainer Gordon Elliott and his subsequent six-month ban from training horses, Envoi Allen has moved to fellow Irish trainer Henry De Bromhead and is the 8/11 favourite for the Marsh Novices’ Chase held on the Thursday of the meeting.

The British contingent is headed by Paisley Park who bids to regain his crown in the Stayers’ Hurdle (Thursday, March 18). Trained by Emma Lavelle, Paisley Park captured the 2019 running of the three-mile event, but disappointed in the 2020 renewal. However, he defeated fellow Stayers’ Hurdle contender Thyme Hill at Ascot on his latest start.

Given the nature of this year’s meeting, bookmakers are expecting significant turnover and will be offering punters plenty of appetising offers, but please remember to gamble responsibly and more importantly, enjoy all of the action. It promises to be some spectacle and a week to remember.

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