Cheltenham Festival 2013 Overview - 12th to 15th March

The Cheltenham Festival is the pinnacle of the jump racing calendar, featuring a quartet of world-class races: the Gold Cup, the Champion Hurdle, the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the World Hurdle. With four days of varied racing testing the best horses from the UK, Ireland and beyond, there is more than enough to satisfy racing enthusiasts and occasional punters alike.

Attracting the crème de la crème from the racing fraternity, the Festival has been the launching pad for such esteemed recent luminaries as Denman, Long Run, Best Mate and Kauto Star, not to mention the best jump jockeys in history.

With 26 races in all over the four days – 12 of which are Grade 1s – there are more betting opportunities here than any other meeting. So read on for our guide to the highlights of the Festival and begin to think about the races you’ll be taking a keen interest in, as spectator or punter.

Cheltenham Festival Day One, Champion Day – Tuesday 12th March 2013

As the tapes rise for the first race on day one – the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – the famous ‘Cheltenham roar’ emanates from the excitable crowd, a sure sign the Festival has well and truly started.

The feature race on the first day is the Champion Hurdle, the most prestigious hurdle in the National Hunt calendar. Run over a distance of two miles 110 yards, with eight hurdles to negotiate, Irish eight-year-old Rock On Ruby romped to glory last year but will have his work cut out emulating that fine run this year as a top-class field of two- mile hurdlers aim to usurp him.

Other highlights of day one – in addition to the aforementioned Supreme Novices’ Hurdle which is run over the same course and distance as the feature race – is the Arkle Trophy. This is the race trainers and owners of two-mile novice chasers have their eyes on, and it is certain to be an early highlight of this racing extravaganza.

The other races on the opening day are the JLT Specialty Steeple Chase (a three- mile plus handicap), the monster three mile seven furlong Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Steeple Chase and the Mares’ Hurdle. But it will be the three races mentioned earlier which will catch the imagination – and betting pounds – of the public.

For a race by race preview of the Champion Day (including the odd tip or two) read our full Day One Preview, or check out one of our longer previews for the days feature races:

Cheltenham Festival Day Two, Ladies Day – Wednesday 13th March 2013

Day two is Ladies Day, but rather than the array of fancy hats on show it is the four Grade 1 races that are of interest to us. Often one of the most exciting spectacles of the Festival, the Queen Mother Champion Chase is the feature race of the second day as the best two-mile chasers in the business hurtle first down the hill then up the final straight with immense power and poise. Finian’s Rainbow was triumphant last year, but the standard of horses in this field is so high he’ll struggle to make it two in a row.

With the other Grade 1s on Ladies Day being the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle, the RSA Chase and the Champion Bumper, the array of racing talent on display is enough to satiate the most devouring of racing appetites. The Bumper is a rare flat race at Cheltenham, while the RSA Chase is used as a stepping stone race for future Gold Cup contenders.

With a four-mile National Hunt Chase opening the day with amateur riders in the saddles, a pair of Grade 3 races – the Coral Cup and Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle – complete the card for what promises to be one of the best days of racing this year.

For our full guide to the Ladies Day at Cheltenham head on over to our Day Two Preview, or check out one of our longer previews for the days feature races:

Cheltenham Festival Day Three, St Patrick’s Thursday – Thursday 14th March 2013

Let’s forget the fact that the actual St Patrick’s Day isn’t until the Sunday (they need to sell their Guinness, after all), and focus instead on the feature race – the three- mile World Hurdle. As long-distance hurdles go, this race is top of the pile. With 12 hurdles to get over it can challenge all but the best-prepared horses, but it has been Big Buck’s – with Ruby Walsh on board – who has made this race his own in recent years, winning each of the last four renewals. But with the reigning champion out for the season through injury, the race is wide open for a field full of willing contenders.

The other main race of the day is the Ryanair Chase (or Festival Trophy Chase), run over two miles and five furlongs. Only added to the roster in 2005 when the fourth day was added, previous winners include Imperial Commander, Albertas Run (twice) and – last year – Riverside Theatre. There are some interesting French entries this year who could put paid to the Nicky Henderson-trained nine-year-old winning this one for the second year in succession.

Perhaps the least prestigious day of the Festival in terms of the racing – but maybe the biggest in terms of the party atmosphere – the other races may not be full of household names, but there are still plenty of opportunities for making tidy profits. The Jewson Novices’ Chase and Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle precede the two bigger races, while the Byrne Group Plate Kim Muir Challenge Cup follow. The day ends with the St Patrick’s Derby – a charity flat race run over one mile and five furlongs.

To read our full guide to St Paricks Thursday at Cheltenham, head on over to our Day Three Preview, or read one of our longer pieces on the days feature races:

Cheltenham Festival Day Four, Cheltenham Gold Cup Day – Friday 15th March 2013

Almost before you know it and we’re on the final day of the Festival – but what a day it is. As the name suggests this day is all about the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and this most prestigious of races rarely disappoints in its excitement. The most valuable non-handicap chase in Britain, with a prize fund of almost half a million quid, the Gold Cup is run over three miles, two furlongs and 110 yards and gives punters ample opportunity to pick out some decent-priced each-way options.

The list of past winners is like a who’s who of the greatest horses in history, with Kauto Star, Best Mate, L’Escargot and the legendary Arkle all winning twice or more since the 1960s. Whether a new hero will be born on the final day of the Festival this year remains to be seen, but it will be fun finding out.

While all eyes will be on the big one, the other races on the final day are still very much worth paying attention to. The Grade 1 Triumph Hurdle starts things off, run over two miles and a furlong, with the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle being the other Grade 1 race, this time for three-milers. The County Hurdle, Foxhunters Chase Conditionals Handicap Hurdle are all worthy of their places on the final day’s card, with the Grand Annual Chase finishing things off for another year.

So with such a feast of racing fare ahead, the tough part is picking the winners, but be sure to check our site in the coming days as we attempt to help you out on that front. Our betting previews of the key races will give you the heads up on the market movers and main contenders and our overviews of each day of the Festival will help you make the right decisions in some of the lesser races on the cards.

For a full round up of the final day at Cheltenham read our Day Four Preview, or take your pick from one of the individual race previews listed below: