Sport of Kings: 2017 Cheltenham Festival preview
Elite level sport, top-drawer socialising and huge multi-million pound business — Carey-Ann Lordan’s 2017 Cheltenham Festival preview puts you in the picture about one of the greatest sporting and social occasions in the UK and Ireland.
DEEP in the middle of the English Cotswolds sits the prestigious Prestbury Park, where more than 220,000 spectators will gather from March 14-17, for the Cheltenham Festival. Our 2017 Cheltenham Festival preview is a handy primer for those who have never travelled to the red-letter event of the National Hunt Racing calendar. Here are the main talking points.
1. Big Business
To say Cheltenham is big business is an understatement. The gate receipts alone top the £7m mark, while there is a staggering total of some £600m staked on the 27 races held over the four-day event.
2. Sports in the Mainstream
Cheltenham is one of those sports events that moves out of the niche pages and sections and emphatically into the mainstream. In our office, the lads are running a tipster competition, and there are talks of a pre-festival night in the immediate run-up to the event.
3. The Cheltenham Roar
Most most observers, the highlight is the graveyard silence observed by 50,000 or so spectators for the start of the festival’s opening race. The roar of the crowd that crescendoes when the horses take the first strides of the meet is simply exhilarating.
4. Drama & Speculation
The build up to the 2017 festival has been marked by dramatic developments, with the Willie Mullins string being worst hit; a spate of injuries ruling out Annie Power, Faugheen, Min, Vautour and many ante-post bets in the process. Other superstars who will be missed include Colin Tizzard’s Thistlecrack, who was favourite for the Gold Cup, and JP McManus’s first jockey Barry Geraghty who sustained broken ribs and a punctured lung following a fall at Kempton in the weeks prior to the festival.
5. Elite Racing
The cream of racing talent in Britain and Ireland will take their places in the starting gates during the Cheltenham Festival. As ever there is great anticipation and friendly but keen rivalry between the nations throughout the festival, which gives the proceedings a competitive edge.
The big Irish names include Gordon Elliott, Henry de Bromhead, Willie Mullins, Noel Meade, Joseph O’Brien and Jessica Harrington, while the UK supremos include Paul Nicholls, Nicky Henderson, Nigel Twiston-Davies, Philip Hobbs, Alan King and Dan Skelton.
The festival is a great opportunity to see top jockeys such as Ruby Walsh, Davy Russell, Bryan Cooper and Jack Kennedy, facing down Richard Johnston, Brian Hughes, Sam Twiston-Davies, Noel Fehily and Tom Scudamore. With the chance of glory and a mega financial glory at every finish line, expect intense competition between these tough sportsmen.
7. The Big Races
Here’s a breakdown of the big races each day, for the novices amongst you and also for more seasoned Cheltenham campaigners who want to plan their days around the main events.
Tuesday: Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Champion Hurdle
Wednesday: RSA Chase and The Queen Mother Champion Chase
Thursday: Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle and The Ryanair Chase
Friday: Triumph Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup