By Ian Palmer
Horse racing fans and gamblers are in for a treat March 13-16 at Cheltenham Racecourse in England as the annual four-day jump racing festival will feature a total of 28 different races overall.
The event kicks off on Tuesday with the Novices Hurdle, Arkle Challenge Trophy, Festival Handicap Chase, Champion Hurdle, David Nicholson Mares Hurdle, National Hunt Chase and Novices Handicap Chase.
Wednesday is Ladies Day and the races are the Neptune Novices Hurdle, RSA Chase, Coral Cup, Queen Mother Champion Chase, Cross Country Chase, Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle and the Champion Bumper.
On Thursday you’ll be able to watch and wager on the JLT Novices Chase, Pertemps Final Hurdle, Ryanair Chase, Stayers Hurdle, Festival Plate, Mares Novices Hurdle and Kim Muir Challenge Cup.
The festival comes to a crackling finale on Friday with Gold Cup Day and features the Triumph Hurdle, County Handicap Hurdle, Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle, Cheltenham Gold Cup, Foxhunter Steeple Chase Conditional Jockeys Hurdle and the Grand Annual Chase.
The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the event’s showpiece so let’s take a closer look. Post time for the Grade One, extended 3m 2f race is 3:30 pm local time on Friday, March 16 with the winner raking in about $500,000.
Last year’s winner, Sizing John, hopes to cash in and defend his Gold Cup crown. He opened at bet365 as third-favorite at 6/1 to retain the crown. Of course, don’t forget the odds can continuously change from day to day depending on the wagering action. Sizing John won the John Durkan Memorial Chase in Ireland in December with Robbie power riding the thoroughbred, but then finished a disappointing seventh in the Christmas Chase at Leopardstown shortly after.
Might Bite, a nine-year-old Scorpion gelding trained by Nicky Henderson, opened as the favorite at 3/1. He fell at the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase last year when out in front, but has gone on a five-race winning streak ever since. This includes Grade One victories at the RSA Chase and the King George VI Chase under jockey Nico de Boinville. The Gold Cup will be his most difficult test so far as it’s his first shot at it, but definitely can’t be ruled out. Might Bite enters the race with 14 lifetime jump races under his belt and has won nine of them while placing second and third once each. He last ran on Dec. 26 at Kempton Park for the King George VI Chase.
Native River of Ireland finished third in last year’s Gold Cup and is trained by Colin Tizzard. He opened as the second favorite at 11/2. The horse has steadily improved since his first Grade One win in April, 2016 at Aintree, including victories at the Welsh Grand National eight months later and the Grade 2 Denman Chase at Newbury as recently as February 10. The eight-year-old Indian River gelding ran a good race at the 2017 Gold Cup under jockey Richard Johnson, but the drying ground didn’t help him. In addition, he ran on a monthly basis up until Cheltenham so wasn’t at his freshest. Native River has competed in 20 career jump races with 10 wins, two second-place finished and five third-place.
The entire field and each horse’s opening bets365 odds for the Cheltenham Gold Cup are (odds as of late February):*
Might Bite 3/1
Native River 11/2
Sizing John 6/1
Our Duke 7/1
Road to Respect 10/1
Killutagh Vic 10/1
Definitly Red 14/1
Total Recall 16/1
Cue Card 16/1
Minella Rocco 20/1
Coney Island 25/1
Anibale Fly 33/1
Balko Des Flos 33/1
Double Shiffle 40/1
Tea for Two 50/1
Sub Lieutenant 50/1
Valseur Lido 50/1
The Last Samuri 66/1
Saphur Du Rheu 66/1
Maia Beach 66/1
Shantou Flyer 100/1
*The odds were correct at the time of publishing.