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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cheltenham Festival – Are You Ready For The Off?

Special report from EquiSpace:

Have you noticed yet? Spring is in the air, the lambs are frolicking in the fields, the daffodils are in bloom and as any horseracing fan knows, the arrival of the brighter weather means that a landmark event in the National Hunt calendar across the pond is almost upon us. The four day Cheltenham Festival begins on the 16th of March and the 26 eagerly anticipated races are sure to provide a thrills and excitement bonanza not just for the eager crowds of race goers at the Gloucestershire racecourse but also for betting fans around the country.

The Festival always generates a great deal of excitement and this year promises to be no different. Much of the talk has been about whether Ruby Walsh will outdo his exploits of last year when he won seven races over the four days of the Festival. Many will remember his guiding Kauto Star to victory in the Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup as the highlight of last year’s Festival. Walsh will again be riding the same winning horse this year. Everyone is keen to see if Walsh will once again be the top jockey at Cheltenham. Certainly the online betting sites think that he can repeat the feat with odds of 1/2 being offered that he will again end the Festival with more winners than anyone else.

The Kildare man has now ridden 24 winners at the Festival and he is still only 31! In fact the odds must be that he will smash the all-time record for Festival wins that is currently held by the legendary Pat Taaffe. At present he is only one win behind Taaffe and it looks certain that he will become the top Festival jockey before the Festival draws to a close. He still has things to aim for though – he came very close to winning all four of the Championship races last year, just missing out in the Champion Hurdle when Punjabi won.

How will Walsh do in the Big Four this year? Here is a quick roundup:

Firstly, the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday pits Celestial Halo up against some really tough opposition in the shape of the strongly fancied, Go Native. If he can come up trumps in this race he will be off to a flying start.

On Wednesday, he will be riding Master Minded in the twelve fence Queen Mothers Champion Chase. He is an odds on favourite to win this race - it seems to be his for the taking with Kalahari King posing the only significant threat.

Thursday will see the Irishman bidding to win the three mile World Hurdle on Big Bucks. He won last year and is being strongly tipped to do the same thing this year. Could we see close rival Tidal Bay cause an upset?

Then there is Friday. Of all the races that Walsh will be participating in the one that is attracting the most attention is, of course, the Totesport Gold Cup. Run on the final day of the Festival each year, this race is viewed by many horse racing betting fans as the one of the most prestigious in the world.

The major threat to Kauto Star will be Denman who won the race in 2008. Both the horses are trained by Paul Nicholls, so there will be a huge amount of interest in who will win this clash of the titans. Kauto Star is the odds-on favorite with some online betting sites offering 4/1 on Denman.

It is the partnership of Somerset-based trainer Paul Nicholls and Walsh that has dominated the Festival scene in recent years. In total, Nicholls has 25 Cheltenham winners and horses that he has trained have won the Gold Cup in 2007, 2008 and 2009. The 2010 Festival could prove to be an even more successful one for Ruby Walsh and Paul Nicholls. Possibly expect some new records to be set by this dynamic duo!



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