Thrilling racing fans since 1860, the Cheltenham Festival is now the top National Hunt event on the annual calendar and features some of the top horses in the sport. After initially taking place in Market Harborough, the event bounced around the UK’s top courses before settling in Cheltenham.
Today, the action is spread across four days and a wealth of races in March, which means some of the leading jump races in the world are glinting on the horizon like the Gold Cup. With this in mind, we’ve broken down how the best runners will stack up for each of the four days of horse racing at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival.
The opening day of the festival is always popular and the big race of the day is The Champion Hurdle. However, before the top runners and riders tussle over 2 miles and ½ a furlong, canny punters will be looking towards the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. This year, Claimantakinforgan has been receiving a lot of attention.
Previously out at 20/1, the leading bookies have since shorted his ante-post price to an average of 12/1. Yes, Nicky Henderson’s six-year-old does lack a little bit of flat speed. However, with Cheltenham hill to contend with, the rest of the field may struggle where Claimantakinforgan thrives.
If you can still get odds of 16/1 with Betfair, this one is worth a shot in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. In the big race of the day, recent form would suggest that an Irish horse will romp home. Willie Mullins has made The Champion Hurdle his own in recent years, with Annie Power providing one of his most impressive victories in 2016 (only the fourth mare in history to win the race).
However, despite Mullins’ dominance, it was Henderson’s Buveur D'Air that impressed in 2017. Heading off at 5/1, the seven-year-old finished well and left the field a few strides before the final hurdle. This time around, the reigning champion is the red-hot favourite – Ladbrokes, Sky Bet and William Hill are all offering 4/9.
Also riding high in the ante-post odds is 2015 winner Faugheen, at 5/1. However, one to watch could be Melon. Although he’s still a relative novice over hurdles, Melon has shown a lot of potential as a two-mile runner.
What’s more, with Mullins as his trainer and previous champions as stablemates, Melon certainly has the pedigree to do well in this one. So, while Buveur D'Air is the safe bet, we wouldn’t look past Melon if you can still get odds of 16/1 with William Hill.
The Queen Mother Champion Chase is regarded as one of the world’s elite races, which means we won’t see a big field in this one. The current betting has Henderson’s Altior as the odds-on favourite. Having shown some scintillating form prior to his wind operation in April, the chaser has all the attributes to win.
Indeed, a recent victory at Newbury proved to be the perfect comeback ahead of Cheltenham. However, with the best ante-post odds currently sitting at 8/11 with Paddy Power, the margins are small. In fact, these margins get even smaller when you consider that second-favourite, Min, is no slouch.
Although he’s previously been beaten by Altior, the tougher course should suit Min and make for a more competitive race. With the best price currently at 7/2 with Betfair, the chances of a windfall are slim. However, if you don’t fancy taking a short price in a world-class race, Min could be worth a bet.
Day 3 might be filled with St Patrick’s Day celebrations, but The Stayers’ Hurdle should steal the crowd’s attention for at least a few minutes. Supasundae is leading the odds at the moment, with 4/1 at Paddy Power being the best price you’ll find. Thanks to a win over Faugheen in the Irish Champion Hurdle, we know this horse has the skills to beat some of the top jumpers in the game.
However, over three miles, Supasundae can drop off. Should the distance prove to be Supasundae’s undoing, look for Sam Spinner at 5/1 with Coral to push the pace. Jedd O’Keeffe has done everything right with his six-year-old, and he’s gone from strength to strength this season.
In overall terms, Sam Spinner might not be the best horse in the race. However, he showed his stamina when winning the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot. If he can get to the front at Cheltenham, Sam Spinner is likely to stay there and it will be up to the rest of the field to try and beat him.
Finally, to the biggest race of the festival – the Cheltenham Gold Cup. As ever, picking a winner in this race won’t be easy. One thing we already know is that the current champion, Sizing John, hasn’t been in the best of form recently. A disappointing defeat in the Christmas Chase at Leopardstown has raised alarm bells with some punters.
A 6/1 price across all the major bookmakers isn’t a bad price considering this horse knows how to win the Gold Cup. However, without momentum on his side, this eight-year-old could struggle. Going by the odds, Might Bite is the favourite, with Paddy Power putting up a 4/1 price tag in the ante-post market.
Naturally, in a large race like the Cheltenham Gold Cup, it’s never easy for the favourite to manoeuvre into a winning position, but we know Henderson’s horse has talent. The only worry though is his temperament. His 2017 victory in the RSA Chase was the talk of the festival, but almost for the wrong reasons.
After blowing past his rivals to take the lead, Might Bite seemed to wander halfway off the course and fall behind. Fortunately, the nine-year-old managed to regain his focus to claw back the deficit and snatch the win. While that performance certainly made for an entertaining spectacle, it’s not something that will go unpunished in the Gold Cup.
Any slip in concentration could cost Might Bite, which is why it’s worth being wary at 4/1. Yes, this horse has the ability to win, but does it have the mentality? Assuming you believe the answer to that question is no, Road To Respect is a dark horse at 9/1.
Beating current champion Sizing John in the Christmas Chase was yet another sign that this horse is capable of something special. If the odds are right, an each-way punt wouldn’t be a bad idea. However, if the odds shorten, put your faith in a win and the fact he’ll find his best form on the day.
Overall, the 2018 Cheltenham Festival is set to be another fantastic four days of racing. Regardless of the horses you back or the races you favour, there’s something for everyone this year. What’s more, when you check out our recommended bookies, you’ll find all the best Cheltenham betting odds and offers at the click of a button.