Festival fields starting to take shape
With just seven weeks to go until the Cheltenham Festival we now have the entries for the four Championship races as well as the Ryanair Chase and OLBG Mares' Hurdle.
We've picked out the headline acts and dark horses to keep an eye on for the six Grade One events.
Champion Day - Tuesday 13 March
Last year's winner Buveur d'Air tops the list of 23 entries for the Unibet Champion Hurdle and he is already the 4-6 favourite to regain his crown in March. The Nicky Henderson trained horse has been impressive this season so far in winning the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle and the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. He looks set to be joined by stablemate My Tent Or Yours, the three time runner up in the race.
The 2015 winner Faugheen is also entered and he leads a team of six for Willie Mullins which includes Yorkhill, Wicklow Brave, Min, Melon and Bapaume.
Gordon Elliot has entered Mick Jazz and Campeador as well as the multiple Grade One winning mare Apple's Jade. Although she looks more likely to line up in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle 40 minutes later as she heads 33 entries for the race.
Last year's renewal proved one of the races of the week as Apple's Jade got the better of Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini in an epic battle up the famous hill. Willie Mullins has trained the winner of the race eight times from just ten runnings and this year he has nine entered at this stage, including Vroum Vrroum Mag. Last year's Festival winner Let's Dance looks the pick of his entries though and she is a best priced 5/1 to topple Apple's Jade who is already as short as 5/6.
Colin's Sister for Fergal O'Brien and La Bague Au Roi, impressive winner at Ascot recently for Warren Greatrex, look the pick of the English challengers although both could head for the Stayers' Hurdle.
Ladies Day - Wednesday 14 March
The highlight of Ladies Day is the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase over two miles and there are 30 entries at this stage. Last year's star novice Altior is at the head of the betting at the moment but he is yet to be seen this season and there are question marks over whether Nicky Henderson's two time Festival winner will make the meeting this year.
Politologue has produced the best two mile form this season including winning the Tingle Creek at Sandown for Paul Nicholls while Min, Yorkhill, Great Field, Un De Sceaux, Black Hercules, Polidam, Acapella Bourgeois, American Tom and Douvan could all represent Willie Mullins. The prospect of the last two Arkle winners in Altior and Douvan going head to head is a tantalising one for racing fans but with both facing question marks over fitness it remains unlikely.
It could be foolish to rule out last year's winner Special Tiara while second in the race last year Fox Norton could also line up.
St Patrick's Thursday - Thursday 15 March
The third day of the Festival is dubbed St Patrick's Thursday and it certainly turned out to be the day of the Irish last year as Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh landed a four timer while Pat Kelly and Davy Russell landed the Pertemps Final with Presenting Percy and Noel Meade and Bryan Cooper took the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate with Road To Respect.
This year the Ryanair Chase features a bumper 44 entries with Irish trainers responsible for 24 of them. Heading the betting is last year's winner Un De Sceaux with Fox Norton and Top Notch in behind. Waiting Patiently is unbeaten over fences and an exciting entry for Malcolm Jefferson and Henry De Bromhead's Balko Des Flos could represent the sponsors in the Gigginstown silks.
Just 40 minutes later attention will turn to the best three mile hurdlers in the Sun Bets Stayer's Hurdle which looks a wide open race at this stage. The 38 entries are headed by Long Walk Hurdle winner Sam Spinner for Jedd O'Keefe with the progressive Supasundae (Jessica Harrington) and Penhill (Willie Mullins) likely to bid to follow up last year's Festival wins. Other entries of note include the ever popular The New One, Beer Goggles, Finian's Oscar, L'Ami Serge and Unowhatimeanharry.
Gold Cup Day - Friday 16 March
The blue riband event of the National Hunt season is the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup where Sizing John will be looking to become the first horse to win back to back editions of the race since Best Mate.
Of the 38 entries Might Bite for Nicky Henderson looks to be the pick at this stage having put up the best staying performance in the King George at Kempton. As well as Sizing John, Jessica Harrington could also be represented by Our Duke while last year's second and third Minella Rocco and Native River will be looking to improve on last year.
Coney Island is prominent in the betting for Edward Harty after showing his well being when winning at Ascot. Others of note include Betfair Chase winner Bristol De Mai, Ladbrokes Trophy winner Total Recall, Leopardstown Christmas Chase winner Road To Respect as well as old favourites Cue Card, Coneygree, Djakadam and Smad Place.
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