The build-up to the Cheltenham Festival 2011 continued to gather pace a few days ago with the release of the latest acceptors for the big five Championship races which will take place at the Festival this year. As Championship contests they all carry Grade One status – the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup (run on Gold Cup Day, Friday, March 18), the sportingbet.com Queen Mother Champion Chase (run on Ladies Day, Wednesday, March 16), the Ryanair Chase (run on St Patrick’s Day, Thursday, March 17), the Stan James Champion Hurdle (run on Centenary Day, Tuesday, March 15) and the Ladbrokes World Hurdle (also run on St Patrick’s Day).
The Gold Cup saw no surprise withdrawals and has 24 entries which include the last three winners Kauto Star (2007 and 2009), Denman (2008) and Imperial Commander (2010). If you take the latest Timeform ratings as a guide to the event we’ll see a close finish between the 2008 and 2010 winners, with the rising star Long Run who is not certain to be at his best on the undulating Cheltenham track close up in third. However, if the ratings are to be seen as an accurate guide it looks as though the dual winner Kauto Star will not be completing a third success in the race.
The Champion Chase will see a clash of two horses who have dominated the event of late – Master Minded and Big Zeb – and two improving and progressive types in Woolcombe Folly and Somersby, the latter pushed Master Minded very close at Ascot recently. A close contest is expected between those four.
Online betting pundits note how Somersby also features in the acceptors for the Ryanair Chase and connections although leaning towards the Champion Chase have this race as an alternative, if he does come here he’ll run into Cheltenham specialist Poquelin who chase starts read (1-8-1-2-1-2-5-1) at the track. There is also a chance of Saturday’s Betfair Chase scorer Riverside Theatre taking on Poquelin.
Of the Championship races the Champion Hurdle looks the toughest to call – 28 stand their ground at the moment, and with all the leading contenders including Binocular, Hurricane Fly, Menorah and Peddlers Cross set to face each other on March 15th.
34 entries for the World Hurdle but it may be a case of just Grands Crus versus Big Buck’s here with all the others playing in their own race behind the big two. Big Buck’s is the title holder and he will be bidding to become only the second horse to complete a hat-trick in this event.
As things stand, the Cheltenham Gold Cup odds suggest that we are set for five very competitive Championship races at the Cheltenham Festival 2011.