- When: March 12-15
- TV: Big races on ITV1, all races on Racing TV
- Main races: Tuesday - Champions Hurdle (3.30pm), Wednesday - Queen Mother Champion Chase (3.30pm), Thursday - Ryanair Chase (2.50pm), Stayers Hurdle (3.30pm), Friday - Cheltenham Gold Cup (3.30pm)
Champion Hurdle tips
The Cheltenham Festival gets underway today with high winds and rain forecast for the biggest week in the racing calendar.
The main race on day one is the Unibet Champion Hurdle at 3.30pm with Buveur D’Air aiming to become the first horse since Istabraq to win it three times.
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The race pits Willie Mullins, Nicky Henderson and Gordon Elliott – “the three trainers who have dominated the Cheltenham Festival in recent years” – against each other, says Rob Wright in The Times.
Buveur D’Air, the 11/4 second favourite trained by Henderson, faces stern competition from Apples Jade, Elliott’s 2/1 favourite, and the unbeaten Mullins trained Laurina at 3/1.
Opinion on who will win is split.
Buveur D’Air “may prove good enough in this field”, says Chris Cook of The Guardian.
But Wright of the Times believes Laurina could spring a surprise.
“This represents a rise in class for Laurina, whose form does not yet match that of either Buveur D’Air or Apple’s Jade,” he says. “However, she has won her six starts by an average of over 17 lengths and always looks to have much more to give.
“Mullins would not be throwing Laurina in here if he did not believe that she was up to the task and the mare can provide her jockey Ruby Walsh with a record fifth win in this race.”
Marcus Armytage of the Daily Telegraph also likes the look of Mullins’ mount.
“I am a sucker for the unbeaten because there is an aura about them, but, cast your mind back 12 months, and Laurina’s 18-length victory over the useful Cap Soleil in the Trull House Mares’ Novice Hurdle was the most visually-impressive success of the meeting.
“There are as many people who think Buveur D’Air is underrated as there are those who reckon he is overrated and, perhaps, if he wins, he will be loved, after all. In all probability, Apple’s Jade’s fan club is bigger, but trying to make all in a Champion Hurdle may even be beyond her talent.”
But Michael Cooper of the Evening Standard believes Apples Jade can “confirm herself as one of the great mares of all time” by winning.
“Buveur D’Air is “unlikely to surrender his crown without a fight” but is conceding weight to Apples Jade who “trounced” the opposition in the Irish Champion Hurdle last month.
“Indeed, it may be that another mare, Laurina, an easy winner of a novice contest at the meeting last year, emerges as the main threat,” he says.
The Week tip: Laurina
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