Cheltenham Festival Arkle Chase

Cheltenham Festival – The Big Races

Ed Quigley takes a look at some of the flagship events at the Cheltenham Festival, and sets the scene for how the forthcoming season is shaping up in the build-up to those prestigious events next March…

Champion Hurdle

The Race:

As its title suggests, the Champion Hurdle is the most prestigious hurdling event in the National Hunt calendar. It is a Grade 1 National Hunt Hurdle race in Great Britain which is open to horses aged four years or older. First run in 1927, it is the feature race on the opening day (Tuesday) of the Cheltenham Festival which takes place in March every year. The race is run on the Old Course at Cheltenham, where horses compete over a distance of about 2 miles and half a furlong, with 8 Hurdles being jumped. By general consensus, the three-times Champion Hurdle winner, ISTABRAQ is considered possibly the best of them all. He was unlucky not to win four, as he would have been warm order to add another title to his portfolio, but for the 2001 Foot And Mouth outbreak which forced the Cheltenham Festival to be abandoned. The next Champion Hurdle takes place on March 12, 2024.

What happened last year?

The sensational CONSTITUTION HILL ran riot, to win his first Champion Hurdle by 9 lengths in a common canter from Irish challenger STATE MAN, and in the process maintained his unbeaten record under rules. It was a performance which drew superlatives, just as his win in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle did at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival. In doing so, it gave the master of Seven Barrows, Nicky Henderson his ninth win in the race as a trainer, and it was all smiles from jockey Nico de Boinville.

An early look at the 2024 renewal…

With connections confirming in recent days that Constitution Hill will be staying over Hurdles this season, the division is looking rather one sided. With depth and breadth of challengers looking thin on the ground, it would be no surprise at all to see him mop all his races before the Cheltenham Festival with the minimum of fuss, and by the time we get to Prestbury Park, given that the strongest challengers appear to lie once again in Ireland, and they are unlikely to clash with Constitution Hill until the Festival. Last season’s runner-up State Man will be back for more, and Willie Mullins has stated that IMPAIRE ET PASSE stays over Hurdles as well, so could be a possible challenger. Outside of that, there aren’t any real candidates to move in from left of field at present.

Queen Mother Champion Chase

The Race:

First run in 1959, The Queen Mother Champion Chase is a Grade 1 National Hunt Chase for horses aged five years or older. It is run on the Old Course at Cheltenham over a distance of 2 miles, with 13 fences to be jumped. It is the most high-profile 2m Chase in the National Hunt calendar, and it is the feature race on the second day of the Festival. Some of the all-time greats include Sprinter Sacre, Master Minded, and Badsworth Boy – the latter who won it on three consecutive occasions between 1983-1985. The next Champion Chase takes place on March 13, 2024.

What happened last year?

ENERGUMENE won his second Champion Chase, in a race in which chief market rival EDWARDSTONE failed to spark. Energumene jumped and travelled superbly to bolt up by 10 lengths in a race which turned into a procession for the Willie Mullins and Paul Townend combination. Sent off 6/5f, he got himself on the honours board once again in glorious fashion.

An early look at the 2024 renewal…

Well, if they all stay fit, this has the potential to be an absolute classic. Energumene, who will be 10, will likely have to fend off stablemate and Arkle winner EL FABIOLO to stay at the top of the pecking order, as the youngster is the potential up-and-coming superstar in the division. The ‘home’ challenge could be led by JONBON, who will ‘stick to 2m’ according to Nicky Henderson, and Edwardstone returning after a setback. The two mile Chasing division is always one of the best, and with the pool of talent floating around at present, the next few months could be really exciting.

Stayers’ Hurdle

The Race:

The ultimate test of stamina, the Grade 1 Hurdle sees competitors tackle three miles on the demanding New Course at Cheltenham Racecourse, where 12 flights of Hurdles will be jumped. It is the premier long-distance Hurdle event in the Racing calendar, and the next one takes place on March 14 2024. BIG BUCK’S was arguably the best of the lot, winning the race for trainer Paul Nicholls on four consecutive occasions between 2009 and 2012. In recent years there have been some big upsets with the likes of Lisnagar Oscar (50/1) and Sire Du Berlais (33/1) providing good afternoons for the bookmakers. The race was first run in 1912.

What happened last year?

The aforementioned SIRE DU BERLAIS caused carnage by upsetting the apple cart, as the 11-year-old added to his wonderful CV to win by a nose, for trainer Gordon Elliott. with drama in behind involving Dashel Drasher and Teahupoo. Once again, it was another shock in the Stayers’ Hurdle, which the race has seen a fair few of in recent times.

An early look at the 2024 renewal…

This has all the ingredients of a wide-open renewal as the division looks incredibly wide-open. GAELIC WARRIOR is the fresh talent on the scene, but the Willie Mullins representative could still have the option of going chasing. Sire Du Berlais will probably be a year too old, and Teahupoo will be back for more, but he needs testing ground to be seen at his best. It wouldn’t be a shock at all if something moved through the Handicap ranks to get in the shake-up in a three mile scene that is waiting for a new superstar to arrive.

Gold Cup

The Race:

Run on the New Course at Cheltenham Racecourse in England, over a distance of 3 miles 2-and-a-half furlongs, in which during this stamina-demanding contest sees 22 fences jumped. Open to horses aged five years and over, is the one of the highest-profile races in the calendar. Kauto Star, Best Mate and Arkle would be amongst some of the all time greats to have collected first prize. If you haven’t ever seen it, check out Desert Orchid’s 1989 win on YouTube – it’s magic. The next Cheltenham Gold Cup takes place on March 15 2024.

What happened last year?

GALOPIN DES CHAMPS delivered on the big stage, running out a class winner of the Cheltenham’s main event, and in the process, made up for the mishap when capsizing in the Turner’s Chase the year before. It was an enthralling encounter where he got the better of the Paul Nicholls trained BRAVEMANSGAME inside the closing stages. It was the best staying chaser in England locking horns with the best from the Emerald Isle, and the latter in the end came out comfortably on top.

An early look at the 2024 renewal…

Galopin Des Champs could take all the beating once again, and old foe Bravemansgame probably won’t be going anywhere. GERRI COLOMBE is the exciting new face for the open-saying division. Beaten the narrowest of margins in the Brown Advisory at last season’s Cheltenham Festival, he thumped his rivals at Aintree, and he shapes as though the demands of 3m2f and a big hill at Prestbury Park will be exactly what is required to see him at the peak of his powers. The staying-chase division as the potential to be sensational this season so keep your eyes peeled!