This year’s new-look four-day festival of National Hunt racing promises outstanding entertainment for race-goers and punters alike, despite Best Mate’s absence

The battle in Friday’s £350,000 Cheltenham Gold Cup now looks set to be between Beef Or Salmon and Kingscliff, according to the bookmakers, while Cheltenham specialist Celestial Gold is proving popular with the pundits. Strong Flow’s has made a successful return from injury, but it remains to be seen whether he has what it takes on the undulating Cheltenham track. This promises to be an extremely open race.

The Irish look to have the Smurfit Champion Hurdle all sewn up, with seven of the top horses in the betting market all trained across the Irish Sea. Hardy Eustace is currently favourite with Back in Front, Macs Joy, Accordion Etoile, Brave Inca, Harchibald and Essex all in with a shot. British hopes are lead by 2003 winner Rooster Booster.

The Queen Mother Champion Chase will see England’s and Ireland’s most exciting two-mile chasers, Azertyuiop and Moscow Flyer, going head-to-head once again. The mantelpieces of Paul Nicholls and Jessica Harrington can boast one Queen Mother Champion Chase Trophy apiece and there has been much debate about which of the stars will forge ahead this time around. However, the inclusion of Well Chief, who hails from the all-powerful Martin Pipe stable and has already proved himself around Cheltenham’s unforgiving terrain, will ensure that Wednesday’s showcase is no two-horse race.

Five new races have been created for the extended meeting, including a cross-country race over the hedges and banks in the middle of the track on the Tuesday (The Sporting Index Cross-Country Chase), and the £150,000 Daily Telegraph Festival Trophy two-and-a-half-mile chase on the Thursday. The Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap hurdle, Jewson Novices’ Handicap Chase and the Brit Insurance Novices’ Hurdle complete the line up.

The Cheltenham Festival at Prestbury Park is best described simply as the most fun race meeting of the year. Yes, it’s a crush; yes, there are lots of drunk Irishmen; yes, you’ll go home poorer than you came, but the atmosphere is electric. The roar of the packed stands as the tapes go up for the first race, the Supreme Novices’, sends shivers down your spine. Every year, there are great stories of triumph and disaster, heartbreak and total elation. And the horses — this is the very peak of the equine world.

How to get there

From the north or south, follow signs from the M5 (junctions 9,10 or 11). From the east, exit the M4 at Swindon (junction 15) and take the A417 towards Gloucester. Follow signs to the racecourse.

Tickets

Tickets are currently still available for all four days. Tickets for the Best Mate enclosure (£17) are still being sold for Gold Cup day, Friday 18 March, although Club and Tattersalls are sold out. Tickets for the other three days are available for purchase by phone (tel: 01242 226226).

For more information visit: www.cheltenham.co.uk