The four-day Cheltenham Festival, the most prestigious meeting in the National Hunt calendar, gets underway tomorrow (13 March).
The going at the Gloucestershire venue is officially described as soft, heavy soft in places on the cross-country course, and soft, heavy in places on the New Course. The forecast is for dry and warm weather for the rest of the week but experts believe the softer ground will make for safer racing.
Last year, nine horses lost their lives at Cheltenham the Festival, casting a shadow over the occasion. Although no specific factor or combination of factors was found to be responsible for the fatalities, several changes to the course have taken place this year, following an HRA investigation. Fence 14, at the top of the hill on the New Course has been re-sited, and the fences on the New Course have been spaced out to enable more ground to be protected.
The maximum number of entries for any race has been reduced and there will be more pre-race veterinary examinations. Officials at Cheltenham maintain the wettest winter for four years has ensured a good covering of grass and say that the soft going will keep down the pace of the races, limiting injury.
There are 24 races over the four days with the feature race, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, taking place on Friday. Around 480 horses are expected to compete for a record £3m prize-money. Organisers expect up to 230,000 spectators to attend, generating a £25m betting turnover – and drinking 200,000 pints of Guinness.
Don’t miss the thoughts of H&H’s racing editor, Catherine Austen, who will be sharing her experiences from Cheltenham online later this week
Ever imagined what it must be like to ride past the post at Cheltenham? Check out our Cheltenham hat-cam video