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Cheltenham Festival 2013 Guide
The Cheltenham Festival in March is the highlight of the National Hunt season, and is something of a pilgrimage for all followers of the sport, with the best horses lining up from both Britain and Ireland for a four day extravaganza of top class racing, betting and drinking.
Cheltenham features four days of fantastic racing, with horses primed for the most important race of their careers. The contests themselves are usually run at a far faster gallop than the usual midweek racing, with maximum fields for many of the races meaning that luck in running plays a huge part.
It can be a very dangerous meeting for even the most experienced of punters, with the lure of decent prices about classy horses tempting many to play far bigger than they usually would. Indeed many save up a "Cheltenham tank" for the entire week, allowing them to play in every race as they try to solve a series of complex puzzles.
The famous roar as the tapes rise for the first race on Tuesday signals the moment when the 12 month wait is over and racing’s favourite fixture is back.
The first day of The Festival features the most important hurdle race of the season, The Stan James Champion Hurdle. Last year the improving Rock On Ruby provided a first winner of the race for Champion trainer Paul Nicholls and jockey Noel Fehily, and he may well be back to defend his crown.
However with many promising youngsters coming up through the ranks, he is sure to have a fight on his hands. There are six other superb races on the day, with punters looking to get off to a flying start in their battle with the old-enemy.
A fantastic seven race card featuring the Sportingbet.com Queen Mother Champion Chase. The sight of the best 2m chasers going head-to-head around the famous undulating course is, for many people, the highlight of the entire week.
Last season, Finian's Rainbow won a thriller, beating the 2011 Champion (and well backed favourite) Sizing Europe after a sustained duel throughout the last mile. This time round his stablemate Sprinter Sacre, a brilliant unbeaten novice with a high cruising speed on the bridle, is currently a very warm favourite to take the crown in 2013.
A real Irish flavour to this day is guaranteed, as Cheltenham celebrates St Patrick's Day a couple of days early! The racing is as competitive as ever, with the greatest staying hurdler of all time, Big Buck's attempting to win the Ladbrokes World Hurdle for a remarkable fifth year in a row.
There is a mass of Irish style entertainment throughout the day and more Guinness is consumed on this day than any other of the week! The after-racing party with live music from Irish bands also demands supreme stamina from the thousands of punters who stay behind celebrating or commiserating.
The climax of the entire Jump racing season is the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup, the highlight of the best day's racing of the year, with a vibrant atmosphere to match.
In 2012 Synchronised, ridden by the champion jockey A P McCoy, provided trainer Jonjo O'Neill and legendary owner JP McManus with a long awaited first Gold Cup in a brilliantly exciting renewal of the great race. This year, there may be a new name on the roll of honour, but previous winner Long Run, who was third in the race last season, will be battling hard to regain his title.
Six other magical races, including two more Grade 1 events and three fiercely competitive handicaps, make this a final day to cherish.