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The complete chancer's guide to getting through the 2018 Cheltenham Festival

If you don’t know one end of a horse from the other, we’re here to help.

It's that time of year when you can't avoid talking horses.
It's that time of year when you can't avoid talking horses.
Image: Tim Goode/PA Images

OVER THE NEXT four days, talk of Cheltenham will be almost impossible to avoid.

That’s all well and good if you’re mad about horse racing but what if you’re more likely to stick a pin in a newspaper — and we don’t recommend you try that on your phone — or if you just want to make small talk at work while you’re waiting for your porridge in the microwave?

In that case, we’re here to help, so here are the basics you’ll need to bluff your way through any awkward moments. And if all else fails, just mumble something about “crying out for a longer trip” and make a hasty exit

2017 Cheltenham Festival - Gold Cup Day - Cheltenham Racecourse Red's my favourite colour and 13 is my lucky number so he's definitely going to win. Source: Tim Goode

It’s only horse racing. What’s so special about it?

Yes, yes, yes. It’s only horse racing but it’s the biggest and best horse racing of the year. The four-day Cheltenham Festival (Tuesday – Friday) is the highlight of the National Hunt calendar which means you’re pretty much guaranteed to see almost all of the best horses in action.

For owners and trainers, it’s the meeting they’ve been preparing for all year. For fans, especially the thousands of Irish ones who travel over, it’s as good as it gets.

2017 Cheltenham Festival - Gold Cup Day - Cheltenham Racecourse An unidentified fan in traditional Irish clothing. Source: Tim Goode/PA Images

Sounds good. How many races are there?

There are 28 in total, seven each day. Racing starts at 1.30pm each day and the races are usually scheduled at 35-minute intervals, meaning that the final race starts at about 5.30pm.

 I’m not watching 28 races. When are the important ones on?

If you’re too busy to watch the lot — and let’s face it, most people are — you’ll want to focus your attention on the festival’s four feature races:

  • The Champion Hurdle (Tuesday)
  • The Queen Mother Champion Chase (Wednesday)
  • The World Hurdle (Thursday)
  • The Cheltenham Gold Cup (Friday).

These start at 3.30pm each day, so you may want to tailor your lunch breaks accordingly.

2017 Christmas Package Sizing John wins the 2017 Gold Cup. Source: David Davies

I haven’t the first clue about the horses. Who are the ones to look out for?

There are lots of theories as to what makes a sure thing but the reality is — one or two exceptions aside — there’s very rarely a sure thing in national hunt racing.

On Tuesday everybody is going to be talking about whether or not Faugheen can get back to his previous brilliant best or if Buveur D’Air will be just too good for the Rich Ricci superstar.

Altior looked the horse to beat in the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday but showed up lame on Monday morning so Douvan will hope to bounce back from a year-long layoff.

The main event on Thursday, the Stayers’ Hurdle, could well see an Irish winner with jockey Robbie Power suggesting Jessica Harrington’s Supasundade will take plenty of beating while, on Friday, everyone will be talking about the Gold Cup.

Despite his extraordinary record at Prestbury Park, Willie Mullins has never won the festival’s blue riband event. The trainer is likely to throw the kitchen sink at it this year but Nicky Henderson’s Might Bite is the one they’ll all have to beat.

I think I’ll just look for whoever Ruby Walsh is riding. Will that work?

It’s not a bad tactic. Ruby loves Cheltenham and Cheltenham loves Ruby — look out for the annual “Ruby Tuesday” headlines if he has a handful of winners on the opening day. However, he is coming off the back of a broken leg so buyer (or backer) beware.

Show some love for the other Irish jockeys as well, particularly Barry Geraghty, who has some great chances this week.

Give me five stats I can use to impress people…

  • €163 million - The value of bets placed on the festival BEFORE it gets under way.
  • 56 - The number of winners Ruby Walsh has around Prestbury Park.
  • 45mm - The amount of rain that has fallen in the build up to the festival, the most since 1989.
  • 42% – The percentage of wins and places from female jockeys at Cheltenham that come on a Wednesday.
  • 250,000 – The expected number of pints of Guinness consumed at this year’s festival.

A version of this article first appeared in 2016.

Douvan will run in the Champion Chase but the head-to-head with Altior may not happen

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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