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Dublin: 19 °C Wednesday 15 July, 2020

Confused by Cheltenham? Here’s what you will need to get through the week

If you can’t tell Ruby Walsh from Ruby Wax, we’re here to help.

FOR THE NEXT few days, talk of Cheltenham will be pretty inescapable. That’s well and good if you’re mad about horse-racing but what if you’ve only a passing interest? Or if you just want to make small talk in the office while you’re waiting for your porridge in the microwave?

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 “being off the bridle” and make a hasty exit…

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 all of the best horses in action. For owners and trainers, it’s the meeting they’ve been preparing for all year. For fans, it’s as good as it gets.

Sounds good. How many races are there?

There are 27 in total — seven each day, except for on Thursday when there’s only six. 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 5.15pm.

(Update: Brian has been in touch to remind us that there is a seventh race on Thursday, the St Patrick’s Day Derby at 5.15pm, which will raise money for Cancer Research UK. More details on the race and jockeys here.)

I’m not watching 27 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), and the Cheltenham Gold Cup (Friday). These start at 3.20pm each day, so you may want to tailor your lunch breaks accordingly.

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

The ones who win!

All joking aside, there are plenty of good horses to look out. On Tuesday everybody is going to be talking about Simonsig in the Arkle Chase and four-time winner Quevega in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle, while the race of the day could well be the showdown between former winners Hurricane Fly and Rock on Ruby in the Champion Hurdle.

Wednesday brings the Cheltenham return of one of the most exciting horses in recent memory: Nicky Henderson’s Sprinter Sacre, who looks to be virtually untouchable in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

The main event on Thursday, the World Hurdle, is wide open thanks to the withdrawal of four-time winner Big Buck’s while on Friday, everyone will be talking about the Gold Cup. Bob’s Worth, Sir des Champs, Silviniaco Conti and Long Run are the names to look out for at the top of a very competitive market.

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. Since 1998, Walsh has won a staggering 34 times at the Festival.

Show some love for the other Irish jockeys as well, particularly Barry Geraghty and Davy Russell who have lots of good rides throughout the week.

Give me a stat that I can use to impress people…

It may shock people more than impress them but over the course of the four days, a whopping 200,000 pints of Guinness will be sold on the course. If that doesn’t do the trick, tell them that there was more than £3.4 million of prize money on offer at Cheltenham last year.

A version of this article first appeared here.

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Niall Kelly

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