Cheltenham Festival 2021: essential information for jump racing's biggest week
When is it, where is it, and who should I look out for across the four days?
The countdown is on to the most highly anticipated four days of jump racing in the calendar with the 2021 Cheltenham Festival almost upon us.
Held each March, the Cheltenham Festival attracts the most talented horses, trainers and jockeys with 28 races held across four days of top-class jump racing.
A glittering array of superstars will be on show across the week's 14 Grade 1s, with each day headlined by a different championship race. The Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase, Stayers' Hurdle and Gold Cup are the biggest prizes on offer and each attract the best of the best in racing.
When and where does the Cheltenham Festival take place?
The Cheltenham Festival takes place at Cheltenham racecourse in Gloucestershire. The four-day extravaganza begins on Tuesday, March 16 and concludes on Friday, March 19, with four mouthwatering seven-race cards held each day.
The festival welcomed a record 268,000 spectators in 2019 and 251,000 last year, but the stands will be empty in 2021 as the nation continues its battle against the coronavirus.
Why is the meeting so important?
Considered jump racing's Olympics, the Cheltenham Festival can define the season for horses, trainers, jockeys and owners. A good week can make a great season, while an empty trophy cabinet at the end of the meeting is deemed a failed season for others.
On the track reputations soar and career-defining performances feature at every festival.
It is also a seismic week for betting turnover on racing, with many of the Cheltenham Festival's biggest races often featuring in the end-of- year lists of bookmakers for attracting the most business.
What are the main races and horses set to take centre stage during the week?
The week will kick off in style with a superlative cast of runners set to line up in the Grade 1 Unibet Champion Hurdle, in which trainer Nicky Henderson will bid for a record ninth victory in the race. He will unleash last year's hugely impressive winner Epatante, who could face an explosive battle with fellow mare Honeysuckle, who is unbeaten in her ten-race career.
Spicing things up is the presence of Goshen, who broke the hearts of many punters last year when stumbling and unseating his rider at the final flight after going well clear in the Triumph Hurdle. A turbulent campaign for Goshen burst into life when he won at Wincanton in February and he heads to Cheltenham bidding to make amends for last year’s disaster.
Silver Streak, Abacadabras, Aspire Tower and Sharjah add further intrigue to the two-mile contest for the quickest hurdlers in the game.
The Grade 1 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, also run over two miles, takes centre stage on Wednesday. Legendary chaser Altior, winner of 21 of his 25 starts, returns at the age of 11 in an attempt to regain his crown after being forced to miss last year's race.
He faces a mammoth task against Chacun Pour Soi, a fragile horse who was well fancied for last year's Champion Chase before also being a late withdrawal. He has looked imperious in three wins in Ireland this campaign and looks set to go off a strong favourite.
Last year's champion, the popular front-runner Politologue, will line up in the race for the fourth straight year having been beaten by Altior in 2018 and 2019, and there are strong newcomers in the shape of Nube Negra, who beat Altior at Kempton over Christmas, and First Flow, winner of his last six starts.
Where speed is the name of the game in the festival's first two featured races, stamina comes to the fore in the second half of the meeting beginning with the Grade 1 Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle on Thursday.
Thyme Hill's late withdrawal has left us devoid of the tantalising clash we were looking forward to against Paisley Park, but the 2019 winner still has a crucial task of redemption on his hands in this year's contest.
He ran well below his best when 50-1 shot Lisnagar Oscar won the Stayers' Hurdle last year, but his trainer Emma Lavelle has him back in tip-top shape as he bids to become the first horse to regain his crown since the great Inglis Drever.
The 11-time champion trainer Paul Nicholls won this race in four successive years with Big Buck's from 2009 to 2012 and could run McFabulous this year, while Sire Du Berlais, Roksana and Flooring Porter add strength in depth to the three-mile contest.
The final feature race of the festival is the prestigious WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup, which is worth more than £250,000 to the winner. This is the race all jockeys, trainers and owners dream of winning and has been won for the last two years by Al Boum Photo, who will bid to become the fifth horse to win three straight Gold Cups and match the achievements of racing legends such as Arkle and Best Mate.
Santini and Lostintranslation were second and third to Al Boum Photo last year and are both set to return this time. However, the main challengers could be Gold Cup debutants A Plus Tard, who beat the best of the Irish in the Grade 1 Savills Chase over Christmas, and Champ, a dramatic winner at last year's festival.
Native River, the 2018 Gold Cup winner, returns to the race and would be a popular winner, while a wildcard prospect could be the rapidly improving Royale Pagaille, who has yet to be tested at the top level.
What are the other highlights?
After Energumene was ruled out of the Sporting Life Arkle, one of the most anticipated clashes of the week will now not take place, but the race could still confirm a new star of the sport in Shishkin, as it has done with Sprinter Sacre, Altior and Douvan in the past decade.
However, he still faces a fascinating rival in front-runner Allmankind, who also comes into the race with an unbeaten record over fences.
Last season's Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle winner Monkfish has been dominant over fences and is a warm favourite for the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase, while last season's Ballymore Novices' Hurdle winner Envoi Allen is still unbeaten under rules and expected to extend that run in the Marsh Novices' Chase.
The Supreme Novices' Hurdle is always eagerly anticipated and Appreciate It sets the standard in the traditional festival curtain-raiser, while Metier, Ballyadam and Soaring Glory head the list of threats.
Gaillard Du Mesnil, Bravemansgame and Bob Olinger are set to feature in an intriguing running of the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle, while the Albert Bartlett, on paper at least, is one of the most open Grade 1s heading into the Cheltenham Festival.
Willie Mullins has trained the winner of the Mares' Hurdle on nine occasions and Concertista gives him a strong hand as he searches for a tenth victory, although 2019 winner Roksana could be a big danger if she runs here instead of the Stayers' Hurdle.
Easysland proved far too good for four-time Cheltenham Festival winner Tiger Roll last season and the two are set to clash again in Wednesday's Glenfarclas Chase over the cross-country course.
On Thursday, the Ryanair Chase is set to feature last year's winner Min, with stablemate Allaho and Kim Bailey's Imperial Aura among the other leading contenders.
Smart Flat performer Tritonic is a fascinating runner for Alan King in the JCB Triumph Hurdle on Friday.
Which trainers and jockeys will be competing at the Cheltenham Festival?
Willie Mullins has been the top trainer at the Cheltenham Festival in seven of the last ten years and boasts a strong team again, with Chacun Pour Soi, Monkfish, Appreciate It and two-time Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo among his leading chances.
Among the home team, Nicky Henderson's squad is always strong and Shishkin, Champ, Altior and Epatante are set to play a big part in some of the biggest races of the week.
How can I watch the racing?
ITV will show six races from each day of the Cheltenham Festival. Every race can be watched on Racing TV. Each morning ITV will also broadcast The Opening Show, which looks ahead to the day's action.
You also watch all the races you've bet on via the Racing Post website and mobile app during the week.
Who should I bet on at the Cheltenham Festival?
Have a look at the cards and check out our free bet offers to start with, then stay up to date with the Racing Post website, mobile app and newspaper for our expert betting advice and all the latest news in the run-up to the big week.
How to place a bet on the Racing Post app
Getting your bets on via the Racing Post mobile app could not be more simple. Here's how:
1. Download (or open) the free Racing Post mobile app.
2. Log in to your existing bookmaker account when you first open the app, or via the 'Accounts' tab. You can also register for a new account.
3. Go to the cards, pick a race and once you've made your selection, simply tap the odds button beside the horse you like.
4. Choose your stake and tap place bet.
5. Watch the race live on our app.
If you want more on the Cheltenham Festival . . .
Check out the Racing Post Cheltenham Festival microsite for the latest tips and odds for every race at the Festival. The best Cheltenham betting advice and exclusive free betting offers all in one place.