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Punters marching to the tune of the Pied Piper that is Prestbury

Alastair Down on the magic of a week that continues to dazzle us

Cheltenham Festival: every race will give us stories to enrich the extraordinary fabric of the meeting
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This season's advance to Cheltenham has had distinct elements of the retreat from Moscow about it and you could hold something akin to a top-class meeting from those stars who have not made it to the Cotswolds.

Some punters will have required counselling for Ante-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but now is the time to file the past under forget and focus on the feast of the fabulous unfolding ahead.

There is something irresistible and primeval about the pull of Prestbury. The meeting is like some force of nature drawing us through the months of the year and the miles to be travelled here for this reunion of the enraptured.

Other natural forces such as gravity skive and take time off – think astronauts in outer space – but the magnetism of this matchless meeting never ceases to exert its power and, like rust, never sleeps.

So from all over the islands the happy band reconvenes, old friendships are refreshed and reforged, barrels and bottles bite the dust, vast amounts of twaddle talked as the throng marches to the tune of the Pied Piper that is Prestbury.

And when that Supreme Novices' roar soars skywards it is part relief the endless wait is done and also an exorcism of nerves. After months huddled in the trenches the action is upon us and, for good or ill, we are all going over the top. Quite probably in more ways than one.

All four championship races are empty thrones awaiting new kings starting with the Champion Hurdle, in which Yanworth holds the market call over Buveur D'Air in a race enlivened by the bold ploy of novice Moon Racer being thrown into the fray.

Victory for perennial Champion trier The New One would have the sentinel trees atop Cleeve Hill blasted in the gale of acclaim or perhaps Petit Mouchoir, French for little hankie, can wipe the floor with them or, sorry about this, blow them all away.

In the Racing Post Arkle, Altior, who may already be the best two-miler in christendom, may give us further evidence of genuine greatness as he takes another step down the road to an eventual clash with the hitherto untouchable Douvan.

Monday's warm weather at Cheltenham was just what you would need to ripen a Melon, who will open the Willie Mullins bombardment in the Supreme. After a season of timber-shivering reverses, the go-to man of this meeting will be itching to prove many points.

But in terms of numbers he is now outgunned by Gordon Elliott who, staggering to relate, had a horse entered in every single one of the festival's 28 races.

This is a week when great races keep swirling round you like the Sioux and Cheyenne at the Little Big Horn. And at four long days the battle lasts longer for punters and racegoers than it did for General Custer.

And it is not merely about the undoubted class acts such as Douvan, Uknowhatimeanharry and the novices of unlimited promise such as Neon Wolf and Death Duty.

Few victories would be given a more thunderous reception than Tobefair if he could land the Pertemps. Owned by 17 friends with a pub in common, he has improved by 62lb in the ratings and is a first festival runner for Debra Hamer, who has precision-guided him to seven wins on the bounce.

Apparently Tobefair does less at home than a stroppy teenager but his tale is one for every small owner and trainer in the land. If horses went to pubs he'd be the sort you would talk into having a couple of pints – a one-of-us type, and we all warm to them, especially when they can bloody the noses of the grand and powerful.

Every race will give us stories to enrich the extraordinary fabric of the festival.

And as is only right the Gold Cup could provide the zenith, one of those moments when the place erupts and even the stones cry out.
This has been the year of Colin Tizzard and in Cue Card he has both the joy and responsibility of training the most popular horse in the land.

Since winning the bumper here, he has missed the meeting just twice and at the age of 11 this has to be his last Gold Cup hurrah with a serious chance.

For many of his diehard fans there is the disaster of his fall three out last year to be avenged, a still-raw sense of being wronged awaiting some justice.

But in his way stand the revelation of the season Native River and dual runner-up Djakadam, reported in rampant nick by those close to him who believe his time has come.

The week we wait so long for never disappoints, although it can be as savage as it is special, sad as it is celebratory.

The two amateur riders' chases this week carry the names of Kim Muir, shot through the head on the retreat to Dunkirk, and John Thomas McNamara, whose long, brave, unbowed battle with the inevitable began on that grim afternoon in 2013.

But Cheltenham still remains our great annual uplift, the week when the sport soars and takes the faithful to heights only the festival can fettle.

It is indelibly embedded in our heart and soul – the sporting occasion that is fast acquiring the status of legend.

The magnetism of this matchless meeting never ceases to exert its power and, like rust, never sleeps
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