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Projecting Favorites For The Cheltenham Festival

Projecting Favorites For The Cheltenham Festival: The early months of the year can be a little bit slow on the major horse racing front in the United States. But across the Atlantic, top-notch action kicks off pretty early, most notably with the Cheltenham Festival in England. It’s always a very fun event both to attend and to track from abroad, and the Cheltenham 2016 website has all the information you may need on the specific schedule and layout of the competition.

Sprinter Sacre

Cheltenham legend Sprinter Sacre is expected to be back in action on March 16 after some injury concerns in recent years.

But for the most part, international fans zero in on Cheltenham to track four races in particular. with one headlining each of the four days of the festival. We’ve got a little bit over a month to go before the festival gets started, but Betfair’s horse betting section has already posted some odds and information regarding these four signature races. Using those odds along with additional input regarding the top competitors, let’s take an early look at the favorites.

Champion Hurdle (March 15)

Considered to be among the biggest hurdle races of the English season, the Champion Hurdle kicks off the opening Tuesday at Cheltenham in style. The 2015 race was a thrilling affair that saw long-time star trainer Willie Mullins triumph behind the work of Faugheen. Fittingly, Faugheen has been made a strong favorite for this year’s competition as well, in what looks like the easiest of the four signature events to predict. That being said, it’s not an easy field. If you have a betting interest, keep an eye on Arctic Fire, a second-place finisher a year ago and second in the odds this time around, in addition to The New One, who’s always a threat.

Champion Chase (March 16)

The second day of the festival carries a lot of focus for the fun off the track, as Ladies Day often dominates the spotlight. But the Champion Chase is still one of the bigger spring races in the area and draws its own attention. And this year in particular, it looks like it’ll be an incredible spectacle. Legendary trainer Paul Nicholls’ Dodging Bullets won it in 2015 and is back in the field seeking a repeat. However, Un De Sceaux is the prohibitive betting favorite, and Sprinter Sacre, another Cheltenham legend, is expected to be back in action after some injury concerns in recent years. The Guardian’s sports section framed the intrigue surrounding Sprinter Sacre beautifully, combining the confidence of trainer Nicky Henderson with the reality that Sprinter Sacre is already two years older than when he first withdrew from racing due to an irregular heartbeat. It’ll be fascinating to see his form, as well as the strong field of competitors.

World Hurdle (March 17)

Much like the second day at Cheltenham, the third has a lot going on away from the track. The St. Patrick’s Day celebration has a way of taking over the grounds! The World Hurdle is still a big event, though, and it could be one of the more interesting races of the spring given that it’s fairly wide open. Thistlecrack has gained a nice edge in the odds, but the cluster of Alpha Des Obeaux, Vroum Vroum Mag, Aux Ptits Soins, and Cole Harden (last year’s winner) should all be competitive. It’s likely we’ll get a first-time winner in the World Hurdle, which is always fun.

Gold Cup (March 18)

It’s hard to really say which is the most important race at Cheltenham in the context of the spring season in England, but the Gold Cup is the closest thing to a championship round that takes place. And this year’s contest is full to bursting with capable competitors. 2015 winner Coneygree is no longer in the picture, but five different horses have better than 13/1 odds: Cue Card, Don Poli, Djakadam, Don Cossack, and Vautour. It’s a challenging field for those with an interest in betting, but a thrilling one for fans of the races.

Cheltenham manages to surprise us on a pretty regular basis, so don’t be surprised if a trainer or horse not mentioned here ends up securing a major triumph in March. But looking at the contests from a month out, these are the names to keep an eye on in what’s generally one of the most exciting festivals of the early racing season.