Relief after Wednesday’s card at the Festival got the go ahead at around 7am this morning has already been replaced by anticipation as Cheltenham prepares to welcome Altior, the best two-mile chaser in training, as he attempts to join the select band of horses to have won at four consecutive Cheltenham Festivals.
The all-time record of six straight Festival wins is held by Willie Mullins’s mare Quevega, who was responsible for almost 10% of the trainer’s record 61 wins at the meeting prior to his double on Tuesday. She is unlikely to relinquish sole ownership any time soon, but Altior will join legends like Arkle, Istabraq, Sir Ken, Persian War and Willie Wumpkins – three of whose wins were in a handicap – if he can justify his status as odds-on favourite this afternoon.
The punters could certainly do with a result after a series of unexpected outcomes on the opening day, when one on-course punter’s £2 bet into the Placepot returned £180,000.
Tiger Roll, last season’s Grand National winner and another horse who is going for his fourth win at the Festival, will also have many supporters when he lines up for the Cross-Country Chase, but the remainder of the card looks as daunting as it should.
There will also be an earnest hope that none of today’s races have a similar aftermath to yesterday’s National Hunt Chase, in which one horse died, only four of the 18 starters completed, eight fell and three of the amateur riders received bans for continuing in the race “when it appeared to be contrary to the horse’s welfare”.
The action gets underway at 1.30 with the Ballymore Novice Hurdle where there is the prospect of a British-Irish head-to-head between Champ and Battleoverdoyen, with the home team looking to level things up after going down 4-3 on the opening day. Willie Mullins, who was well backed to finish the week as top trainer before yesterday’s card, is now odds-on at 10-11 after winning the first two races on Tuesday, but rivals Nicky Henderson, who trains Altior and Champ, and Gordon Elliott (Battleoverdoyen, Delta Work in the RSA and Tiger Roll) both have strong hands to play today.
The going at Cheltenham is soft on both the hurdles and chase courses and soft, heavy in places on the cross-country.