Racing Post's Cheltenham Preview

The Cheltenham Festival is to jumps fans the Olympics, golf and tennis majors and football World Cup rolled in to one, and it is easy to see why with the spring spectacular just around the corner.

Due to be staged on March 13th-16th, The Festival features four of the sport's most important days and attractive prize-money with a record £4.59 million on offer across the week.

For many, the opening Tuesday is the highlight after months of anticipation and build-up, plus a mouthwatering bill headlined by the Unibet Champion Hurdle and also including the Racing Post Arkle Novices' Chase, Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle and OLBG Mares' Hurdle - talk about starting with a bang.

The Nicky Henderson-trained Buveur D'Air is the hot favourite to retain his Champion Hurdle crown, although a return to form from Faugheen would mean a clash of the titans.

Altior, another of champion trainer Henderson's aces, will be the headline act on day two of Cheltenham when he is due to line up in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Like Buveur D'Air, he would have leading claims for that, but they would be complicated by the presence of Douvan and Tingle Creek hero Politologue.

The Ballymore Novices' Hurdle also takes place on Wednesday and appears the most likely race for Samcro, a horse plenty believe is close to the second coming.

Thursday's twin treats are the Ryanair Chase, the possible spot for the hugely popular Cue Card in what would be his seventh start at the meeting, and the Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle, which has a far more open look to it than the showpiece contests on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Long Walk Hurdle winner Sam Spinner heads the betting and would be a breakthrough Festival winner for trainer Jedd O'Keefe, who was diagnosed with cancer in his neck and throat in 2011.

The Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup on the final day is also no one-horse race, although King George VI Chase winner Might Bite's credentials are solid enough, even if his RSA Novices' Chase success last year came via a worrying detour when he threatened to throw away all of his hard work.

Last year's Gold Cup hero Sizing John could easily bounce back after a tame display in the Leopardstown Christmas Chase, while Native River, third 12 months ago, is another name not to dismiss.

It is easy to see why the festival is the best of all.

by The Racing Post's James Burn at Rewards4Racing

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