It’s make up your mind time for punters

Mark Twain once wrote that it is the difference of opinion that makes horse races and none generate as much conjecture and argument as the 27 that are run over four days here at Cheltenham every March.

When the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle kicks off at 1.30pm at Prestbury Park today, it will trigger a guttural roar of excitement borne of feverish anticipation and bring to an end months of speculation and scheming.

More than 200,000 people will funnel in and out of the racecourse situated on the edge of this Regency town in Gloucestershire between today and Friday and an average of £1m (€1.15m) will be risked with each and every firing of the starter’s gun.

There will be no Kauto Star gracing this most famous of festivals this year. No Denman either, or Master Minded, Big Buck’s, or even Finian’s Rainbow, who was pulled from the bill as late as yesterday.

Such is life and such is horse racing.

Time moves on and injuries take their toll on man and beast, but Cheltenham is bigger than any one animal, jockey, trainer, or owner, and more than enough spools for yet another rich sporting tapestry have been assembled and will begin to knit together as of today.

Three of the four feature races offer genuine dilemmas for punters while Sprinter Sacre’s coronation as the festival’s next superstar will now be challenged by Henry de Bromhead’s Sizing Europe in tomorrow’s Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Nicky Henderson’s “once in a lifetime” favourite will still be expected to live up to his considerable billing but Sizing’s jockey Andrew Lynch has sounded a bullish warning that he will not be lining up to contest for second best.

The Meath jockey is one of numerous Irish participants aiming high this week. The raiders have long become accustomed to colonising these parts every 12 months, and this latest invasion will once again be led by Willie Mullins.

The Closutton trainer needs just three wins to overtake Tom Dreaper as the most successful Irish trainer of all time at these Equine Olympics and his charges will carry the hopes and the financial well-being of thousands of Irish in attendance.

The sun shone in Cheltenham yesterday but the snow fell in wispy patterns, too. Like everyone else, Mother Nature has been having difficulty making up her mind ahead of the off but it sure isn’t the sort of weather to be losing the shirt from your back.

Let the madness begin.


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