Crowds return for Cheltenham Festival

Cheltenham tickets have sold in record time and more than 60,000 racegoers are expected each day
Dates: 15-18 March Venue: Cheltenham Racecourse Roots: 13:30-17:30 GMT main race: 15:30
Coverage: Comments on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, feature races Radio 5 Live. Racecards, live text, results & reports on the BBC Sport website and app

The roar which greets the start of racing’s Cheltenham Festival will be heard for the first time in two years as crowds return on Tuesday.

Last year’s four-day fixture, which usually attracts a total attendance of about 250,000, was held behind closed doors because of Covid-19.

Rachael Blackmore will look to win the opening day’s Champion Hurdle again with Honeysuckle.

She made history in 2021 as the first woman to be the meeting’s top jockey.

The unbeaten mare Honeysuckle seeks a 15th straight career win in Tuesday’s feature race at 15:30 GMT.

Blackmore will ride last year’s runner-up A Plus Tard against stablemate and defending champion Minella Indo in Friday’s Gold Cup.

What will the Festival look like?

Cheltenham was one of the last major sporting events to be held with spectators before the coronavirus lockdown in March 2020.

A year later, winners passed the finishing line to a smattering of applause from stable staff. The noise this time will be a sharp contrast with thousands of Irish punters set to travel over and selling tickets in record time.

Bookmakers expect around £500m overall to be wagered during the Festival and while notes will be accepted by bookies on course, the track’s bars and restaurants will be cashless and require card payments.

There are a total of 28 races over the four days with Tuesday’s concluding race run as the Ukraine Appeal National Hunt Chase to support those affected by the humanitarian crisis after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

the big clashes

British trainers aim to do better than a year ago when they went down to a record 23-5 defeat by Irish runners as Blackmore won more races (six) than all the GB trainers.

Rachael Blackmore won on Allaho, Sir Gerhard, Telmesomethinggirl, Honeysuckle, Quilixios and Bob Olinger last year
Blackmore won on Allaho, Sir Gerhard, Telmesomethinggirl, Honeysuckle, Quilixios and Bob Olinger last year

Here’s some of this year’s highlights:

Tuesday – Supreme Novices Hurdle: Trainer Nicky Henderson will be hoping to provide a home win in the opener with Constitution Hill or Jonbon while Dysart Dynamo heads three runners for Willie Mullins.

Champion Hurdle: The Irish powerhouses of Henry de Bromhead, Mullins and Gordon Elliott saddled the first three in the betting in Honeysuckle, Appreciate It and Teahupoo. Between them, the training trio have 22 of the meeting’s 28 ante-post favourites. The 2020 champion, Epatante, runs for Henderson.

Wednesday: Queen Mother Champion Chase: Henderson’s Shishkin and Energumene, for Mullins – who also runs Chacun Pour Soi – renew rivalry after the former won their first clash at Ascot which was hailed as one of the great races of recent years. Last year’s winner Put The Kettle On and runner-up Black Cloud return.

Cross Country Chase: Will two-time Grand National winner Tiger Roll bow out with a record-equalling sixth Festival win? Trainer Elliott is back at the Festival having served a six-month suspension after being pictured sat on a dead horse.

Thursday – Ryanair Chase: Allaho was one of the most impressive scorers last year and will be sent out to defend his title for Mullins, who earlier runs Galopin Des Champs against another Cheltenham 2021 victor, De Bromhead’s Bob Olinger, in the Turners Novices’ Chase.

Stayers’ Hurdle: Three previous winners of this race line up with Flooring Porter taking on Lisnagar Oscar and Paisley Park, the hurdler named after Prince’s recording studio and owned by Andrew Gemmell, who has been blind since birth.

Friday – Gold Cup: De Bromhead saddles last year’s first two in Minella Indo and A Plus Tard, while Mullins sends out two-time winner Al Boum Photo, who was third last year. Elliott runs Galvin and Protektorat is the leading British hope for Dan Skelton.

What’s the weather forecast?

It is expected to be a largely dry week, apart from forecast rain on Wednesday, with temperatures of up to 15C.

The going at the track on the eve of the meeting was described as Good to Soft.

Willie Mullins, favorite to be the week's leading trainer, assesses some of his horses at Cheltenham
Willie Mullins, favorite to be the week’s leading trainer, assesses some of his horses at Cheltenham

Tuesday’s schedule and BBC coverage

(All times GMT. Distances in miles, furlongs and yards)

Tuesday, 15 March

1:30 PM – Sky Bet Supreme Novices Hurdle 2m 87y

14:10 – Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase 1m 7f 199y

14:50 – Last Handicap Chase 3m 1f

15:30 – Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy 2m 87y

16:10 – Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle 2m 3f 200y

16:50 – Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle 2m 87y

17:30 – Ukraine Appeal National Hunt Novices’ Chase 3m 5f 201y

BBC coverage

BBC Radio 5 Live Sport Extra 13:15-18:00

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