The day we've all been waiting for
We've had to wait an extra 24 hours as it's a leap year but It's finally here – after 362 days, welcome
back to the Cheltenham Festival.
It's the jump racing Olympics, though instead of Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis-Hill and Victoria Pendleton we have Willie Mullins, Ruby Walsh and, er, Victoria Pendleton.
Whatever the next four days bring, this is the place to come to find out what's happening, what's already happened and what's going to happen.
As Derek Thompson might say: “Stay with us.”
There is no better way to sum up what
the festival means than to quote the words that Alastair Down used in
the Racing Post today:
Today, gloriously and at last, it is upon us, and although Cheltenham always has elements of mounting the scaffold, it is also about moving on to some higher plane. For four
days we ride a rollercoaster that can rise to rapture or plummet to places we never wanted to be.
What a great opening day, there are so many treats to look forward to this afternoon
Will Min and the awesome Douvan live up to their fabled reputations? Can super-sub Annie Power keep the Champion Hurdle in the hands of the Faugheen team? Could Vroom Vroom Mag complete a Mullins four-timer that will have the bookmakers squealing?
I'll keep you posted with opinions, market moves, going news and you can have your say – you can reply here or tweet me at @wikiwikiwheels
Who would have thought it?
We've already had one sensation – shock news that Vautour runs in the Ryanair Chase on Thursday, rather than in Friday's Cheltenham Gold Cup which had long been nominated as
It has caused consternation among ante-post backers and owner Rich Ricci and trainer Willie Mullins
have come in for flak on social media.
But BetBright, whose executive chairman is Ricci, are paying out on Vautour as the winner of the Gold Cup.
And while the rights and wrongs of the change of plan and the timing of its revelation will be debated for a long time, should the yard's four-timer come off today and line thousands of pockets, punters are likely to be in a more forgiving mood!
Road To Riches has also been announced a Ryanair runner by trainer Noel Meade.
Tom Kerr is already at Cheltenham and this is his view from the track on the issue that everyone is talking about:
So, is Vautour to the Ryanair the right decision? Plenty of judges have been saying he would hose up in the shorter race and that tackling the Gold Cup was beyond his stamina, so in that respect owner Rich Ricci has made the right call.
On the other hand, connections have told punters for weeks that the plan was the Gold Cup or nothing. To change their mind at this late date will have cost some dear.
But perhaps the strongest argument against the change of direction is that the easy option is not always the right option. The Cheltenham Festival is about epic clashes and great races, and while Vautour would have been hard-pressed to win the Gold Cup on Friday if he had triumphed he would have done so against a top-class field and in the festival's most prestigious race.
The ground is the key to so many bets and the early news is that it is officially good to soft, soft in places
Expect conditions to dry out through the week, as when he was asked about the chances of rain, clerk of the course Simon Claisse said this morning: "There is nothing of any significance over the next few days."
We will keep you posted with any more news – but it will be the time record by the opening race winner that gives us the best guide to the true state of the ground.
Conditions have improved significantly since we had 24mm of rain last Tuesday into Wednesday.
The good thing is about 90 per cent of the ground we’re not running on until the festival and I couldn’t be more delighted with the ground for day one, which is good to soft, soft in places in the 2m4f and 4m chutes.
The outlook is dry for the week and the forecast suggests temperatures could be up to a balmy 14C by Friday.
There's plenty to look forward to later this week too. Trainer Alan King is excited and said of one upcoming contest:
This is what racing is all about and I've got
butterflies just talking about it.
Stuart Riley is one of our men on the course and he does not believe that Douvan is a certainty for the Racing Post Arkle Chase:
Douvan's price is heavily skewed by two factors, firstly the hype around him with the Mullins camp suggesting he's the best in the yard, and the fact he is the cornerstone of just about every festival accumulator.
The Supreme/Arkle double has not been done since Flyingbolt in 1964/65, the Supreme is a race for future stayers. Even Vautour was stepped up for the JLT.
On top of all that Douvan comes into the race with a last time out RPR of 161. Vaniteux comes in on the back of running to 162. If I'm backing a horse at 2-5 at the very least I expect him to have the best recent form in the race and I may be the biggest idiot in the village, but he is more beatable than his price suggests.
Both horses should run very well. They are not social runners, they are going there with
It is in very good shape. It is going to ride good to soft, a little bit dead in places. On the whole it will probably suit everybody
Even Willie Mullins, who is not one to get carried away with his horses, admits he has decent prospects with Douvan in the Arkle and he said in his column in today's Racing Post:
You can take nothing for granted in this game but he
looks to have an outstanding chance in the Racing Post Arkle Trophy
He'll run far better than he's been given credit for in the betting. The form of his Musselburgh win is rock-solid