It’s Northern Irish veteran Tony McCoy’s last festival, while 18 line up for the Cheltenham Gold Cup this Friday
Article by Rupert Watkins
The Cheltenham Festival kicks off today for an extravaganza of the very best Nation Hunt racing. With the legendary jump jockey AP (Tony) McCoy making his last appearance (and looking to add to his 191 Cheltenham winners), interest and emotion will be running even higher than normal. Such is the respect and affection racing has for him, the final race of the meet has been renamed The AP McCoy Grand Annual Chase in his honour for this year only.
The first day is dominated by the Champion Hurdle, which goes under starters orders at 3:20pm. With last year’s winner Jeski looking for back-to-back wins and with McCoy in the saddle, this will be a huge draw at 4-1, though the bookies do have Faugheen as favourite sitting at 11/10 more or less across the board. However, there are whispers that, should Jeski provide the fairytale festival start for his rider, the amount of money flowing to McCoy ridden horses could top £30 million over the week.
Wednesday is Ladies Day – always a sartorial favourite. Strong winds are forecast so fascinators may be replaced with stylish tweed and knee high smart boots. Despite that, expect a strong, colourful show and if any readers are going, remember to cut a dash in the paddock.
It’s looking like a maximum of 18 will line up for the highlight of the week – the Gold Cup – on Friday. Off the back of a dominant performance while winning the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park, Silviniaco Conti is looking set to be the bookmaker’s favourite, going in as low as 3-1 at William Hill and Ladbrookes. A strong Irish challenge is always expected though, and Lord Windermere is currently being given odds of anything between 12-1 and 10-1 and, as last year’s winner, is looking to head up the charge. Carlingford Lough, McCoy’s last Gold Cup ride, is also in the mix at 10-1 across the board. Further strength in depth for the Emerald Isle is provided by Road to Riches, also at 10-1. The race starts at 3:20pm.
The latest going at the time of writing had the Old Course (today and Wednesday) and the New Course (rest of the week) as good to soft, good in places.
Enquiries: www.cheltenham-festival.co.uk (betting) / http://cheltenham.thejockeyclub.co.uk/events-tickets/whats-on/the-festival-2015 (course site). All prices and latest going reports correct at 10pm Monday March 9th