We’ve still got some time to go before the spring horse racing season is upon us. As autumn sets in and the weather cools, though, many fans of the sport will start looking ahead to the 2015 calendar. And as is always the case, the Cheltenham Festival and its numerous high-profile races are among the first that attract wide viewing audiences and enthusiastic live crowds when the event kicks off on March 10, 2015. Naturally, in the time between now and then, a great deal could change regarding the status of potential competitors, but here’s our early look at how the major races may play out.
As always, the Stan James Champion Hurdle will mark the first major contest of the Cheltenham Festival on opening day. The eight hurdle race is just over two miles long and it is viewed by most as the premiere event on the National Hunt hurdle calendar. This year’s contest will bring about particular intrigue. Fans will recall last year’s Champion Hurdle being marred by the horrible tragedy of top contender Our Conor sustaining an injury and ultimately having to be put down. But as BBC Sport’s Frank Keogh pointed out in his event recap at the time, this tragedy affected the outcome of the race in more ways than one. Namely, the fall itself held up The New One, who was many people’s pick to win the race, ultimately allowing Jezki to place first. Both, given good health, will be racing again in 2015, with The New One likely entering as the favourite even against the defending champion.
On Day 2, the Queen Mother Champion Chase (two miles long with 12 fences) will be the highlight, and poses its own fascinating narrative. Last year, defending champion Sprinter Sacre‚ a strong favourite to win the race again‚ was held out of competition due to heart-related health risks. In the champion’s absence, Sire de Grugy won the race, and this time around both horses will make up the top of the favourites list. Most will likely tab Sprinter Sacre‚ the more accomplished and capable horse‚ as the probable winner, but it could be very tight.
The Ladbrokes World Hurdle event (about three miles, with 12 hurdles) highlights action on Day 3 and will also feature a defending champion in the form of More Of That. However, many will associate the 2015 edition of this race most with the simple fact that it will be the first since the retirement of four-time champion Big Buck’s one of the most memorable horses in Cheltenham’s history. Betfair’s Paul Nicholls saluted Big Buck’s after the 2014 race‚ it functioned largely as a symbolic farewell for the past-his-prime champion who had missed 2013 due to injury‚ and called him the “dominant staying hurdler of his generation.” Indeed, the race will feel different to regular fans without Big Buck’s presence looming. As for current competitors, More Of That
looks like a very strong favourite to repeat, perhaps in a move to carve out his own dynasty in the World Hurdle event.
And finally there’s Day 4’s Gold Cup. Cheltenham’s own site recalls that is was “won by a nose” by Lord Windermere in 2014, making for a thrilling finish to the event. Lord Windermere was, to most, an unexpected winner. This year, fans are looking for a likely return to the norm, as Bobs Worth appears to be the favourite to win. However, with tough challengers Holywell and Silviniaco Conti, among others, expected to compete, we may well be in for another very closely contested Gold Cup on the final day of Cheltenham 2015.
Again, there’s a long way to go between now and the Cheltenham Festival. As you look forward to the spring racing season, though, these are some of the names to keep an eye on for the marquee events!