Equine stars prepare for Racing Festivals

Breeders' Cup Challenge

Equine stars prepare for Racing Festivals

Last year’s Cheltenham Festival controversially went ahead just days before the first National Lockdown due to the Covid Pandemic. There was to be no reprieve for the Aintree Grand National in 2020 which was lost for the first time since the void race in 1993. Almost eleven months on and preparations are well under way for both festival meetings, although there remains a great deal of uncertainty regarding spectators.

Cheltenham have confirmed that spectators will not be allowed to attend the 2021 Festival meeting which runs from March 16th to 19th.You can get free tips on this year’s runners on the excellent Online Betting Guide. Horse racing resumed behind closed doors at the start of June and has been meticulously following Government guidance in order to keep the show on the road. The Jockey Club reported a £90 million loss in revenue since the start of the pandemic but have been grateful that the sport has been able to continue.

The schedule for the flat racing season needed to be radically adjusted with the Epsom Derby taking place a month later than usual in early July. Royal Ascot took place without spectators with Her Majesty The Queen unable to attend for the first time since 1953. As horse racing has managed to continue as an elite sport through subsequent UK lockdowns, the schedule will have a more familiar look about it in 2021.

The Cheltenham Festival features the annual clash of the best steeplechasers and hurdlers from Great Britain and Ireland. The blue riband event is the Cheltenham Gold Cup, won for the past two seasons by Al Boum Photo, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Paul Townend. The nine-year-old gelding is on course for his hat-trick bid this season. If successful, he will be the first horse to win the race for three successive seasons since Best Mate in 2002, 2003 and 2004.

Other equine stars expected to line up at Cheltenham include top rated novice chasers Shishkin (Arkle Trophy) and Envoi Allen (Marsh Novices’ Chase). Both go into the festival meeting unbeaten over fences and are likely to start odds-on favourites for their respective Cheltenham races. Epatante will bid to win the Champion Hurdle for a second successive season while Chacun Pour Soi is the big hope of Ireland in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

There is no more famous obstacle course in sport than the Aintree Grand National. The three-day festival will take place from 8th to 10th April culminating in the big race over an extended four miles. The course has undergone substantial safety improvements in recent years but remains the ultimate test of the steeplechaser. There are thirty fences to be jumped including the notorious Becher’s Brook and The Chair. The weights are due to be published on February 16th and the horse everyone wants to know about is Tiger Roll.

Gordon Elliott’s stable star won the Grand National in 2018 and 2019 to stand on the threshold of equalling the legendary Red Rum with a third win in the race. Fate denied him the opportunity last year but the diminutive eleven-year-old will hopefully be back again this season. He has not won since defeating Magic Of Light at Aintree in 2019 and connections will be hoping that the handicapper is lenient when the weights are announced.

Magic Of Light is expected to renew rivalry with Tiger Roll at Aintree with the mare having performed well at Newbury and Ascot this season. Another horse being aimed at the Grand National is Cloth Cap, a ten lengths winner of the valuable Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury in November. Jonjo O’Neill trains the nine-year-old for owner Trevor Hemmings, successful with Hedgehunter (2005), Ballabriggs (2011) and Many Clouds (2015).

By Harvey Mayson

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