Cheltenham Festival 2023: Race times, TV channel and latest odds
Marcus Armytage's five horses to watch at Cheltenham Festival 2023
At 1-3, Nicky Henderson’s outstanding six-year-old is not a betting proposition but, bar a fall, looks nailed on for his first championship in open company so sit back and enjoy the show. Apart from his own ability and calm demeanour he has a lot going for him: a jockey with a big race temperament and a trainer who has already won eight Champion Hurdles. Henderson has never seen a horse like this and, one suspects, nor have we.
The two time Champion Hurdler and the horse which really set Rachael Blackmore on the road to stardom. Unbeaten in first 16 starts but yet to win this season. This is her swansong before she goes off to stud. A fourth victory at the Festival would be a great way to go but hard to argue with the fact she looks to have lost a little of her edge.
Has the scalps of both Energumene and Edwardstone (twice) in the bag already and yet still trades as third favourite behind them in the betting. Full marks for connections sticking with young up and coming jockey Niall Houlihan on the front-runner who loves Cheltenham, a huge chance for him to break into the big time.
Trained in the Loire valley, better known for its chateaux, by relatively unknown (here, at any rate) Frenchman, Gabriel Leenders, hence his generous price based on his recent win at Cheltenham. He trains 90 horses and knows the time of day so should not be lightly dismissed. Great chance for veteran French jockey Jonny Charron to cap a long career.
One of the smallest clubs in racing, in terms of membership, are horses which have won a Gold Cup and Grand National. Currently only Golden Miller and L’Escargot are in it but, with cheek-pieces reapplied, no horse in Friday’s race has the stamina depths of last year’s Aintree hero. As long as he does not get outpaced early on, he will be flying up the hill.
What is the latest news on the 2023 Cheltenham Festival?
Gold Cup tale of the 'Mad Genius' and his famous five
We talk about the current domination of the Irish or more specifically Willie Mullins, but no man ever dominated one race like Michael Dickinson 40 years ago when Bregawn led home his four stable companions, Captain John, Wayward Lad, Silver Buck and Ashley House to fill the first five places in the 1983 Gold Cup. Dickinson, now 73 and based in the United States, never felt able to celebrate one of the all-time feats of training. “I was very nervous,” he explained.
“Wayward Lad had sprained a hock earlier in the season so was undercooked and Silver Buck wasn’t firing for some reason, although we couldn’t put our finger on it. Captain John was also a bit short because he’d pulled muscles in the Welsh National. So I was dreading it. I was so messed up in my mind, I didn’t know where they’d all finish. “I certainly wasn’t expecting the first five and I’d been so uptight for so long I just couldn’t celebrate. We planned to meet the family at an Italian restaurant near Harrogate win, lose or draw that evening in the belief it would be lose. I just couldn’t be ecstatic.”
Often nicknamed the “Mad Genius”, Dickinson, who also developed the Tapeta all-weather surface, trained 12 winners one Boxing Day and sent out dual Breeders’ Cup winner Da Hoss (an equal feat to first five in the Gold Cup) is being honoured at the end of March with the JW Galbreath Award for innovation and safety by the University of Louisville. (Talk about small world, Galbreath owned Derby winner Roberto, who Dickinson once put on a plane at Shannon when he was working for Vincent O’Brien.) He will be at the Festival all four days but if he looks distracted it will be because he is thinking about his acceptance speech in which he is taking “change” as his subject and using the Grand National as an example. “Change is always necessary,” he says. “If you stand still you get run over.”
There is only one Mullins bringing more horses across the Irish Sea to Cheltenham than Willie Mullins’s 80 – that is his brother George, who runs Ireland’s biggest horse transport company. He anticipates bringing 130 runners including Henry de Bromhead and Paul Nolan’s teams in 10 trucks, each of which is capable of carrying up to a dozen horses, although for the Festival they generally give them a bit more space. Some of the lorries will be doing double runs and one of them is still stuck in France because of a strike.
George drove Dawn Run over for her 1984 Champion Hurdle and 1986 Gold Cup wins for his father, Paddy, in the family horsebox. In 1988 he set up his own company which is now a global operation. These days he restricts his cargo to horses but back in the 1990s he kindly took a Morris Minor back to Ireland for me in the back of one of his horseboxes. It did not load quite as well as most horses and we had to find a steep hill to park on, but we got there in the end.
It confuses me which next generation Mullins belongs to which current generation Mullins. George is father of Grand National winning trainer Emmet and still does his work. “He didn’t buy his own lorry yet,” he says.
I am glad we have cleared this up. When Nigel Twiston-Davies’s Champion Hurdle contender I Like To Move It – I think he will finish second to Constitution Hill – won the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November there was some confusion as to which of the trainer’s clutch of children had come up with such a great name for a racehorse. “It was eldest daughter Poppy’s idea because it is youngest son Ted’s favourite song,” says Twiston-Davies who gave up shouting for Lent. “It’s a brilliant name – especially if he wins.”
What are the biggest races?
There are seven races each day at Cheltenham. None are insignificant but some are more important than others. The headline race each day is at 3.30pm.
On day one, if you only watch one race, make it the Champion Hurdle, won for the past two years by Rachael Blackmore aboard Honeysuckle.
On day two, crowds will swell for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, where Willie Mullins' Energumene took the honours in 2022.
The biggest races of day three are the Ryanair Chase at 2.50pm, won for the past two years by Willie Mullins' Allaho, and the Stayers' Hurdle, where Flooring Porter is the defending champion.
And on day four, the final day, the biggest race of the whole meeting takes place: the Gold Cup. Last year's winner was A Plus Tard, ridden by Blackmore, who became the first female jockey to win the race.
Who won the Prestbury Cup in 2022?
The Prestbury Cup is the competition between British and Irish trainers, running for the duration of the Cheltenham Festival. Ireland dominated last year's competition, winning 18 races to the UK's 10.