A remarkable Festival record is that of Willie Mullins in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle. The race has been run nine times, and Mullins has trained the winner of it for the past eight years – six of them with Quevega (2009-2014). The betting suggests he is likely to extend that sequence – his two representatives, Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag, are first and second favourites for today’s renewal.
Irish handler Gavin Cromwell attempts to saddle his first Cheltenham Festival winner from his initial runner at the Festival, courtesy of the J P McManus-owned Jer’s Girl, who runs in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle.
Richie McLernon and Tom Scudamore have both won the Ultima Handicap Chase twice and attempt to join Robert Thornton as the joint-most successful jockey in the handicap in the post-war period with three wins. Scudamore, successful aboard An Accordion in 2008, rides last year’s winner Un Temps Pour Tout again in the race, whilst McLernon, who won the contest on Alfie Sherrin in 2012, rides Holywell who he also partnered to glory in this event in 2014.
Neil Mulholland’s The Druids Nephew, David Pipe’s Un Temps Pour Tout and Holywell, trained by Jonjo O’Neill, all have the opportunity to become only the third horse to win the Ultima Handicap Chase twice. Sentina (1957 & 1958) and Scot Lane (1982 & 1983) are the last two horses to have achieved the feat.
Mullins could also become the first trainer to win the Stan James Champion Hurdle in three successive years with three different horses. Footpad (Ruby Walsh) and Wicklow Brave (Paul Townend) bid to follow in the footsteps of their illustrious stablemates Faugheen (2015) and Annie Power (2016).
If Moon Racer, trained by David Pipe, wins the Stan James Champion Hurdle he will become the first novice to do so since Make A Stand, who took the race for Pipe’s father, Martin, in 1997. The lightly-raced eight-year-old, who has won four of his five starts for Pipe, including the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at The Festival in 2015, is a 9/1 chance with the race sponsors after being unbeaten in two novice hurdles.
Ruby Walsh attempts to become the most successful jockey of all time in the Stan James Champion Hurdle, in which he partners Footpad for Willie Mullins. Walsh boasts four wins in the two-mile championship hurdling showpiece courtesy of Hurricane Fly (2011 & 2013), Faugheen (2015) and Annie Power (2016). Tim Molony also has four victories to his name aboard Hatton’s Grace (1951) and three-time winner Sir Ken (1952, 1953 & 1954).
Nicky Henderson is The Festival’s winning-most trainer, with 55 victories under his belt so far. He has eight runners declared for the first day of this year’s meeting, and his best chance is the unbeaten Altior, odds-on favourite for the Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase. Henderson has won the race five times to date, equalling Irish trainer Tom Dreaper’s record in the two-mile novices’ championship. Henderson has also won the Stan James Champion Hurdle on five occasions, joining Peter Easterby as the race’s most successful trainer. The Lambourn handler saddles Buveur D’Air, Brain Power and My Tent Or Yours in this year’s renewal.
Younger trainers looking for their first Festival victory include brothers-in-law Charlie Longsdon and Ben Pauling. Longsdon sends Coologue to contest the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham tomorrow, while Pauling has High Bridge in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and A Hare Breath in the Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase.
J P McManus is much the most successful current owner at The Festival with 49 winners, stretching from Mister Donovan’s 1982 victory in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle to On The Fringe’s 2016 St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase win. He has seven runners on the opening day of The Festival 2017, headed by Stan James Champion Hurdle trio Yanworth, My Tent Or Yours and Buveur D’Air. Among his other runners is Edwulf, around a 9/2 chance in the J T McNamara National Hunt Chase, who may give first-season trainer Joseph O’Brien a first Festival win.