The Reuters global sports blog
Punters prepare for credit crunch-busting Cheltenham
Credit crunch? World financial crisis? Don’t you believe it. The Cheltenham Festival, the highlight of the British jumps racing calendar, starts on Tuesday and millions of pounds will be gambled over four days of high-quality action.
Forget the glamour and fashion of Royal Ascot, this is where tweed adorns the shoulders of the English gentry and the Irish travel in their droves to roar on their equine superstars.
The Gold Cup steeplechase on Friday is the highlight of 26 races across the four days and by 1530 GMT we will know if Denman’s victory last year was a flash in the pan.
A monster of a horse, Denman confirmed his immense talent by vanquishing 2007 winner Kauto Star but there is little confidence in the horse 12 months on.
The vibes for a repeat victory have not been good ever since the nine-year-old underwent treatment for a heart problem in September which was followed by a lacklustre reappearance at Kempton racecourse in December.
Since then Denman’s odds have drifted out to around 6-1, a tempting price for part-owner and colourful professional gambler Harry Findlay.
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls holds all the aces as along with Denman, race favourite Kauto Star and last year’s third Neptune Collonges line up again.
The Champion Hurdle is the highlight on the opening day with ante-post favourite Binocular set to take on four previous winners: Hardy Eustace (2004, 2005), Brave Inca (2006), Sublimity (2007) and last year’s victor Katchit.
Binocular’s trainer Nicky Henderson knows how to win the race, See You Then registering a hat-trick of titles in 1985, 86 and 87.
Binocular will be ridden by 13-times champion jockey Tony McCoy, who last month chalked up another milestone in his phenomenal career by celebrating his 3,000th winner over jumps.
Despite that achievement, McCoy is not the favourite to ride most winners at the Festival. That label belongs to fellow Irishman Ruby Walsh, a superb horseman in his own right who enjoys all the benefits of being stable jockey to the all-conquering Nicholls yard.
Punters can also part with their hard-earned cash on a variety of novelty bets with a certain Irish bookmaker, who will take bets on the highest recorded wind gust and the number of pints of Guiness sold throughout the duration of the festival.
PHOTO: Ruby Walsh, riding Kauto Star, clears the last fence to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup on the final day of the Cheltenham Festival, March 16, 2007. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh