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Tuesday, March 17, 1998 Published at 10:55 GMT



Sport

Going is good for Cheltenham

  • News Online tips Kadastrof (2.35), Dato Star (3.15 - Champion Hurdle) and Great Easeby (5.05), all each-way, on the opening day of the meeting. But punt at your peril at jump racing's most competitive meeting!

    The Cheltenham Festival is the event that National Hunt enthusiasts live for and persuades even the most casual observers to take a punt.

    Staged against the backdrop of rolling Cotswold hills, the action starts on Tuesday.

    The event is renowned throughout the horseracing world for providing the supreme test for chasers and hurdlers.

    "The Cheltenham Festival is our Olympics," said English champion jockey Tony McCoy, who landed the Champion Hurdle-Gold Cup double last year.

    The two biggest races - the Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle - are the most prestigious and richest chase and hurdle events respectively in the racing calendar.


    Top tips on the Cheltenham Festival from the BBC's Racing Correspondent Cornelius Lysaght (3'06")
    The first-day feature event is the Champion Hurdle with Irish raider Istabraq and the Sussex-trained I'm Supposin the hot tips.

    The big race on the second day is the two-mile Queen Mother Champion Chase, with past winners Klairon Davis and Viking Flagship challenged by the youngsters Ask Tom and One Man.

    But the meeting's highlight is the Tote Gold Cup on Thursday. See More Business and Doran's Pride are favoured by the bookies with Cyborgo, Suny Bay and The Grey Monk other leading fancies.

    History

    The first recorded races at Cheltenham were in 1815, but the first organised meeting was in 1818 and August 1819 saw the first running of the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

    The initial meeting at Prestbury, the festival's current home, was in 1831. Racing suffered a lull at Cheltenham in the mid-19th century until a new grandstand was built for the first two-day meeting in 1898.

    The first three-day festival was held in 1923 and a year later the first official Gold Cup was run. Three years later the Champion Hurdle Challenge Cup was inaugurated.

    Irish eyes on first day

    These days the festival attracts around 150,000 spectators from all over the world. But you don't have to go far without hearing an Irish accent.

    1998 is expected to see around 7,000 Irish gamblers flocking to Gloucestershire.

    And if Irish Istabraq wins the Smurfit Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy on the first day of racing, St Patrick's Day, their cheers could lift the roof off the Cheltenham grandstand.

    The tough hurdler, bidding for his 10th consecutive victory, will face a spirited challenge from the English horse I'm Supposin.

    But his rider, Irish champion jockey, Charlie Swan, is determined to give the fans something to cheer about.

    "Cheltenham will always be the meeting for me," Swann said. "I just love it."

    If Istabraq does pull it off there may hardly be a dry eye in the house as the promising young horse was bought and originally trained by John Durkan, who died in January after a long battle with leukaemia.

    Feature events attract strong fields

    The two-mile Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday is one of the great spectacles of the meeting with the fastest chasers in the business going over one of Britain's toughest courses.

    The £200,000 event has attracted an 18-strong field.

    Previous winners Viking Flagship and Klairon Davis are set to do battle with One Man.

    But they will have to pull out the stops to beat up-and-coming Ask Tom, a horse fit and ready to improve on his second in the race last year to Martha's son.

    The bookies' choice for the Gold Cup seems to be See More Business, winner of the King George VI chase over Christmas and an impressive winner at Cheltenham last time out.

    So far 21 horses have been declared for the £225,000 race.

    As with Istabraq in the Champion Hurdle, emotions will run high if Doran's Pride improves on his third place in last year's event.

    The chaser was once the ride of Irish jockey Shane Broderick, now a paraplegic in a Dublin hospital after a crashing fall last Easter at Fairyhouse.

    Cheltenham is set to have ideal racing ground for this year's event.

    Clerk of the course Phil Arkwright said: "The going is good to soft, soft in a few places on both courses."






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