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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 March 2007, 06:11 GMT
Cheltenham, 13 March, 2007
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First race at 1400 GMT

Horses head out for an early morning gallop at Cheltenham racecourse
It is likely to be soft going at the four-day meeting
Jump racing fans are preparing for the Cheltenham Festival, the most important meeting on the calendar, which begins on Tuesday.

About 230,000 spectators are expected at the four-day meeting with 65,000 people attending the final day on Friday when the Gold Cup takes place.

Many will travel over from Ireland and Irish-trained horses have had an excellent Festival record in the last few years.

606: DEBATE

Their success reached record heights last year with 10 victories, including the first three home in the Gold Cup and the Champion Hurdle and the first two in the Champion Chase.

But a series of high-profile withdrawals in recent days has dampened Irish hopes this year.

Cheltenham is an annual fixture for many jump racing fans who will consume 200,000 pints of Guinness during the Festival with betting turnover estimated at 25m.

For many years I have had this dream of winning the Gold Cup

For connections of the horses who will line up in the 24 races, there is a record 3m up for grabs in prize money.

After nine horses died during last year's Festival, changes have been made to the course to make it safer for both the animals and their riders.

And for the first time, there will be a designated Ladies Day at the Festival, which takes place on Thursday, and which will raise money for charity.

Going into the Festival, it is the English-trained Kauto Star who has been dominating the headlines.

The seven-year-old, who is attached to the Somerset stables of champion trainer Paul Nicholls, is a strong favourite for the blue riband event of the Festival, the Gold Cup on Friday.

After winning two big races earlier this season, he is in line for a 1m bonus if he is victorious at Cheltenham and with five wins from five races in the current campaign, his form cannot be faulted.

However, he fell on his only previous visit to Cheltenham in 2006 and last-fence blunders in his last two races have given his rivals a glimmer of hope.

The highlight of the opening day on Tuesday is the Champion Hurdle, in which popular grey Detroit City is aiming to see off his older rivals, including two-time winner Hardy Eustace and reigning champion Brave Inca.

  • Follow the Cheltenham Festival on BBC Five Live and the BBC Sport website with live race updates and reports from the course.



    SEE ALSO
    Cheltenham photos
    13 Mar 07 |  Horse Racing
    Kauto primed for Gold Cup attempt
    11 Mar 07 |  Horse Racing
    Kauto Star tops Gold Cup hopefuls
    10 Mar 07 |  Horse Racing
    Kauto Star divides opinion
    06 Mar 07 |  Horse Racing
    Detroit heads small Hurdle field
    11 Mar 07 |  Horse Racing


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