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Excitement builds ahead of Cheltenham Festival

Cheltenham Festival
Venue: Prestbury Park Date: 16-19 March
Coverage: Live text commentary and daily reports on BBC Sport website & mobiles. Live daily coverage on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra (1300-1400) and 5 live (1400-1600) and television coverage on Channel 4 (1230-1615)

By Frank Keogh

Trainer Paul Nicholls with Denman and Kauto Star
Friday's Gold Cup sees Denman and Kauto Star renew their rivalry

Organisers of the Cheltenham Festival are making final preparations before the eagerly-awaited showpiece National Hunt race meeting starts on Tuesday.

Dunguib is the hot favourite in the opening Supreme Novices' Hurdle and Go Native heads the Champion Hurdle field.

Despite the recession, ticket sales are expected to pass the 210,000 mark this week with £600m set to be wagered.

Friday will see 2009 winner Kauto Star renew his rivalry with former champion Denman in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Racing fans have been hoping all winter the pair, who are stabled next door to each other at the Somerset yard of champion trainer Paul Nicholls, would face each other again.

The duo stand one-all in wins when they have faced each other, but Kauto Star is favourite after surpassing Desert Orchid to become the first horse to win the King George VI Chase at Kempton four years running on Boxing Day.

To add spice to their clash, steeplechasing's blue riband event sees the brilliant jockeys Ruby Walsh (Kauto Star) and Tony McCoy (Denman) go head-to-head.

McCoy, the 14-time champion jockey who counts Walsh as a close friend, is looking to make amends after he was unseated when he rode Denman for the first time in February in a shock defeat at Newbury.

Interest in the showdown has been rising, with special scarves and rosettes on sale for punters to show backing for their favourite.

606: DEBATE
Zarkava

Thousands of people are expected to make the trip from Ireland to Gloucestershire as Cheltenham becomes a racing mecca for the week.

"We could be up to an attendance of 215,000 people, which would be really good and on the high side of our expectations," said Cheltenham managing director Edward Gillespie.

Extended licensing hours see the party continue into the early hours every day, and hundreds of rooms are rented out as the town caters for an influx of race-goers.

After a dry spell, the Prestbury Park course has been watered and the going is expected to be just on the soft side of good.

"Our main shop in Cheltenham will be trading at 7.30am. Our hours are restricted by law but if we could keep it open 24 hours a day this week we would, " said Ladbrokes spokesman David Williams.

A huge roar will go up as the runners set off in the meeting's opening race, the Supreme Novices' Hurdle on Tuesday.

Dunguib, winner of the Champion Bumper at the 2009 Festival, is clear favourite and has been described as the Irish banker.

Another Irish favourite, Go Native, will try to add the Champion Hurdle to the Fighting Fifth and Christmas Hurdles won already this season.

For the first time since 2006, St Patrick's Day falls during the Cheltenham Festival, and thousands of green rosettes will be handed out to the crowd on Wednesday.

Master Minded will seek to become only the second horse, following on from Badsworth Boy in the 1980s, to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase three times.

A fascinating race is in prospect in the RSA Chase where Nicky Henderson runs two potential future Gold Cup contenders in Long Run and Punchestowns.

Nicholls saddles the dual champion chaser, and among his embarrassment of riches, he also trains Big Buck's, who goes for consecutive victories in the World Hurdle on Thursday.

In the Ryanair Chase, a royal appointment is on the cards with Barbers Shop, owned by the Queen, among the contenders.

The third day of the meeting, which was expanded to a four-day gathering in 2005, is now branded 'Ladies' Day' and will culminate in a charity race for female riders, with Nicholls' partner Georgie Browne among those taking part, along with media mogul Rupert Murdoch's daughter Elisabeth.

Friday kicks off with the Triumph Hurdle where speedy juvenile hurdlers do battle and Gordon Elliott, who won the 2007 Grand National with Silver Birch, runs Carliot Brigante.

But the expectation centres on 1520 GMT when Kauto Star and Denman will meet for a third time before a sell-out crowd.

The 2009 RSA Chase winner Cooldine, Ryanair Chase winner Imperial Commander and Grand National ante-post favourite Tricky Trickster appear to be their main rivals.



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see also
Cheltenham Festival 2010 schedule
21 Feb 10 |  Horse Racing
Champion Hurdle runners and riders
15 Mar 10 |  Horse Racing
Gold Cup state of play
13 Mar 10 |  Horse Racing
Binocular lands Champion Hurdle
16 Mar 10 |  Horse Racing
Big Zeb lands Champion Chase win
17 Mar 10 |  Horse Racing
Big Buck's cruises to Hurdle win
18 Mar 10 |  Horse Racing
Imperial Commander lands Gold Cup
19 Mar 10 |  Horse Racing
Kauto v Denman tale of the tape
12 Mar 10 |  Horse Racing
The Kauto Star story
29 Oct 12 |  Horse Racing
Four cheers for Kauto Star
26 Dec 09 |  Horse Racing
Denman storms to Gold Cup victory
14 Mar 08 |  Horse Racing
Kauto Star seals Gold Cup triumph
16 Mar 07 |  Horse Racing
Horse Racing results on your mobile
15 Feb 10 |  Horse Racing


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