Day One of the Cheltenham Festival is known as Champion Day and features some of the most anticipated races of the four-day National Hunt meeting. With four Grade One races appearing on the opening day of this famous festival, including the feature race of the day, the Champion Hurdle, there is plenty to get excited about.
Here we give you the lowdown on each of the races from Day One, with information about what to look out for when trying to pick the winner and with links to betting tips for specific races where applicable. Before you place your bets, don’t forget to check the latest Cheltenham Festival Betting Offers to help skew the odds in your favour.
13.30 – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
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The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle always gets the Festival off to a lively start as the Cheltenham Roar resounds around the course and the punters hope to get off to a winning start with the first racing bet of the week.
The Grade One race is run over a distance of two miles and 110 yards, has eight hurdles to jump and is open to runners aged four years and older. It features the best novice hurdlers around and given the noise the crowds makes when this one starts, it is often as much a test of the horses’ temperaments as their racing ability.
Seven of the last 14 winners have been six-year-olds and six have been five-year-olds. There have been a few four-year-old winners over the years, but the last was back in 1999 (Hors La Loi III), while the oldest – by four years! – was the 12-year-old Beau Caprice in 1966.
Prior to the 2017 Cheltenham Festival, Ruby Walsh was the leading jockey with five wins of the Supreme Novices’, while Willie Mullins is the leading trainer having saddled five winners. In 2013, 2014 and 2015 the pair combined to win this one with Champagne Fever, Vautour and Douvan respectively but Nicky Henderson’s Altior won in 2016 and then a surprise in 2017, Gordon Elliott’s Labaik – to the consternation of many a punter!
For more details see our full Supreme Novices’ Betting Tips article
14.10 – Arkle Challenge Trophy
The Arkle Challenge Trophy – known to most simply as the Arkle – is named after the three-time Cheltenham Gold Cup winning bay gelding and is the second race – and second Grade One race at that! – of the first day at the Cheltenham Festival.
Open to novice chasers aged five years and older, the Arkle is run over a distance of two mile with 13 fences to jump. As a minimum distance chase for novices it is often run at a blistering pace and many of its winners have gone on to triumph in the Queen Mother Champion Chase later in their careers.
The most recent stead to do so was the much-heralded Sprinter Sacre, the Nicky Henderson gelding who won this one in 2012 and won the Queen Mother the following year (before taking a year off with heart trouble).
Other notable winners of this race include Moscow Flyer in 2002, who won the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2003 and 2005, and Sizing Europe, who followed up his 2010 triumph with victory in the QM the following year.
Seven of the last 12 winners (prior to the 2017 Festival) were seven-year-olds, and Nicky Henderson jointly holds the title of leading trainer for the race with Tom Dreaper having saddled five victors each. Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins combined to win in both 2015 (with Un De Sceaux) and 2016 (with Douvan). But Nicky Henderson took the plaudits in 2017 when Nico de Boinville rode Altior to victory.
For more details see our full Arkle Betting Tips and Preview article
14.50 – Festival Handicap Steeple Chase
The third race of the opening day is the Festival Handicap Chase which is run over a testing distance of more than three miles and has 19 fences to clear. Open to horses aged five years and older, this race is a real test for staying chasers and many who have been successful here have gone on to compete in the Grand National at Aintree.
The first handicap of the Festival, there is always scope for some good each way value, and outsiders have often achieved good results, especially those running off a relatively light handicap. From 1999 to 2015 there were only three winners who carried more than 11 stone on their back, with the average weight carried by winners in that period being just under the 10-4 mark, though three of the last five winners (prior to the 2016 renewal) carried 11-2 or more.
15.30 – Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy
The biggest race of Cheltenham’s opening day and the most prestigious of all the hurdling events, the Champion Hurdle rarely disappoints as a spectacle. Run over a distance of two mile and half a furlong, with eight hurdles to jump, it takes a swift stead indeed to triumph in this always-competitive race.
Former winners have included such luminaries as Persian War, Lanzarote and the great Istabraq, while – more recently – Hurricane Fly was been victorious twice (in 2011 and 2013). This is another race in which Nicky Henderson has been the most successful of the current trainers with five winners (the same as Peter Easterby who last won with Sea Pigeon in 1981), though Willie Mullins has saddled three of the last five winners.
While the race is open to horses aged four years and older, there hasn’t been a four-year-old winner since before the Second World War and few trainers enter such youngsters these days.
The aforementioned Sea Pigeon was the last 11-year-old to triumph (after Hatton’s Grace in 1951), while Hurricane Fly and Rooster Booster were the oldest to come home first this century (in 2013 and 2003 respectively), both aged nine years.
For more details see our Champion Hurdle Betting Tips article
16.10 – The OLBG Mares’ Hurdle
All eyes shift to the female of the species in the Mares’ Hurdle as this Grade One race is – as the name would suggest – open only to fillies and mares aged four years or older.
Run over a distance of two miles and four furlongs, there are nine hurdles to jump and given that it has only been run since 2008, there is not a great deal to go on when pointing to the traits of former winners. This is especially the case because – remarkably – the Willie Mullins-trained Quevega has won this race on six occasions, from 2009 to 2014.
Given Quevega was retired at the end of the 2014 season, however, there was a new victor at the 2015 Cheltenham Festival in the form of Glens Melody… you’ve guess it, another from the Mullins stable! Indeed Mullins followed that up with a win in 2016 too (with Vroum Vroum Mag)! The script changed in 2017 though with Apple’s Jade taking the victory for Gordon Elliott.
For further details see our OLBG Mares’ Hurdle Betting Tips article
16.50 – The Toby Balding National Hunt Steeple Chase
This race is named in honour of the great racing trainer Toby Balding who saddled the winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Champion Hurdle and the Grand National during his illustrious career but who passed away in 2014.
It is a monster of a race given that it is run over a distance of four miles, and with 24 fences to jump it is certainly no walk in the park for runners or riders. Having been contested since 1860, this race – known as the National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup previously – has plenty of history to gaze upon.
Interestingly, Willie Mullins has won this race both as a trainer (with Back In Focus in 2013) and as a jockey (in 1982 and 1984 on Hazy Dawn and Macks Friendly respectively).
17.30 – The Centenary Novices’ Handicap Chase
The final race of the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival is a Listed handicap chase run over a distance of two miles and four and a half furlongs.
Notoriously difficult to predict, this race is open to novice chasers with a rating of between 0 and 140, and is certainly a race for which following the market could be a shrewd tactic, with tips otherwise something of a shot in the dark.
Each of the last eight winners (prior to the 2018 Festival) carried weights of 11 stone or greater, though the five before that all had handicaps of less than 11 stone. In other words, good luck with this one!