The 2021 Cheltenham Festival will be a thrilling affair, with the best National Hunt horses in the world battling for glory over four epic days.
The meeting is packed with a host of top-class races, many of which determine the best horse for the season in a particular discipline.
For many horse racing experts the Festival is all about the major championship races – Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase, Stayers’ Chase and Gold Cup.
Read on as we look at each race and pick out four horses that we believe have an excellent chance of passing the post in first place.
Epatante – Champion Hurdle
Nicky Henderson’s charge deservedly won the Champion Hurdle in 2020 and will be back to defend her crown this time around.
Epatante started this season with an impressive win in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, before suffering a shock defeat in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.
Henderson admitted that he was left baffled by the performance, but the master trainer can be expected to have Epatante firing when the Festival comes around.
With the Champion Hurdle line-up looking weaker than previous years, the seven-year-old is strongly fancied to make it two-in-a-row.
Chacun Pour Soir – Champion Chase
Chacun Pour Soi is on a recovery mission this season after being withdrawn from last year’s Champion Chase on the morning of the race.
The Willie Mullins-trained horse made a smooth return at Cork in December, before romping to a comfortable success at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival.
His jumping was immaculate, and there appeared to be plenty left in the tank as he cruised home more than six lengths ahead of Notebook.
Reigning champion Politologue will be tough to beat, but Chacun Pour Soi has the talent to gain redemption for last season’s disappointment.
Thyme Hill – Stayers’ Hurdle
The Stayers’ Hurdle will be one of the most eagerly anticipated races of the meeting, with Thyme Hill and Paisley Park set to go head-to-head for the third time this season.
Philip Hobbs’ star defeated Paisley Park on his reappearance at Newbury, before the latter gained his revenge in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot.
There was little to choose between the pair on each occasion, setting up the prospect of a thrilling third encounter at the Festival.
Jockey Richard Johnson didn’t cover himself in glory aboard Thyme Hill at Ascot, and the pair can gain compensation by winning the Stayers’ Hurdle.
Al Boum Photo – Gold Cup
Al Boum Photo will attempt to etch his name into racing folklore on the final day of the Festival by winning the Gold Cup for the third time in a row.
Best Mate was the last horse to complete the treble back in 2004, highlighting how difficult it is to win the blue-riband event.
Willie Mullins’ nine-year-old enjoyed his usual preparation with a bloodless victory in the Savills Chase at Tramore on New Years’ Day and will now head straight to Cheltenham.
Mullins is the most successful trainer in the history of the Festival with 72 winners, and he would love nothing more than to add to his tally with another Gold Cup success.
Jack Timms is an independent writer with 8 years experience in writing sports articles for various magazines and newspapers. Most of his work is on horse racing or football, and he has written for magazines such as Thoroughbred Racing and Luxuria Lifestyle. Jack lives in York with his dog, Poppins.