The National Hunt season’s biggest four days are fast approaching, as the Cheltenham Festival will be taking centre stage in March. There isn’t a horse racing festival on the planet that manages to emulate the anticipation that comes with Cheltenham, as jumps fans from around Europe tune in to watch the action unfold.
The biggest stars in National Hunt will all be in attendance for the massive festival, which means that there is no shortage of stories that could come out of the week. But, what are the biggest headlines that could be made during the festival in 2021?
Stayers’ Hurdle Classic
There aren’t many more races taking place this year that have been able to capture the imagination more than the Stayers’ Hurdle. This year’s race looks to be the most memorable in recent years, with the two biggest names in the division going head-to-head.
Fans have already been given two insights into what could potentially happen at the festival, but with contrasting results. All of the attention will be on the 2019 winner of this race, Paisley Park. The nine-year-old, who is trained by Emma Lavelle made an unsuccessful defence of his title last year, as he was beaten by 14 and a half lengths from Lisnagar Oscar.
Questions were immediately raised whether his day in the sun had finally gone, and there were worries that he would never reach the level that was required to compete with the leading stayers’. However, a progressive run on his first reappearance in November was a warning sign to the division, before a fighting performance soon following in the middle of December at Ascot.
His main challenge will be Thyme Hill, who is the young contender on the scene looking to end Paisley Park’s dominance. Thyme Hill has already beaten Paisley Park once this season, with that win coming at Newbury in November. There was no shame in his second behind his rival at Ascot last time out, but something must give when they go head-to-head for a third and final time in the season at the festival.
Tiger Roll To Bounce Back
The biggest race on the second day of the festival will be the Cross Country. Tiger Roll was the heavy favourite to win this race last year, but fell way short of the high standards that have been expected of the Gordon Elliott-trained horse. Tiger Roll will be looking for history in April when he looks to become only the second horse to win three Grand Nationals, but there is every expectancy that he will need a strong outing in this race to demonstrate to his connections that he is ready for the fight ahead.
There have also been rumours that he may be retired should he underperform again at Cheltenham. The eleven-year-old hasn’t won on his last four starts, with his last victory coming in the Grand National in 2019. He was pulled up for the for the first time in three years last time out, but we normally see the best of Tiger Roll when his back is against the wall.
More History For Bryony Frost
The blue-ribbon event of the National Hunt season takes place on the final day of the meeting. The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the race that all the leading trainers and jockeys set their sights on at the beginning of the season, and this year’s meeting could be more significant than ever.
Bryony Frost is no stranger to creating history, and that was once again the case when she became the first female jockey to win the illustrious King George on Boxing Day.
Frodon was the winner for Frost on that occasion, and the nine-year-old has constantly been the ride when she has created history. Frodon gave Frost a first Cheltenham Festival Grade 1 in 2019, but a win in the Gold Cup would be the cherry on top of the cake.
There would be something mesmeric about Frost breaking down the glass ceiling once again to win the most prestigious race of the season, but it will be a big ask against the back-to-back defending champion Al Boum Photo.
Here you have it, the most important stories to pay attention while tuning in for Cheltenham next March. And if you really dig horse racing, check out the current contenders for May’s Kentucky Derby in the US: https://www.twinspires.com/kentuckyderby/contenders