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Homeracing

Fornatale Is Pumped Up As Cheltenham Looms Boldly

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TwinSpires Staff

March 10th, 2014

It’s hard to explain Cheltenham to the uninitiated because in some ways it must be experienced in the flesh to truly appreciate it.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t try, and what better way to take in the greatest, most fun, most exciting race meeting in the world than from the comfort of your home or office and with TwinSpires.com?

In today’s piece, I am going to outline four reasons why American racing fans should pay attention to Cheltenham. I encourage everyone to check back in this space frequently over the next five days, as I’ll be giving out tips for a bunch of races and hopefully put some of what’s happening over at Prestbury Park in the Cotswolds in context for the American audience.

GREAT RACING

Suffice it to say that in the UK and (especially) Ireland, jump racing is a really, really big deal. The Cheltenham festival is kind of like the Olympics of jump racing. All the major divisions have championship races and horses participate from around the world. Heck, this year there’s even a major contender for the Arkle (2 mile novice chase race) owned by an American (Riverdee Stables’ Valdez).

Here’s the basic breakdown: there are two types of races: hurdles (small obstacles) and chase fences (larger obstacles). There are less experienced jumpers (novices), who have their own set of races, and more experienced jumpers who compete at the highest levels in races like the Champion Hurdle and, naturally, the Gold Cup. Don’t get the idea that the Novice races are really any less prestigious though – it’s more like the Triple Crown races here. Yes, they are restricted, but they are still a very big deal.

IRELAND VS ENGLAND

I recall walking by a pub in the vicinity of Cheltenham a few years ago and there was a chalk sign out front that indicated its TVs were showing football (Tottenham vs. Man City), Rugby (Scotland vs Italy), and Horse Racing (England vs Ireland). The latter was of course referring to the Cheltenham Festival. The rivalry is friendly for the most part and no smart gambler would be so prejudiced as to refuse to bet a horse from the other country, but the England vs Ireland stuff does add an intriguing subplot to the Festival for sure.

THE ULTIMATE EXPRESSION OF HORSE RACING AS SPORT

The greatest part about jump racing is that the big stars compete year after year. A given star horse might well compete in several of the Festival’s signature races during in his career as he wends his way from the bumper (a flat race for jump prospects) potentially all the way to the Gold Cup. As a result, the fans develop a connection to the horses that’s much deeper than in flat racing, except in the most extraordinary circumstances (horses like Frankel or Zenyatta). It’s more akin to how we follow our favorite sports teams. It’s a beautiful thing to watch the horses come back into the winner’s enclosure and no matter who they are—a 6-to-5  favorite backed by half of Ireland or a 40-to-1 longshot that few have—they get a heroes’ welcome.

GREAT BETTING OPPORTUNITIES

With huge fields, good-sized commingled tote pools, great horses, and unique betting opportunities, Cheltenham represents an opportunity for bettors to make a score. I’ll be doing my best to give you the best information I can and I’ll be playing along. If nothing else, it should be a fun week. If things break right, we’ll make a few bucks.

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