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Cheltenham Festival: Horses, jockeys and trainers to follow

As the National Hunt season reaches its epic four-day centrepiece at Cheltenham, we take a look at the main horses, jockeys and trainers to keep an eye on at The Festival.

Four action-packed days of the highest class of racing is on offer, as the UK and Ireland go head-to-head in an effort to prove who has the best horses. 

The Festival has a history of playing host to some of the greatest moments and biggest superstars of the sport. It's the place where legends are made, think Arkle dominating the Gold Cup and etching himself into horse racing folklore, or perhaps Kauto Star making history in 2009 by regaining the Gold Cup. 

Across the four days, there is never a shortage of eye-catching performances, be it from a seasoned star or the new kid on the block, and there is always the name of a horse or trainer on everybody's lips. This doesn't look to be changing any time soon, with an abundance of talent set to be on display this year.

In the run-up to Cheltenham, we take a look at look at some of the names worth keeping an eye on. 

Cheltenham Festival Jockeys to follow

Paul Townend

Paul Townend has one of the best jobs in racing as top jockey for Willie Mullins, so it is no surprise that he has been the top rider at the Festival three times in the last four seasons, and he is hot favourite to take the title again this year. 

The jockey from County Cork already has 28 winners to his name at the Cotswolds spectacle and he looks certain to add to that total this year. 

With such a good book of rides, it is hard to pick where Townend will have his best chance. One of his most anticipated though, is sure to be with Gold Cup champion Galopin Des Champs. 

The superstar chaser is one of the most exciting horses in training, and has earned himself the honour of being one of the shortest priced Gold Cup favourites in recent history. 

Townend has purred over his chances and will be looking to top off any glory with a win in the big one. 

Nico De Boinville 

As the main rider for trainer Nicky Henderson, Nico De Boinville is no stranger to the winner's enclosure, and is the only Briton to have won Cheltenham Festival's leading jockey award in the last decade.

He has ridden some of the greats over the years, including the likes of Altior, Sprinter Sacre and Shishkin. 

Constitution Hill, however, could top the lot. 

He has taken the world of National Hunt racing by storm since he burst onto the scene in December of 2021 – and de Boinville has been the man doing the steering for each run of his unbeaten career. 

They are hot favourites to defend the Champion Hurdle crown on day one of Cheltenham 2024.

The Champion Hurdle isn't De Boinville's only chance at glory as the Hampshire-born jockey will also partner the likes of Jonbon in the Queen Mother Champion Chase and Shishkin in the Gold Cup. 

The pressure is on, with de Boinville tasked with riding some of the most exciting horses in training, but he has been here before and looks set to add more Grade 1 glory to his achievements. 

Harry Cobden

As the main jockey for the powerhouse yard of Paul Nicholls, Harry Cobden and his trainer have enjoyed a prolific partnership in the past few years. 

In 2023, Cobden broke his four-year Cheltenham Festival drought on Stage Star, who won the Turners Novices' Chase, before he also guided Stay Away Fay to win the Albert Bartlett on the final day of the Festival.

He and his Ditcheat boss will be relishing the chance to add to their Festival tallies come March. 

Rachael Blackmore

The pioneering Irishwoman that became the first female to be leading rider at the Cheltenham Festival in 2021 and returned 12 months on to win the Gold Cup on A Plus Tard.

Blackmore's incredible four-from-four record on the brilliant mare Honeysuckle is already the stuff of legend in the Cotswolds.

The retained rider for top trainer Henry de Bromhead, Blackmore is amongst the best in the business. 

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Cheltenham Festival Trainers to follow

Paul Nicholls

Paul Nicholls is the most successful trainer of his generation, winning the Champion Trainer title 14 times in his career – including an incredible run of seven in a row between 2005 and 2012. 

He has also had his fair share of Cheltenham stars, including two legends of the game in Kauto Star and Denman who won the Ditcheat trainer three successive Gold Cups from 2007. 

However, since then, Nicholls has hardly been synonymous with the Cotswolds festival. He hasn't managed to win one of the Championship races since 2012 and hasn't secured the title of top trainer of the festival since 2009.

Last year saw some welcome relief for Nicholls as Stage Star and Stay Away Fay bagged Grade 1s and Bravemansgame was a gallant runner-up in the Gold Cup. 

The Ditcheat supremo will have been buoyed by the recent news Caldwell Potter is coming to his yard and Nicholls has plenty to look forward to at Cheltenham 2024.

Nicky Henderson

It is hard to imagine a Cheltenham Festival without Nicky Henderson, the legendary trainer has been getting winners on the board since way back in 1985 and he has shown no signs of slowing down, still racking up multiple winners every year.

Henderson has trained some of the biggest legends to grace the famous Cheltenham turf, including the likes of Altior, Shishkin and of course Sprinter Sacre.

Whilst he may not be as successful as his biggest rival at the top of table in Willie Mullins these days, Henderson still has his fair share of prospects, most notably Constitution Hill.

Henderson may just have the best horse in training in Constitution Hill and it looks increasingly likely that the superstar hurdler will be adding an incredible 10th Champion Hurdle crown for his trainer in 2024.

Henry De Bromhead 

Henry De Bromhead has developed quite the knack for training big winners at the Cheltenham Festival. 

The Irishman has won two Champion Hurdles in recent times, as well as training not just the winner of the Gold Cups in 2021 and 2022, but also the second horse home, with Minella Indo and A Plus Tard trading places. 

Last March, Honeysuckle's swansong win in the Mares' Hurdle sparked powerful scenes of emotion in the winners' enclosure as de Bromhead celebrated the win just months after the tragic passing of his teenage son, Jack. 

History dictates that it would be foolish to write off any of de Bromhead's runners and if anybody can prepare them for Cheltenham, it's him. 

Willie Mullins 

For many trainers, a winner at the Cheltenham Festival is no easy feat, although that is not the case for Willie Mullins. The Irish trainer is the most successful in the history of the Festival, with 94 winners since his first, Tourist Attraction, in 1995.

Back then, Mullins' operation wasn't quite as impressive as it is now. It wasn't until 2008 that he had more than one winner across the week and his winners were largely limited to the Champion Bumper, with six of his first 12 winners up to that point coming in the jump-less race.

Since that breakthrough in 2008, however, Mullins hasn't gone a single year without multiple winners across the week and in recent years that has improved even more, with anything less than double digits in the winners' column looking like something of an underperformance.

With Mullins yet again having a stable full of top-class performers, will it be another Cheltenham Festival to remember?

Dan Skelton

For someone who has only been operating solo since 2013, Dan Skelton has done exceptionally well to establish himself as one of Britain's finest National Hunt trainers.

The former assistant to Paul Nicholls already has six Cheltenham Festival winners under his belt, including 2019's Grade 1 Mares' Hurdle with Roksana. 

After a stutter in recent seasons, Skelton was back on track in 2023 as Favoir won the County Hurdle and Langer Dan took out the Coral Cup. 

So often teaming up with brother and leading rider Harry, Team Skelton will be keen for more Cotswolds glory this spring. 

Cheltenham Festival Horses to follow

State Man

Since moving over from France to be trained by Willie Mullins, State Man has been close to faultless. The star hurdler has won 10 of his 11 races for Mullins since the only blot on his record, an unfortunate fall on stable debut. 

The only defeat since came in the Champion Hurdle last March when Constitution Hill toyed with him.

Three more Irish Grade 1s have been added to a strong CV this season, including his second Irish Champion Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival. 

Once more, the long shadow of Constitution Hill is going to present the principal barrier for State Man and his dreams of being the Champion Hurdler. 

Editeur Du Gite 

Gary Moore's Editeur Du Gite made a name for himself last season and after claiming a second success in the Desert Orchid Chase over the festive period at Kempton, connections will hope he is in for a fruitful 2024.

Editeur Du Gite's win in the Clarence House Chase in January 2023, off the back of his first success in the Desert Orchid, sent shockwaves through the jumping circuit, but after failing to follow up at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, Moore and his team will be hoping for better from their talented 10-year-old this time around.

Galopin Des Champs 

The reigning Gold Cup champion is firmly on track for the defence of his crown on 15th March.

A pair of defeats behind Fastorslow bookended his summer break but, after a stylish Christmas success in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown, he defeated Martin Brassil's charge in the Irish Gold Cup at the start of February, dominating from the front.

Galopin Des Champs was superb under Paul Townend in the Gold Cup in 2023 and is very much the benchmark in the staying chase division as the countdown to Cheltenham 2024 intensifies. 

Jonbon

All eyes have been on Jonbon since the very start of his career, as a brother to the very impressive Douvan and being purchased by JP McManus for £540,000, it was clear from the offset that he was one to watch. 

Each step of Jonbon's career has been watched intently, and more often than not he has delivered on the hype. 

His only defeat last season as a novice over fences saw him finishing second to El Fabiolo in the Arkle here and their potential rematch in the Queen Mother Champion Chase was one of the key narratives this season.

Jonbon's jumping fell apart in the Clarence House Chase run at Cheltenham in January as Elixir De Nutz beat him and he is now challenged with rebounding and probably needing a career-best if he is going to thwart El Fabiolo on 13th March. 

Home By The Lee 

Home By the Lee seemingly came from nowhere to emerge as a leading contender for last year's instalment of the Stayers' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival but Joseph O'Brien's star finished in fifth spot.

He was then pulled up at Aintree and has been well held in Irish contests won by Bob Olinger and Irish Point this season. 

A frontrunner that is known to come off the bridle quite early in his races, he's been a tough ride for JJ Slevin at times and the pilot appears to lose the battle of wills more often than not these days. 

Edwardstone

Edwardstone won the Arkle at this meeting for Alan King in 2022 and added a Tingle Creek the following season at Sandown but has gone six races without a win since.

He trailed home in fifth as Energumene retained the Queen Mother Champion Chase crown last March and was no match for Jonbon in the Shloer Chase here or the Tingle Creek in the first half of this term. 

He finished 25 lengths behind Banbridge in the Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton over two-and-a-half-miles in January, his first attempt at that trip as a chaser, and has options in the Champion Chase and the Ryanair come March. 

He will have to rediscover his mojo – and then some – to get a second Festival win. 

Bravemansgame

A brilliant winner of the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day 2022, Bravemansgame was denied only by Galopin Des Champs in the Gold Cup here last season.

The pair were then stunned by Fastorslow at Punchestown and Paul Nicholls' star has a trio of silver medals to show for himself this season. 

They came in the bet365 Charlie Hall at Wetherby and the Betfair Chase at Haydock before Hewick took his Kempton crown at Christmas.

Can Britain's champion trainer get him back to peak form for March – and more importantly – is that going to be good enough to wrestle the Blue Riband from the hands of the Irish raiders for the first time since 2018?

Flooring Porter

The Cheltenham Festival is a place where the wheat really gets separated from the chaff, horses who once seemed untouchable have been found wanting when trying to conquer the famous Cheltenham hill. 

Flooring Porter's wins in the Stayers' Hurdle in both 2021 and 2022 were very much of the gutsy variety as Danny Mullins made all on the Gavin Cromwell-trained star. 

He was only fourth last year as Sire Du Berlais landed a shock success and Flooring Porter has belatedly gone chasing this season.

He won under Keith Donoghue around Cheltenham in October on fencing bow but has been well beaten in both starts since. 

Connections have the National Hunt Chase and a possible return to the Stayers' Hurdle to consider this spring and, given his love affair with Cheltenham, it would be foolish to write Flooring Porter off. 

Shishkin

Nicky Henderson says the Cheltenham Gold Cup is the "obvious" target for Shishkin despite his failure to finish in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Beaten favourite in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham last March, Shishkin roared back with a win in the Aintree Bowl soon after over three-miles-one-furlong. 

Big things were anticipated this season but he stunned his supporters by refusing to race in the 1965 Chase at Ascot on his intended comeback.

He looked the likeliest winner in the King George only to unseat Nico de Boinville at the second last fence on Boxing Day and his trainer remains keen on the Gold Cup with Newbury's Denman Chase a likely stop-off point en route to March. 

Facile Vega

Winner of the Champion Bumper at this Festival in 2022, Facile Vega denied by Marine Nationale in the Supreme last March. 

He did win two Grade 1s over hurdles as a novice but it was not enough to please everyone given the sheer talent he'd shown previously in bumpers. 

He won a beginners' contest over fences at Navan in November as he went chasing and heads back to Cheltenham having finished third behind stablemate Il Etait Temps in the Irish Arkle at the Dublin Racing Festival. 

Constitution Hill

The biggest name in National Hunt racing currently, Constitution Hill is bound for Cheltenham for a third time in March seeking a second Champion Hurdle and a further embellishment of his unbeaten career to date.

Nicky Henderson's star is different gravy and beat State Man by a convincing nine lengths when taking over as the two-mile kingpin last season. 

Rather disappointingly, his Christmas Hurdle win at Kempton is the only time he's raced this season before the defence of his Cheltenham crown but he remains the bona fide champion and will be a very tough nut to crack. 

Paisley Park

One of racing's favourite sons, Paisley Park is looking to add another chapter to his heroic career at this year's Cheltenham Festival.

He isn't the most straightforward of horses, as shown in his sole Festival win back in 2019 when coming from the rear of the pack to power home late, but this just adds to his charm.

This season has seen him rejuvenated, despite moving towards March without a win. He's been agonisingly foiled in all three starts, including the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December and the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham on Trials Day.

With a seemingly unlimited engine and a heart as big as they come, it's impossible to rule Emma Lavelle's star out of any race – especially with this year's Stayers Hurdle looking wide open.

It will by no means be an easy task now that he's turned 12 but the veteran stayer certainly relishes a challenge.

Any odds displayed were correct at the time of writing and are subject to fluctuation.

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