Matt Chapman sets the scene ahead of the Cheltenham Festival – the greatest race meeting on planet Earth

IT’S Cheltenham people, but not as we know it! 

Just a few days to go until the greatest race meeting on planet Earth. Four days of top-class jumps horses doing battle over all kinds of obstacles and over all kinds of distances. 

And here at Sun Racing we are geared up to bring you the best coverage you could possibly get of Cheltenham 2021.

I can promise you the team have been working tirelessly on news and features and have their fingers right on the pulse of the action. 

The Festival is where the best meet the best in every sense. And while it will take place behind closed doors that makes no difference to the battles on the track. 

It’s Ireland’s champion trainer Willie Mullins against Britain’s top handler Nicky Henderson, and Britain’s Paul Nicholls taking on Irelands’s Henry de Bromhead. 

And there are British-based jockeys like Nico de Boinville, Richard Johnson, Aidan Coleman, Harry Skelton and Harry Cobden taking on those across the Irish Sea in Paul Townend, Rachael Blackmore, Mark Walsh, Danny Mullins and Jack Kennedy. 

The horses, though, take centre stage and while everyone will have their own favourite I can’t wait for what I believe is one of the strongest Festivals for novice chasers. 

Shishkin, Monkfish and Envoi Allen could all prove respective monsters in the Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy, Brown Advisory and Marsh Novices’ Chase. 

Indeed, if they all won next week and then this time next year went on to win the Champion Chase, Gold Cup and Ryanair, no one would be that surprised – although the chances are Envoi Allen and Monkfish would face each other in the 2022 Gold Cup if things go to plan. 

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, I believe Shishkin is the most talented jumps horse trained in the United Kingdom right now. I might think differently just after 2pm on Tuesday. But I hope not – I’m usually right about these things!

Come on Nico Chastel de Boinville. Good name that. It oozes class like Shishkin. 

I wasn’t that impressed with Envoi Allen last time, but of course he’s got a huge reputation and those close to him won’t hear of defeat.  

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Monkfish was not always the best hurdler, and he smashed a few on the way round before landing the Albert Bartlett last year. Over fences, however, he’s been equine perfection. I can’t see how he loses bar the kind of accident which of course can happen to any horses at any time. 

The JCB Triumph Hurdle doesn’t always get me jiggy, but there’s no doubt that Thursday’s renewal has me firmly in the grip of anticipation. 

Tritonic was superb at Kempton the other day for Alan King, and quickened up like a very good horse inside the final furlong. No surprise there, to be honest as of course he’s the best Flat horse his trainer has sent over jumps. 

However, Tritonic will have to be good, as many Irish fans have Zanahiyr as a banker. The latter is unbeaten in three starts and followed a fourteen length success over the talented Saint Sam with a near four length demolition of Busselton in Grade 2 company at Leopardstown.

The son of Nathaniel could be anything. 

The main event comes on Friday with the Wellchild Cheltenham Gold Cup, and Al Boum Photo bids to follow in the hoofprints of Best Mate by taking the ultimate test three times. However, it won’t be easy and I’m confident Santini will put up a bold show at big odds. 

As for the story of the week, well there’s every chance that could come in the Unibet Champion Hurdle on Tuesday. 

Honeysuckle will bid for 11 straight successes on the bounce and provides Rachael Blackmore with a huge chance of becoming a female-winning rider of the big one, while surely everyone will be cheering home Jamie Moore and Goshen

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The latter of course unseated Moore at the last of the Triumph Hurdle last year, and the emotion involved with that defeat was without doubt the most memorable of Cheltenham 2020. 

I’m in a very privileged position to be able to go to Cheltenham as a small part of the ITV team, and will interview the winning rider of the six races shown each day on the channel.

Just imagine that’s Moore. The drama. The joy. The achievement. That’s Cheltenham. Sometimes the stuff of nightmares. But often the maker of dreams. 

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