There is nothing as competitive a Cheltenham handicap and a record number of entries have been released today with a staggering 191 horses entered in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle and 167 entered for the Coral Cup and that's just for starters.
At this stage it would be almost impossible to give a accurate preview let alone find a winner of any these incredibly competitive races with many horses being entered up in several different races during the course of the week and with the weights not set to be released until nest Wednesday the best I can do is pick put a few notable names among the enormous list of entries that have the credentials to run a big race a the greatest show on turf.
The JLT Speciality Handicap Chase on the opening day is one if not the most competitive 3m handicap chases of the season and the last two winners of the race Bensalam in 2011 and Alfie Sherrin are among the 97 entries with multiple Cheltenham winner Midnight Chase a notable entry. Sunnyhillboy and Carlito Brigante both previous Festival winner are also among the entries but have several other engagements during the course of the 4 days. Later on in the day The Cross Country Chase has attracted 45 entries with last years winner Balthazar King a likely leading contender along with cross country regular Uncle Junior from the very powerful Willie Mullins stable. It would take a brave man to try to pick the winner of the concluding race on day 1 is The Pulteney Land Investments Novice Handicap Chase. Attaglace a winner at last years Festival is among the entries but he has yet to convince since being switched to fences but any past former Festival winner deserves the utmost respect.
The Coral Cup in day 2 always attracts one of the largest fields of the meeting with a maximum field of 28 almost certain to line up and with 167 entries. A very intriguing entries is the unbeaten novice Gevrey Chambertin from the David Pipe stable but this is yet another horse with numerous options over the four days. Last years winner Son Of Flika could bid for back to back wins after landing a gamble in last years renewal of this race and despite showing very little so far in four outings this season it would be no surprise to see a return to form at his favourite track and lets not forget he was also a very close 2nd to leading Gold Cup contender Sir Des Champs at The Festival in 2011 the year that another entire for this Carlito Brigante took this race in impressive fashion and he has this race among his numerous options during the week. The Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle for 4 year olds has been a welcome addition to the Festival since a 4th day was added in 2005 and this will most likely attract another maximum field.
Three more handicaps are staged on day 3 beginning with The Pertamps Final over 3m was won last year by 2013 Gold Cup contender Cape Tribulation and another potential future chaser Sam Winner heads the market for the Paul Nicholls stable who like all the leading stables is very strongly represented here. 102 horses have been entered for the Bryne Group Plate and last years Festival winner Hunt Ball would be a popular winner here after connections abandoned a Gold Cup bid after failing to see out the trip on a recent outing at the track. David Pipe is always one to follow in this after winning this in recent years with Great Endevour and Salut Flo and although he may not have any horses of these two horses calibre it would be wise to pay attention on whoever he send for this ultra competitive 2m4f chase. The concluding race on the 3rd day is the Kim Muir Challenge Cup and has in recent years become a good pointer to the Grand National with Ballabriggs and Sunnyhillboy recent winners.
There is not many races more competitive during the entire NH season than the Vincent O'Brien County Hurdle and a maximum field of 28 is all but guaranteed with 121 horses entered for this 2m grade 3 handicap. Tominator a Northumberland Plate winner on the flat may find this sort of race to to his liking along with Cotton Mill who was running so well at last years Festival before veering out at the 2nd last when bang in contention upsides the high class Simonsig in the Neptune Investment Hurdle. Mr Watson, Swing Bowler, Cause Of Causes and Grumeti are just a few of the potential leading contenders for this grade 3 hurdle. The Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle a relatively new addition the the meeting is yet another fiercely competitive heat with 191 entries for this 2m4f handicap and with so many entries the race will look more like a limited handicap with the entries so closely handicapped. The final race of the meeting The Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase named after leading trainer Nicky Hendersons will understandably see a very strong challenge by Nicky Henderson to land this grade 3 2m chase and will be sure to have a significant number of runners here and it will be interesting to see if his former high class chaser Petit Robin shows up here after running so well over hurdles recently but hasn't run over fences for over two years but he wasnt far off the best before sustaining a injury. Oiseau De Nuit winner in 2011 and Pigeon Island the 2010 winner are possibles here on what will bring down the curtain on the 2013 Cheltenham Festival.