FOLLOWING the abandonment of the Bangor-on-Dee fixture last Sunday due to snow, there is a helpful gap in local racing fixtures.
This creates the ideal opportunity for National Hunt racing enthusiasts to focus on the ultimate championship fixture of the season, the four-day Cheltenham festival which begins on Tuesday.
The Champion Hurdle is the feature event on the first day and Brave Inca heads the betting at 7-4. He finished third in this race last year and has beaten Macs Joy and Harchibald at Leopardstown this season.
Now eight and assisted by champion jockey Tony McCoy, he is a deserving favourite.
Arcalis is currently on offer at 11-2 and looked top class before being pulled up behind Al Eile in January. A course and distance winner he should go close if back to his best.
Al Eile finished seven lengths behind Hardy Eustace last year before going on to beat Inglis Drever at Aintree last April. The six-year-old was impressive when beating Mister McGoldrick at Haydock Park and represents value at 10-1 to notch up another hurdling crown for the Irish.
In the Arkle Trophy, Racing Demon is priced at 4-1 to defend his unbeaten record but may find this tougher. Mid-Dancer travels from France, and also attempts to maintain a continuous run of success - at 20-1 he could upset the market.
Highlights on Wednesday include the Queen Mother Champion Chase in which Kauto Star should justify a short starting price. Recent Bangor-on-Dee winner Denman is the selection for the Royal & Sun Alliance Novices' Hurdle.
Staying hurdlers come under the spotlight on Thursday in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle. The mighty Baracouda, now 11-years-old is looking for another win in this contest. The young pretenders may be in the spotlight this year and Mighty Man should live up to his name for Shropshire trainer Henry Daly.
Friday sees the very best steeplechasers lining up for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Monkerhostin is the current favourite at around 5-1. He showed his ability when finishing second, a quarter of a length behind Kicking King on Boxing Day and a repeat of that performance would take him very close.
Iris's Gift, the successful grey owned by Robert Lester of Nantwich is quoted at 16-1. He won three successive novice chases in his autumn campaign before finishing behind Darkness.
The gelding is sure to have been schooled following a fall at Warwick in January but he lacks experience over fences at this level. With an admirable record of 14 wins, amassing £330,000 in prize money, he will be cheered by all his connections but may have to settle for a minor place in this company.
Beef Or Salmon has been backed down to 5-1 favourite having scored in his last two races relegating Hedgehunter and War Of Attrition to second place. He knows the course having finished fourth to Best Mate in 2004. This is the year Beef Or Salmon has to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Now a 10-year-old and with the ground to his liking the Irish contingent will raise the roof as his sheepskin noseband crosses the line in front.