With the 2021 Cheltenham Festival just around the corner, excitement levels and anticipation are building ahead of the most prestigious meeting of the National Hunt calendar.

The four-day event runs from March 16-19 and there is plenty of action to get stuck into, with the fantastic 28-race programme beginning with the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at 12:30 on Tuesday and ending with the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at 16:50 on Friday.

Of course, the biggest spectacle is the Cheltenham Gold Cup at 15:05 on Friday and Al Boum Photo currently leads the pre-race betting at 5/2 as he bids for a hat-trick, ahead of 9/2 Champ and 5/1 A Plus Tard.

Tuesday’s main event will be the Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (15:05), which Honeysuckle is the 9/4 favourite for, while Wednesday’s feature race is the Queen Mother’s Champion Chase (15:05).

Chacun Pour Soi looks very difficult to beat in the Champion Chase and is 10/11 to come out on top, although the likes of Altior (6/1), Nube Negra (8/1), Politologue (9/1) and First Flow (12/1) will be hoping to have a say.

On Thursday, there are several interesting races, including the Marsh Novices’ Chase, Ryanair Chase and the Stayers’ Hurdle, with Paisley Park the 15/8 favourite to win the latter of those.

There is also the top trainer battle to look forward to next week and it may be difficult for any handler to outdo Willie Mullins, who is aiming to win this award for the eighth time in 11 years.

The Irish maestro, who is 2/11 with Betfred to be crowned top trainer, has at least a dozen favourites that could deliver success, with Appreciate It (11/8) in the Festival opener looking to get things off to the perfect start for the stable.

Mullins has been dealt a blow after it was confirmed Energumene has been ruled out of the Sporting Life Arkle after suffering a late setback, a race he was expected to challenge Shishkin (1/2) for glory in.

Of the closest challengers to Mullins’ crown, Nicky Henderson is an 11/1 chance and he arrives with a strong team, spearheaded by Arkle favourite Shishkin and Epatante, who is defending her Champion Hurdle crown.

Champ is amongst the main threats to Al Boum Photo in the Gold Cup, while the Seven Barrows supremo has also inherited the unbeaten Envoi Allen, who is the 8/11 favourite for the Marsh Novices’ Chase.

In the top jockey market, Paul Townend is leading the betting at 2/5, ahead of 7/2 Jack Kennedy and 9/1 chance Rachael Blackmore.

Whenever you bet on the Cheltenham Festival, Betfred.

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