Following the Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham on Saturday the countdown to the 2011 Festival really has begun and the Championship races are the most open in recent memory .
The Champion Hurdle is the feature race on the opening day and bookies are quoting favourite Binocular at 3/1 to repeat his 2010 victory . The Nicky Henderson trained favourite has looked in great form this season particularly when winning the re-arranged Christmas Hurdle at Kempton but faces stiff opposition from Menorah , Peddlers Cross and leading Irish challenger Hurricane Fly .
The Queen Mother Champion Chase is sponsored this year by leading online bookmaker Sportingbet and this is a very open race again this year . Master Minded who has won the race twice before in 2008 and 2009 is the favourite at 9/4 with the sponsor with last year's winner Big Zeb , suprisingly beaten at Punchestown yesterday available at 4/1 with Ladbrokes . Ladbrokes are the only bookmaker offering non runner no bet currently on the Championship races .
The World Hurdle held on the Thursday of the Cheltenham Festival is for staying hurdlers and is ran over three miles . Paul Nicholl's Big Bucks has won this race for the past two years and has not lost any of his ten previous hurdle races , not suprising then that Big Bucks has been odds on favourite for the race for many months . However a stunning victory at Cheltenham on Saturday in the Cleeve Hurdle by Grand Cru has really shaken up the betting . Grand Cru won in superb style for trainer David Pipe and is as short as 5/2 to win the race . This has meant that Big Bucks is now available at odds of 5/6 with Stan James and could drift further before the race . Big Bucks is currently the only horse been quoted at odds on for the 2011 Cheltenham Festival and this may not be the case for much longer .
The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the most eagerly anticipated race of the week and again is very competitive and open this year . Kauto Star has dominated conversations and betting on this race for a number of years but having fallen in the race last year and struggled in the traditional warm up race , the King George VI at Kempton recently it seems that Kautos Star may not be the force of old . It would be an amazing achievement if Kauto could win a third Cheltenham Gold Cup but odds of 9/1 suggest it is unlikely . Last years winner Imperial Commander remains favourite despite having had an interrupted preparation to-date but Long Run who won the King George VI in great style could be the one to fear .
Overall it looks like being one of the most competitive and open Cheltenham Festival's in years and it will be more important than ever to take full advantage of the special offers and freebets available from bookmakers .
Most bookmakers increase the size of their freebet offers for the Cheltenham Festival and this gives punters and racegoers an opportunity to enjoy the Festival and the betting without putting their own money at risk .