Faugheen is favourite for Cheltenham's Champion Hurdle

By Frank Keogh at CheltenhamBBC Sport
Nicky Robinson's Cheltenham tips
Cheltenham Festival 2015
Dates: Tuesday 10 to Friday, 13 March Big races: Tue - Champion Hurdle, Wed - Champion Chase, Thu - World Hurdle, Fri- Gold Cup
Coverage: Every race on BBC Radio 5 live or 5 live Sports extra
Going, non-runners and results

Jump racing's showpiece Cheltenham Festival starts on Tuesday with more than 230,000 punters expected at the Gloucestershire track over four days.

Faugheen is favourite for the Champion Hurdle, the first day's feature race.

The unbeaten hurdler was chosen by all-time Festival top jockey Ruby Walsh ahead of Hurricane Fly.

AP McCoy is on 2014 victor Jezki, with Cheltenham marking his last ride at the meeting by naming Friday's finale, the Grand Annual Chase, after him.

About 400 horses are expected to race at the meeting, with an estimated total of £250m wagered on them.

Willie Mullins (l) and Ruby Walsh
Leading trainer Willie Mullins (left) and jockey Ruby Walsh walking the Cheltenham course on Monday

In the Champion Hurdle, last year's third-placed runner The New One, ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies for his local trainer father Nigel, is among an eight-strong field completed by Arctic Fire, Kitten Rock, Vaniteux and Bertimont.

Willie Mullins has a mighty squad for the opening day, saddling favourites in four races - with Un De Sceaux (Arkle Chase) and Annie Power (Mares Hurdle) as well as Douvan (Supreme Novices' Hurdle).

Record breaking Hurricane Fly
22 Grade One wins (jump racing world record). Now 11, won the first in same year Champion Hurdle rivals Faugheen and The New One were born (2008)
Recent form: 11211/131/1111/1131/11111/1114-2111
Hurricane Fly is fourth favourite, largely down to his age and some questioning his Cheltenham record (1st, 3rd, 1st, 4th).
Paul Townend, who rode the horse several times earlier in his career, replaces Walsh as jockey

What are the other day one highlights?

After months of anticipation and weeks of preview evenings across the UK and Ireland the opening Supreme Novices' Hurdle at 13:30 GMT is greeted by the 'Cheltenham Roar' from expectant racegoers.

Mullins is considered a near certainty to be leading trainer this week. He is rated a 25-1 shot not to have a winner on Tuesday and reckons Douvan in the opener is the best horse he has ever brought to the meeting.

Bentelimar, a contender for Tuesday's Supreme Novices' Hurdle, on the Cheltenham gallops on Monday

Un De Sceaux leads the field in the Arkle Chase, which features horses that often go on to compete in the Queen Mother Champion Chase or the Gold Cup at future meetings.

The Mares' Hurdle is missing the retired six-time victor Quevega, with Annie Power looking to go one better than her second in the 2014 World Hurdle.

Cheltenham Festival in numbers
£3.95mTotal amount of prize money on offer
236,472Number of pints of Guinness knocked back by spectators at the Festival in 2014.
45,000Rounds of sandwiches served to customers at last year's meeting.
10,000Irish racing fans who travel to Prestbury Park to watch the action.

The rest of the week

Wednesday - Ladies' Day. Feature race: Queen Mother Champion Chase - a two-mile speed test with the 2013 winner Sprinter Sacre and 2014 victor Sire De Grugy facing each other.

Both have endured setbacks, with Sprinter Sacre having only his second race since the start of 2014 after a heart scare.

Thursday - St Patrick's Thursday. Feature race: World Hurdle. Three-mile stamina test where trainer Paul Nicholls saddles leading contenders Zarkandar and Saphir Du Rheu.

Sprinter Sacre
Queen Mother Champion Chase contender Sprinter Sacre with trainer Nicky Henderson

Don Cossack, for Gordon Elliott, is ante-post favourite for the Ryanair Chase.

Friday - Gold Cup Day. Two-time King George VI Chase winner Silviniaco Conti heads the field as he tries to secure his first Cheltenham win. Many Clouds, Holywell, Road To Riches and 2014 winner Lord Windermere are among rivals.

The final race will be the last time McCoy rides at the Festival. The AP McCoy Grand Annual Handicap Chase for the Johnny Henderson Challenge Cup is due off at 17:15 GMT.

What's the going and the weather?

The going is good to soft, good in places on the Old (used Tuesday & Wednesday), New (used Thursday & Friday) Courses & Good, Good to Soft in places on the Cross Country course.

A selective watering programme, started on Friday morning, was completed on Sunday in an effort to ensure safe jumping ground, with between three and four millimetres put on the track.

BBC weather forecasters predict a dry and largely sunny opening day with a top temperature of about 11C (52F). There may be some rain on Wednesday and Thursday before more pleasant conditions on Friday.

Simon King said: "It'll be a perfect start to the Cheltenham Festival with lots of sunshine and light winds."

Cheltenham racecourse
Weather forecasters are predicting a dry start to the four-day Cheltenham festival

Who's AP McCoy riding?

Day one: (Time, race, horse, trainer, approximate odds)

13:30 Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle - Jollyallan (Harry Fry) 7-1

14:05 Racing Post Arkle Chase - Three Kingdoms (John Ferguson) 20-1

14:40 Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase - Pendra (Charlie Longsdon) 6-1

15:20 Stan James Champion Hurdle - Jezki (Jessica Harrington) 4-1

17:15 Chaps Restaurants Barbados Novices' Handicap Chase - Bold Henry (Philip Hobbs) 10-1

He rates Jezki in the Champion Hurdle his best chance of a winner and is set to ride Carlingford Lough in Friday's Gold Cup.

What's new at Cheltenham?

Cheltenham racecourse
Cheltenham's new stand on the right.

BBC racing correspondent Cornelius Lysaght reports on Cheltenham Racecourse's £45m redevelopment.

"The project to redevelop parts of jump racing's HQ is on target to be completed in time for the 2016 Festival, but already parts of the new grandstand will be open to punters who will be attending this year.

"The ground floor bar and viewing 'steppings' of the five-storey grandstand will be open, along with more loos than ever - 156 - a favourite stat for course officials, indicative perhaps that it's the subject on which they annually receive most grumbles.

"Away from the new stand, bars have been opened honouring hurdling legends See You Then and Quevega, and a re-furb of the weighing room, including the jockeys' changing room, is complete."

Overheard at Cheltenham
"That jockey AP McCoy is something else - over 40,000 winners" (He has actually ridden a little less - more than 4,300 career victories)
"You're the first person I've spoken to who is not having a drink on Tuesday or Wednesday" (Shop assistant to smartly-dressed customer)
"I'm hoping to have a few winners, and maybe meet a nice lady" - (Optimistic punter)
AP McCoy
AP McCoy after the latest of his two Gold Cup wins, on Synchronised in 2012

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