Cheltenham Betting expected to reach record highs as the Festival celebrates its Centenary

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The Cheltenham Festival is the feature event of the UK and Irish National Hunt Horse Racing season. In 2011, the Festival celebrates its centenary and as the four day meeting continues to grow in popularity, records are expected to be broken at this year's event with both Guinness sales and betting turnover over expected to be at their highest ever!

The 100th annual Cheltenham Festival takes place from Tuesday 15th March and concludes on Friday 18th March and as the Prestbury Park venue gears up for its centenary celebrations, bookmakers can also look forward to a landmark event with record levels of business expected thanks to an all time high 27 races taking centre stage across four days.

The Festival continues to grow in popularity and is now recognised as something of a 'Mecca' for National Hunt Racing fans in the UK and Ireland, with each day attracting a 40,000 sell out crowd with more than a quarter of those in attendance making the trip from Ireland, not forgetting the millions watching at home, in pubs and in betting shops on both sides of the water which all adds to this equine celebration.

The atmosphere created at the Cheltenham Festival is never forgotten by those attending and can only be described as unique and has to be experienced to be believed. Entertainment is guaranteed and can be found in the stands as well as from the horses on the course itself, something largely influenced by the consumption of alcohol, namely Guinness, with an average of 200,000 pints of 'the black stuff' sold over the four days. Bookmaker Stan James is offering odds of even money that a record 225,000 pints of Guinness will be sold during the 2011 Festival.

It's not only the amount of Guinness drunk that is expected to break new records but also the amount of money wagered on the Festival is expected to exceed £600 million for the first time ever, thanks largely to the increased ways which people can now bet. The number of bets placed on the racecourse and in betting shops up and down the country is expected to put in the shade by those being placed on the internet and even via applications on iPhones, BlackBerries and other mobile devices. As such, the bookies are all out to win the punters' business with a number of online special offers and Cheltenham Free Bets available on for all races.

John Fletcher, spokesman for http://www.cheltenham-festival.co.uk, an unofficial Cheltenham betting guide which has been online since 2002, says of the Festival's popularity:

"Interest in the Cheltenham Festival is growing year on year, traffic to the site is already well up on previous years and that is because more people than ever want to be involved in the build up, especially online. We setup a Cheltenham Facebook page and Cheltenham Twitter and both have exceeded 3,000 fans and followers, all of which are keen to share thoughts and opinions about the Festival and its races."

He adds "everyone is using the internet and other forms of technology to add to the spectacle that is the Cheltenham Festival and it bodes well for the future of this great race meeting. We work with the leading bookmakers in the industry and all are reporting improved levels of antepost business on previous years and all are confident that trend will continue once the tapes go up on Tuesday 15th March with turnover for the four days expected to beat all previous records which to the industry as a whole is believed will top £600 million. There'll certainly be no signs of an economic crisis in a small corner of the Cotswolds or bookmakers head offices over Cheltenham week."

Down the years, the Cheltenham Festival has produced many legends, Golden Miller became Racing's first household name when it won the Gold Cup five times during the 1930s, before the great Arkle won the same race three times in the 1960s and is still regarded as the world's greatest ever chaser. Dawn Run, a mare, became the first and still, the only horse to win both the Champion Hurdle and a Gold Cup, whilst Istabraq, winner of three Champion Hurdles between 1998 and 2000 and Best Mate, winner of three consecutive Gold Cups between 2002 and 2004 are more recent legends to enter Cheltenham's hall of fame and there will be no shortage of contenders to join these greats in 2011.

The highlight of first day sees one of the strongest fields ever assembled to contest the Champion Hurdle, with last year's winner, Binocular, the favourite to retain his crown but with Menorah, Peddlers Cross and Hurricane Fly also vying for favouritism it promises to be the most hotly of all the Cheltenham odds and races on Tuesday and it would be no surprise if any of that leading quartet won the race.

Other major highlights include the challenge of Master Minded to regain his Queen Mother Champion Chase crown from the Irish trained, Big Zeb, who won the race last year, denying Master Minded a hat-trick in the race in the process.

On St Patricks Day, Big Bucks will be looking to land the Ladbrokes World Hurdle for the third year running but this year, he has a mighty challenge to fend Grands Crus who has won all three starts this season without breaking sweat.

The Gold Cup is set to be the biggest race in terms of money stakes and is another competitive betting heat according to the bookmakers. Paul Nicholls stable-mates and previous Gold Cup winners Kauto Star (2007 & 2009) and Denman (2008) are out to regain their crowns from last year's winner Imperial Commander who has won five from six over fences at Cheltenham and with King George winner, Long Run, also entering calculations a thrilling race awaits and should cap another Cheltenham Festival not be missed!

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Richard Smith
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