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Cheltenham Festival 2016: could Mullins and Pendleton steal the show?

The Cheltenham Festival begins on Tuesday with Irish trainer Willie Mullins looking set to enjoy a historic week.

The Stan James Champion Hurdle is the highlight on Day One and despite Mullins seeing Faugheen and Arctic Fire ruled out of the race he still has the race favorite in the shape of Annie Power.

The mare gets a 7lb sex allowance from the rest of the field, but there are plenty of dangers in the 12-strong field.

Nichols Canyon is an underrated horse but has won six Grade 1s, while The New One was unlucky not win this race in 2014. Identity Thief and My Tent Or Yours are also not without a chance.

Chief supporting race on the opening day is the Racing Post Arkle Trophy, for which Mullins’ Douvan is a hot favourite. A superb jumper with a massive engine it would be a major surprise to see him beaten.

Mullins also has the favourite for the big race on Day Two, with Un De Sceaux hotly fancied to take the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.

With previous winners Sprinter Sacre, Sire De Grugy and Dodging Bullets in opposition, Mullins’ charge won’t have things his own way.

The opening race on the second day sees Alan King’s Yarnworth rated as a potential banker of the meeting by many pundits.

Fourth in the Champion Bumper last season, Yarnworth has reeled off four impressive wins this season and should be hard to beat. Mullins’ Yorkhill is likely to Yarnworth’s main rival.

Elsewhere on the card, Gordon Elliott’s No More Heroes could be hard to beat in the RSA Chase, while Jessica Harrington’s New To This Town is worth keeping an eye on in the closing bumper.

The Ryanair World Hurdle takes centre stage on Day Three, with Colin Tizzard’s Thistlecrack a hot favourite to lift the stayers’ crown.

Last year’s winner Cole Harden is back to try and claim a second successive win, while Alpha Des Obeaux and Saphir Du Rheu are other possible dangers.

The decision to switch Vautour out of Gold Cup and into the Ryanair Chase looks a shrewd move, with the 2 mile 5 furlong distance sure to suit Mullins’ horse much better.

Friday’s Gold Cup looks a competitive affair and Mullins’ horses are again in the thick of things. Last year’s runner-up Djakadam and Don Poli give the Irish trainer a strong hand, while Elliot’s Don Cossack looks a class act.

Tizzard’s stable star Cue Card has looked a different proposition after a successful wind operation and victory in the Gold Cup would secure a £1 million bonus for owner Jean Bishop after previous wins at Haydock and Kempton. Whether the horse truly stays and extended 3 º miles remains to be seen.

With former Olympic cyclist Victoria Pendleton taking her place aboard the Paul Nicholls-trained Pacha da Polder in the St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase Challenge Cup, the race is ensured of heavy media attention.

The race for amateur riders is always an interesting spectacle, but Pendleton’s inclusion in the race has been heavily criticised.

Former top jockey John Francome described Pendleton’s recent fall from the horse at Fakenham as ‘an accident waiting to happen’, but she responded in style to record her first victory aboard the same animal just over a week later at Wincanton.

Last year’s winning jockey Nina Carberry rides the favourite On the Fringe and with numerous other experienced jockeys in the field a Pendelton win seems unlikely – simply completing the course just seven months after her first competitive ride would be a major achievement.

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