AMONG the rolling hills of Gloucestershire, four exhilarating days of National Hunt action take over the sporting calendar this week .

The Cheltenham Festival is essentially the Olympics for jumps horses, the meeting bringing together the best equine athletes across Britain and Ireland for one week.

When is the Cheltenham Festival?

The Cheltenham Festival is made up of 28 races, seven on each of the four days of the meeting at Prestbury Park, running from today (March 16) until Friday (March 19).

The action starts at 1.20pm each day and culminates at 4.50pm.

The total meeting carries a prize fund of over £4.5 million, with the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup - the feature race of the event - carrying a prize fund of £625,000 when it is contested on Friday.

This year’s meeting is set to be held without a crowd for the first time in its history, with the behind closed doors element of the event in line with current government guidelines on Covid-19.

How can I watch the meeting?

For the first time, ITV will be showing six live races from Cheltenham every day, with a dedicated team on site.

You can also watch every race live on Racing TV (Sky Channel 426), or through a betting app of your choice if you have an account.

Somerset runners to watch

Somerset-based trainers promise to be well represented at the meeting, so we’ve picked out a number of locally-trained horses to watch.

Trainer: Paul Nicholls
Race: Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Wednesday, March 17; 3/1)

Ditcheat-based Paul Nicholls believes £370,000 purchase Bravemansgame is his best chance of a winner at the meeting.

Second on his hurdling debut to subsequent Betfair Hurdle winner Soaring Glory at Chepstow in October, he has not looked back with impressive victories in three subsequent starts.

Bravemansgame created a big impression on his latest run when storming to success in the G1 Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury.

Kept fresh for this contest since, Nicholls has already started to draw comparisons with his former Gold Cup winner Denman, and while he has to take on the exciting Bob Olinger, he looks sure to go close in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.

Trainer: Philip Hobbs
Race: Grand Annual Handicap Chase (Wednesday, March 17; 8/1)

Philip Hobbs suffered disappointed earlier this week when it was announced that West Somerset stable star Thyme Hill would miss the Cheltenham Festival, having met with a slight setback.

However, he could gain compensation in the Grand Annual with the unexposed Zanza.

The seven-year-old has only run four times over fences, and was in the process of running a big race when falling at Cheltenham in December.

The Arcadio gelding had previously impressed when making a winning debut in handicap company at Newbury in November, and has been kept fresh for this race since his mishap at Prestbury Park in December.

Given a mark of 145 for this contest, he has been the subject of sustained support in recent weeks and looks a leading player for the two-mile event.

Trainer: David Pipe
Race: Triumph Hurdle (Friday, March 19; 10/1)

Nicholashayne handler David Pipe is hoping Adagio can provide the trainer with a first win in the Grade One Triumph Hurdle.

Formerly trained in France, the four-year-old has won three of his four starts for Pipe, which included a smooth victory at Cheltenham in December.

Adagio announced himself as a leading player for the Triumph Hurdle when recording a smart success in the Grade One Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow on his latest start.

He faces no easy task in this event, with Tritonic and Zanahiyr both bringing unbeaten records into the two-mile event.

However, Adagio has already proved himself at Grade One level and cannot be overlooked.

Trainer: Paul Nicholls
Race: WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup (Friday, March 19; 10/1)

Frodon and regular rider Bryony Frost created history at last year’s Cheltenham Festival when Frost became the first woman to win a Grade One contest over fences in Britain in the Ryanair Chase.

The duo have gone from strength to strength since, winning the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, and are now destined for jump racing’s blue riband event, the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup.

This year’s Gold Cup promises to be a thrilling renewal, with Al Boum Photo chasing a third successive win in the race, while Champ shaped very well on his comeback run over an inadequate trip at Newbury last time out.

There are slight question marks about Frodon’s stamina over the three-and-a-quarter-mile trip, but he has proven form at Cheltenham and could be a lively each-way player for the feature event of the meeting.

For daily tips and analysis for the Cheltenham Festival, head to Betting Expert (18+ and please gamble responsibly).