But this week’s four-day festival, which runs from Tuesday to Friday, also takes on a significant role in trying to lift the gloomy clouds that hover over jump racing in the UK. The problems are piling up for the National Hunt code, which is struggling to arrest a decline in standard.
Many issues have been cluttering the in-tray for some time, such as small field-sizes, poor (but improving) prize money, low sun ruining races, and trainers failing hopelessly to attract big-gun, deep-pocket owners, which has contributed to Irish domination of the festival.
Other issues have marred the build-up to this year’s Cheltenham, such as jockeys being asked to adapt to perfectly reasonable, new rules on the use of the whip and punters being asked to comply with intrusive affordability checks in an over-reaction to a disturbing movement, sparked by politicians, that aims to demonise the hobby of gambling.
The hope is that the festival can rise above it all, and that its annual intoxicating concoction of top-quality, competitive racing can show jump racing in its best light.
The superiority of Irish-trained horses seems certain to continue. Remember, they took 23 of the 28 races two years ago. Willie Mullins is already the most prolific handler in the history of the event, having saddled a record-breaking ten winners 12 months ago. This time, the odds are short on him adding 12 more to complete an unprecedented career century.
Gordon Elliott and Henry De Bromhead, who has sent out the one-two in each of the last two Gold Cups, have also assembled strong teams, while the British challenge will rely heavily on champion Paul Nicholls and veteran Nicky Henderson.
But what of the horses? An array of potential superstars sit waiting in the wings, ready to add their names to the glorious Cheltenham roll of honour. Some have been here before, some are new kids on the block.
We’ve cherry-picked 15 of the most fancied and most interesting contenders as the countdown to the opening race at 1.30 pm on Tuesday begins.