The Cheltenham Festival
The Cheltenham Festival is held over four days every year in mid-March at Cheltenham Racecourse in, shock horror, Cheltenham. It has become the climax of the National Hunt Season with the build up dominating the entire season – any major race which is held after the turn of the year is seen as preparation for the festival.
Its popularity has meant that it attracts a great deal of visitors from around the globe, with there usually being around 200,000 visitors to each festival. The quality of all entrants is top class, and there are an increasing number of international entries. The Irish, in particular, are hugely competitive and there is always a great deal of competition between Irish and UK competitors. The prize money for the festival is only second to the Grand National. For a list of past results see The Cheltenham Festival website.
The first Cheltenham Festival was a two-day meeting held in 1902 to mark the reopening of Prestbury Park Course. It was soon established as a major racing event when the first four-mile National Hunt Steeplechase was held at the festival in 1904. In 1927 the first Champion Hurdle was run over two miles, and it was not until 1949 that the event was extended to three days. As the festival flourished, so calls for expansion were heeded, as works began in 1979 on new £30 million stands which would bring the festival into the forefront of racing events and, in 1989, a further £5 million grandstand was added.
The festival’s prestige today derives substantially from its historical pedigree, with the only cancelled event being in 2001 courtesy of the foot and mouth crisis. The following year, the festival returned with full force when it was announced that the prize money would break the £4 million barrier. In 2005 the event was extended to four days to coincide with the new multi-million-pound Centaur centre, establishing the festival as a major social event full stop.
Throughout the 4 days of the Cheltenham Festival 24 races are held.
On the first day 6 races are held. The festival is kicked off with the Supreme Novice Hurdle. This race is a grade one event and runs for just over two miles of the course, and the pace is fast and furious. Next the Arkle Challenge Trophy is held which is named after one of the festivals most famous competitors. It is run over two miles of the Cheltenham Racecourse and competitors need speed and good jumping.
The feature race held on this day is the Champion Hurdle, which is greatly favoured with the Cheltenham betting markets. The National Hunt Handicap Chase is held shortly after which is run over three miles and therefore all competitors need stamina. Even so there are a surprisingly large number of entrants into this competition every year. The Cross Country Chase is popular with spectators and competitors alike. It adds a different dimension to the Festival than any of the other races, and therefore has become a very important race amongst enthusiasts. The final race of the day is the Juvenile Novices Handicap Hurdle.
6 more races are held on the second day. The first race is the Sun Alliance Novices Hurdle which at two miles and five furlongs long taxes its competitors for their stamina. Next is the Sun Alliance Handicap Chase which due to its length (three miles) is a favourite with experienced racers.
The Queen Mother Champion Chase is one of the highlights of the whole festival. This feature race is one feared by most bookmakers as favourites often perform well. The Coral Cup is a relatively new race to the festival but has already established itself as having a strong Irish winning connection. Next is the Kim Muir Challenge Cup Race, which has proved to be one of the most difficult races to predict throughout the history of the festival. Only amateur jockeys are allowed to compete in this race, and at three miles one furlong long it can often be a tough ride. Events on the final day are rounded up with the Champion Bumper which is a flat race run over two miles under National Hunt rules.
The first race of the day is the Jewson Novices Handicap Chase. This is one of the pinnacle races of the season for handicapped racers. Next is the Daily Telegraph Festival Trophy, which is an excellent race for progressing competitors.
The predominant event of the Thursday is the Ladbrokes World Hurdle. It is arguably the most hotly-anticipated race of the festival, being a gruelling ordeal requiring serious stamina on the part of the competitors. Next is the Mildmay of Flete Handicap Chase, which is a race mainly for experience competitors. The penultimate race of the day is the Cheltenham National Hunt Amateur Hunt is one of the most difficult races to predict in the entire festival. The final race is the Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, which is a new race again becoming favoured by the Irish.
The final day of the festival is the most popular of all. The meeting gets underway with the Cheltenham Triumph Hurdle which is undoubtedly the most notable event of the festival for the betting world. There are a great deal of competitors involved and the race is widely coined a cavalry charge. The Brit Insurance Novices Hurdle follows all this excitement, which is a race previously held at Sandown Park.
Undoubtedly the feature festival of the entire meeting is the Cheltenham Gold Cup. This race is a real challenge to its competitors at three miles two furlongs long and you can expect all eyes to be glued on the racecourse for the duration. Taking the task of following the Gold Cup is the Cheltenham Festival Foxhunter Chase, which is in its own right a key event for the hunter chase crew, with a strong competition existing between Irish and UK based trainers.
The penultimate race of the festival is the Grand Annual Chase, which is reserved solely for horses five years and over. Novices often do well in this event. There is a final betting stampede with the Country Handicap Hurdle, although it is one of the most difficult races to back. Events are truly brought to an end in spectacular style with this race.