The Cheltenham festival is widely regarded as the pinnacle of the National Hunt horse racing calendar. The event sees hundreds of thousands of punters flock to track and millions spent in wagers alone.
Over the years they have managed to form some of the most iconic jump races in the world and with it, some of the most iconic moments in the sports history.
Whilst the festival is often seen as a bit of an Ireland v the UK in terms of horses and trainers, these days it attracts an international field. The Irish have still made the festival their own though, especially as it usually falls on St Patrick’s day, just adding to the aurora of the spectacle.
About The Festival
The festival is held over 4 days, running from Tuesday through to Friday. With each day you are getting a plethora of high quality races, with each having at least 2 Grade 1 races to enjoy. Whilst the festival enjoys all of the big names from around the globe, there are very few that are able to house so many of the sports elite within one festival.
What’s great about the festival is that no matter which day you are attending, the calibre of racing never subsides. Whether it be the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on the Tuesday, the Queen Mother Champion Chase on the Wednesday, the Festival Trophy on the Thursday or, arguably the most iconic race in horse racing, The Gold Cup on the Friday, each day offers a unique feel.
From a bookmaking point of view, the festival is now so large that it can literally make or break some of the smaller, independent brands, determining what kind of year they have. A good festival can mean millions for the bookies, whereas a poor one can mean a really tough season lies ahead. Either way, both punters and bookmakers alike spend more time over Cheltenham than pretty much any horse racing event in the world.
Tuesday: Champion Day
The Tuesday is the start of the festival and probably one of the most boisterous days of the whole meet. People flock from across Europe and around the world just to get a glimpse of the worlds best.
The festival is kicked off with the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. It’s made up of a big field and often thought to be one of the toughest races to win for this exact reason. The race is run at a frantic pace and is seen as a great way to start the meeting. In 2017, the winner was 25/1 shot Lebaik, highlighting just how tough this race is to call.
The Supreme Novices’ is just one of four Grade 1 races on that day, with the other being made up of the Arkle Challenge trophy, The Champion Hurdle and the Mares’ Hurdle. The Arkle, ran over 2 miles, is another run at a frenetic pace, whilst he Mares’ Hurdle is seen as a good opener for potential Grand National runners, requiring more stamina than speed.
But, the highlight race of the day has to be the Champions Hurdle, won in previous years by legends such as Jezki, Hurricane Fly, Rock On Ruby and Binocular.
Wednesday: Ladies Day
The quality of racing doesn’t stop moving forward either, with the Wednesday containing no fewer than four more Grade 1 races. It’s also Ladies Day, so the suited and booted are out in force…if they weren’t already!
The day is kicked off with the Novice’s Hurdle, run over 2m 5f of the toughest part of the Cheltenham circuit. Whilst the horses in this race are still pretty raw, it’s another good opportunity for trainers to see where they have progressed over the winter months and are then able to move forward successful horses in higher ranked races, such as the Gold Cup.
The RSA Chase and the Champion Bumper are two more Grade 1 races, each with their own levels of difficulty. The former is run over 3m and another that highlights horses who could potentially do well at the Grand National, whilst the latter is another frantic race, often suited more to horses who possess a quick turn of foot.
The highlight of the day is undoubtedly the Queen Mother Champions Chase. This race often determines who is the best horse over two-miles in the world and has previously been won by the likes of Master Minded, Moscow Flyer, Sprinter Sacre and Sizing Europe.
Thursday: St Patrick’s Thursday
The Thursday usually sees the invasion of the Irish take new levels and quite often takes place on St Patrick’s day.
The day is kicked off with the Novices’ Handicap in what is usually one of the more competitive races within the festival. The race includes horses who fall somewhere between sprinters and stayers, generally having more all-round ability than most of the other horses at the meeting. Some of the more recent winners include Yorkhill, Taquin Du Seuil and Sir Des Champs.
The highlight of the day – for us at least – is the Stayer’s Hurdle and really does sort the men from the boys. The 3m race takes place across the toughest hurdle and slowest parts of the race track, so stamina is a must if they are wanting do well here.
Other Grade 1 races that day include the Festival Trophy and the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.
Friday: Gold Cup Day
Friday is the highlight of the festival, and that’s pretty much for one reason alone; the Gold Cup. It’s one of the most watched and punted on sporting events of the year, with bookmakers reporting that they can take as much money for this race as they do in the majority of other festivals around the world.
The Gold Cup, run over 3m 2 1/2f is the most magnificent of spectacles to round off the whole festival. Some of the biggest and most popular horses in racing that have ever lived have won the race, including Long Run, Kauto Star, Denman, Best Mate, Master Oats and of course, Desert Orchid way back in 1989.
Whilst the Gold Cup is undoubtedly the pinnacle, the day still includes a further two Grade 1 races, which are the Triumph Hurdle and the Novices’ Hurdle. Whilst they are often overlooked by the Gold Cup by most punters, the race often includes a massive range of top quality horses, running over the shorter 2m and the longer 3m tracks respectively.
Whilst the festival has a general appeal with many excellent races, there are a few that stand out. These big money feature races are spread out over the four days and offer some of the best jumps racing the country has to offer.
Cheltenham Festival Major Races
|Race Name||Race Date & Time||Last Year’s Winner (2018)|
|Supreme Novices’ Hurdle||TUE 12th March – 1:30pm||Summerville Boy|
|Arkle Challenge Trophy||TUE 12th March – 2:10pm||Footpad|
|Champion Hurdle||TUE 12th March – 3:30pm||Buveur D’Air|
|Mares’ Hurdle||TUE 12th March – 4:10pm||Benie Des Dieux|
|Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle||WED 13th March – 1.30pm||Samcro|
|RSA Chase||WED 13th March – 2:10pm||Presenting Percy|
|Queen Mother Champion Chase||WED 13th March – 3:30pm||Altior|
|Cross Country Chase||WED 13th March – 4:10pm||Tiger Roll|
|JLT Novices’ Chase||THU 14th March – 1:30pm||Shattered Love|
|Ryanair Chase||THU 14th March – 2:50pm||Balko Des Flos|
|Stayers’ Hurdle||THU 14th March – 3:30pm||Penhill|
|Triumph Hurdle||FRI 15th March – 1:30pm||Farclas|
|Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle||FRI 15th March – 2:50pm||Kilbricken Storm|
|Cheltenham Gold Cup||FRI 15th March – 3:30pm||Native River|
The Champion Hurdle is a Grade 1 National Hunt race. It’s run by 4 years olds or older and is often seen as one of the best hunt races in the world. The race is run over 2 miles and has been running since 1927.
Most Successful Champion Hurdle Jockeys
|Jockey||Winning Years||Champion Hurdle Victories|
|Ruby Walsh||2011, 2013, 2015 & 2016||4|
|Tim Molony||1951, 1952, 1953 & 1954||4|
|Barry Geraghty||2009, 2014 & 2018||3|
|Charlie Swan||1998, 1999 & 2000||3|
|Fred Winter||1955, 1959 & 1961||3|
|Jimmy Uttley||1968, 1969 & 1970||3|
|Ron Smyth||1941, 1942 & 1948||3|
|Steve Smith Eccles||1985, 1986 & 1987||3|
|Tony McCoy||1997, 2006 & 2010||3|
The ‘70’s are often considered to be the golden era of the race with the likes of Persian War (joint most wins with 3 in total; 68, 69 and 70), Night Nurse, Monskfield and several others all winning in this time. In more recent times the likes of Annie Power, Hurricane Fly and Jezki have all been successful. Ruby Walsh is the most successful jockey in the race with 4 wins and the current purse for the race was £400,000 in 2017.
Queen Mother Champion Chase
The Queen Mother was first run in 1959 and is run over 2 miles with five year old horses and up being allowed to enter. The race is another Grade 1 National Hunt and often thought of to include some of the fastest National Hunt horses in the world.
Multiple Champion Chase Winning Trainers
|Trainer||Winning Years||Champion Chase Victories|
|Tom Dreaper||1960, 1961, 1964, 1966, 1969 & 1970||6|
|Nicky Henderson||1992, 2012, 2013, 2016 & 2018||5|
|Paul Nicholls||1999, 2004, 2008, 2009 & 2015||5|
|Michael Dickinson||1982, 1983 & 1984||3|
|Arthur Moore||1981 & 1996||2|
|Bob Turnell||1967 & 1968||2|
|Brian Lusk||1976 & 1977||2|
|Dan Moore||1959 & 1973||2|
|David Elsworth||1989 & 1990||2|
|David Nicholson||1994 & 1995||2|
|Edward Courage||1972 & 1974||2|
|Henry de Bromhead||2011 & 2017||2|
|Jessica Harrington||2003 & 2005||2|
|John Edwards||1987 & 1988||2|
|Peter McCreery||1978 & 1979||2|
The current title of the Queen Mother wasn’t officially given to the race until 1980 on the 80th birthday of the Queen Mother. Prior to that it was called the Two-Mile Champion Chase, with the official purse in 2017 rising to £350,000. Some of the more notable winners include Sprinter Scare, Master Minded, Barnbrook Again, Badsworth Boy and Royal Relief.
The Festival Trophy (Ryanair Chase)
The Festival Trophy often takes the name of the sponsor at that time, but to the die hard, it will always be referred to as the Festival Trophy. It’s been running since 2005 and whilst it’s one of the newest of the Grade 1 listed races, it’s quickly formed it’s own tradition, allowing five year and up horse to duel it out over the 2m 5f track.
Past Festival Trophy (Ryanair Chase) Winners
|Balko des Flos||Davy Russell||Henry de Bromhead||2018|
|Un de Sceaux||Ruby Walsh||Willie Mullins||2017|
|Vautour||Ruby Walsh||Willie Mullins||2016|
|Uxizandre||Tony McCoy||Alan King||2015|
|Dynaste||Tom Scudamore||David Pipe||2014|
|Cue Card||Joe Tizzard||Colin Tizzard||2013|
|Riverside Theatre||Barry Geraghty||Nicky Henderson||2012|
|Albertas Run||Tony McCoy||Jonjo O’Neill||2011|
|Albertas Run||Tony McCoy||Jonjo O’Neill||2010|
|Imperial Commander||Paddy Brennan||Nigel Twiston-Davies||2009|
|Our Vic||Timmy Murphy||David Pipe||2008|
|Taranis||Ruby Walsh||Paul Nicholls||2007|
|Fondmort||Mick Fitzgerald||Nicky Henderson||2006|
|Thisthatandtother||Ruby Walsh||Paul Nicholls||2005|
The race comes with a purse of £275,000, with £156,000 of that going to first place. Ruby Walsh is the most successful jockey in the race with 4 winners to his name, including that od Thisthatandtoeher, Taranis, Vautour and Un De Sceaux.
The Gold Cup isn’t just one of the most iconic races within the festival, but also that of the world. It’s been running since 1924, which also makes it one of the oldest races in the world as well. If a horse or jockey for that matter were lucky enough to win this race then it’s almost guaranteed to go down in racing history, such is the prestige of the event.
Multiple Cheltenham Gold Cup Winners
|Horse||Winning Year(s)||Number of Gold Cups Won|
|Golden Miller||1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936||5|
|Arkle||1964, 1965, 1966||3|
|Best Mate||2002, 2003, 2004||3|
|Cottage Rake||1948, 1949, 1950||3|
|Easter Hero||1929, 1930||2|
|Kauto Star||2007, 2009||2|
The prize fund of £575,000 makes the race the most valuable non-handicap chase in Britain. The races most prestigious victor has to be that of Golden Miller, who managed to win the race on 5 separate occasions. Given that the race is only open to horse of 5 years and up, makes this feat even more incredible. Some of the biggest names in horse racing have won throughout the years, including Arkle, Master Oats, Best Mate, War of Attrition, Sizing Bob and of course, the legendary duels between Denman and Kauto Star, with the later coming back to win on 2 separate occasions.
Attending the Cheltenham Festival
Visiting the festival is always going to be a special occasion. For some it will be one of the best sporting events that they go to, but with so many options over which day to go on and which tier of ticket to get, it can often be a bit confusing.
The first thing to note is that standard tickets for all four days will vary. The first three days, often known as Champions Day, Ladies Day and St Patrick’s Thursday will start from £30 per ticket and will get you access to the Best Mate Enclosures, which is essentially the main stand.
As you move up through the price ranges, Tattersall’s Enclosure will be from £45 and Club Enclosure from £75. Basically, with each you get access to a few more features on site, such as better views of the course, access to more restaurants, beer tents and even The Princes Royal Stand (Club tickets only).
Gold Cup day on the Friday is the day that everyone wants to go and see and Cheltenham have reported that they get more ticket requests for this day than the other three combined, which is actually quite staggering given that all 4 days will be near enough sell-outs.
But, to get to Gold Cup day you are going to have to pay a Premium. Tickets start in the Best Mate Enclosure at £50 and work through to £65 for the Tattersall’s Enclosure and £95 for the Club Enclosure.
Is the money worth it? Probably, yes. You want to see the best races then there are few that are as big and iconic than the Gold Cup, which allows the racecourse to charge a premium for these tickets.
If you want to do the Festival in style, then you will need to get some hospitality…and a really big wallet. Hospitality tickets start from as much as £250 for entry to Moscow Flyer Restaurant, allowing you to dig into a two course buffet and some great views of the course. If you want to go all out, then you need to get into the Chez Roux room at the festival where 1 ticket will set you back a cool £770 per person. This does include a champagne reception, afternoon tea, four course meal, wines, beers, spirits and soft drinks.
Contrary to belief, there is no dress code at the festival. But, it is often thought that the men should be wearing suits within the corporate and hospitality area and the women generally wear dresses. But, as the festival is taking place in the winter months, they advise you to dress accordingly for the weather rather than a fashion icon!
History of the Festival
The Cheltenham festival dates back to as far as 1860 when it was run at Market Harborough. The meeting was then called the Grand National Hunt Meeting and actually moved around several locations throughout the years. The organisers thought that the best idea for the meeting was to visit as many parts of the British Isles as possible to gain traction in its popularity.
The first meeting at Cheltenham occurred in 1861, but then it was another 43 years until they were to hold the next meeting, back in 1904. The festival dotted about a few more times, before extensive renovations were made to the Prestbury Park track when in 1911 the meeting returned and has been held there ever since.
The races that have been so iconic to the success of the festival have changed formats quite a few times and whilst the majority of the races you see today are new, the higher profile races have been around for decades, making them the highlights (as mentioned above).
The first race to be run was that of the Stayers hurdle in 1912. It’s still the oldest race at the festival even today and one that the most dedicated of race-goers consider to be the most important. The Gold Cup wasn’t actually introduced to the festival until 1924 and even then, it played as an undercard race to the County hurdle. The Gold Cup was often thought as a warm up to the Grand National and very few took the race too seriously, at least, not compared to today’s standards.
The next two of the ‘old timer’ races were that of the Champion hurdle, first run in 1927 and the Queen Mother Champion Chase, ran in 1959 (although wasn’t officially named the Queen Mother until 1980.). Again, these days both are known as being highly regarded Grade 1 races, attracting some of the best horses from around the world.
Iconic Festival Dates & Stats
- 1987 – The first year a woman won a race at the festival in the form of Gee Armytage on Gee-A.
- 2001 – First year that the festival was cancelled due to an outbreak of foot and mouth.
- 2005 – The Festival was increased from three to four days to accommodate the increasing popularity and the number of Grade 1 races that the organisers wanted to include. Five new races had to be added to ensure that 6 races were still held on each day, with at least 2 Grade 1 races on each.
- 2013 – Record numbers of over 250,000 punters and over £250million were wagered at the festival.