For the uninitiated, Cheltenham is a quiet market town towards the west of England. It is a quaint place to spend a couple of days with a loved one.
If you head there between Tuesday March 13 and Friday March 16 this year you might hear one or two deafening roars coming from nearby; don’t worry, it won’t be Storm Emma and the Beast from the East waging their final snowy apocalypse on the west of the country.
The sound will actually be coming from Prestbury Park, or Cheltenham Racecourse as it is more commonly known, as arguably the world’s best horse racing festival gets underway. It’s a once-in-a-year opportunity to see the best horses from across the UK and Ireland duke it out across four days of high quality National Hunt racing, and it is a festival upon which tens of millions of pounds are wagered in the space of 96 hours or so.
If you’re the kind of punter who occasionally has a spare 50p on the Grand National but nothing more then not to worry; I thought I’d mark your card with a general overview of the Cheltenham Festival: the who’s, what’s, when’s and how’s.
As for the why’s….well, it’s better than watching David Davis and Michele Barnier argue about Brexit terms and conditions like a pair of schoolboys bickering over the last Turkey Twizzler in the queue for lunch.
The Cheltenham Festival….What’s It All About?
It’s not as stylish as Royal Ascot, nor is it as hotly anticipated by a non-horse racing crowd as the Grand National, but top draw horse racing does not get much better than this.
As mentioned, Prestbury Park is our host venue, and this unique racecourse features two different layouts: the Old Course, which typically hosts the shorter sprint races thanks to its less demanding run-in, and the New Course, designed to test the mettle of the stayers as they climb the famous ‘Cheltenham Hill’.
There are more than 20 races spread over four days, and this is a quick rundown of the schedule:
Tuesday March 13
- 1:30pm – Supreme Novices Hurdle
- 2:10pm – Arkle Challenge Trophy (known as ‘The Arkle’)
- 2:50pm – Ultima Handicap Chase
- 3:30pm – Champion Hurdle
- 4:10pm – OLBG Mares’ Hurdle
- 4:50pm – Challenge Cup Novices’ Chase
- 5:30pm – Close Brothers’ Novices’ Handicap Chase
Wednesday March 14
- 1:30pm – Ballymore Novices Hurdle
- 2:10pm – RSA Novices’ Chase
- 2:50pm – Coral Cup
- 3:30pm – Queen Mother Champion Chase
- 4:10pm – Glenfarclas Chase
- 4:50pm – Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
- 5:30pm – Weatherbys Champion Bumper
Thursday March 15
- 1:30pm – JLT Novices’ Chase
- 2:10pm – Pertemps Handicap Hurdle
- 2:50pm – Ryanair Chase
- 3:30pm – Stayers’ Hurdle
- 4:10pm – Brown & Merriebelle Handicap Chase
- 4:50pm – Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
- 5:30pm – Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle
Friday March 16
- 1:30pm – JCB Triumph Hurdle
- 2:10pm – Randox Handicap Hurdle
- 2:50pm – Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
- 3:30pm – Cheltenham Gold Cup
- 4:10pm – Foxhunter Chase
- 4:50pm – Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle
- 5:30pm – Grand Annual Challenge Cup
Cheltenham Festival 2018: The Big Races
If you fancy a flutter you can bet on any of the above listed races with a myriad of bookmakers, but to make the most of your money you might want to stick to the Group 1 races, which are classed as the very best.
The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle kicks off proceedings on the Tuesday, and is a fine way to raise the curtain on the festival. Ran on the Old Course at a length of just over two miles, with eight fences to be overcome. A novice is a horse that hasn’t won over hurdles this season, and so this race is considered something of a proving ground for young horses: the likes of Vautour, Douvan and Altior have all triumphed in this one.
The action continues on Tuesday with The Arkle, a two-mile steeplechase for novices over 13 obstacles. It’s a race that pays tribute in name to that fine horse Arkle, who won the Gold Cup on three separate occasions, and many of its winners have gone on to triumph in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, so have a notebook and pen handy! Five of the last six renewals have been won by trainers Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson.
The Champion Hurdle brings together the best hurdlers in the business, and the likes of Hurricane Fly, Jezki and Faugheen are on the rollcall of recent winners. Expect a classy sort to win this one.
On Wednesday punters can get stuck into the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the two-mile steeplechase widely regarded as the best minimum-distance chase on the National Hunt calendar. The likes of Master Minded, Sprinter Sacre and Dodging Bullets have taken the honours here, and the 2017 race was notable for the heavy favourite Douvan rather fluffing his lines!
It’s all go on Thursday, with the Ryanair Chase and Stayers’ Hurdle taking top billing. The former, at 2m 5f, is a nice warm up for the latter, the three-mile battle that is the premier long-distance race on the calendar. Nichols Canyon was a 10/1 winner last year.
Arkle, Desert Orchid, Best Mate, Kauto Star….those are just four previous winners of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which takes the headlines as the festival closes down on Friday. Run over 3m 2f, there are 22 fences to be jumped in what is one of the most demanding races on the National Hunt calendar. With a total prize fund of £575,000, the efforts will be well rewarded!