- When: 12th to 15th March 2024
- Where: Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucestershire GL50 4SH
- Watch: Most races live on ITV
- Official Website: Cheltenham Racecourse
The Cheltenham Festival is one of the biggest horse racing meetings of the year. In fact, the festival is only second in stature to that of the Grand National at Aintree in the UK, and also attracts massive audiences from around the world.
With the cards packed full of big races each day, it should come as no surprise to hear that the bookies throw offers around by the bucket load, which is great news for us punters!
So, whether you’ll be donning your tweed and attending the festival in person or betting from the comfort of your own home, there’s plenty for you to fill your boots with.
Existing Customer Free Bets & Money Back Offers
Note: Offers will appear here nearer the event as and when they become available.
Cheltenham Festival Betting Tips
Please note: The following tips are for 2023 and will be updated shortly before the event starts.
All roads lead to this – the fabulous four days in March that represent the magnificent Cheltenham Festival. With the key trials in the books for another year, the skirmishes are now complete, leaving us all set for the main battle at Prestbury Park between Tuesday 14th and Friday 17th March.
As ever, the Irish battalions will arrive in their masses looking to conquer all, but the home team won't go down without a fight. With a total of 28 cracking contests on offer, here we take a look at how things are shaping up ahead of the standout events on this mouth-watering menu.
Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle
Tuesday 14th March, 1:30pm
As usual, there is no hanging around at jumps racing's biggest event. It's straight into the Grade 1 action in this 2m½f event for the most promising novice hurdlers in training. Willie Mullins has landed five of the past 10 editions of this and is responsible for the favourite this year in Facile Vega.
An impressive winner of the Champion Bumper last season, this impeccably bred sort was viewed as one of the bankers of the meeting, only to completely blow up in a similar event at Leopardstown last time out. Merely a blip? Or has his bubble burst? Either way, he remains the 2/1 market leader.
That slip-up at Leopardstown does seem to have opened the door for the opposition. Should similar chinks emerge in the armoury of Facile Vega here, there are a whole host of challengers likely to take advantage. Il Etait Temps – also from the Mullins yard – was the winner of that Leopardstown contest and can be backed at much larger odds of 7/1, whilst fellow Irish contender Marine National is unbeaten in four and boasts solid claims for Barry Connell at around the 4/1 mark.
Further down the list, the Paul Nicholls-trained Tahmuras (12/1) won nicely in the Tolworth Hurdle and could represent the best of the British, alongside Olly Murphy's six-timer-seeking Chasing Fire (16/1). This one really looks quite open and should be a cracking start to four brilliant days of racing.
Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices' Chase
Tuesday 14th March, 2:10pm
Between them, Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson have bagged this event seven times in the last 10 years. If the market is to be believed, we may be in for a similar story in 2023. It is the Mullins runner, El Fabiolo, who currently just shades favouritism at 6/4, having routed the field by 10 lengths in the Irish version of this race.
The preparation of Nicky Henderson's Jonbon hasn't gone quite so smoothly, with the JP McManus runner failing to impress despite winning the Grade 2 Kingmaker Novices’ Chase in his most recent outing. He only beat one there and didn’t look great, despite the victory. It was however Jonbon (13/8) who came out narrowly on top when the pair clashed over hurdles at Aintree last season, and another closely fought battle may be in store.
The Mullins runner Dysart Dynamo (5/1) comes next in the betting, but has a lot of ground to make up with El Fabiolo on their recent clash at Leopardstown. At a bigger price, Gavin Cromwell’s Final Orders (20/1) arrives on the back of five successive wins and seems likely to attract each-way support.
Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy
Tuesday 14th March, 3:30pm
If there is one horse likely to light up the opening day with a performance to live long in the memory, it is surely the Nicky Henderson-trained Constitution Hill. Odds of 1/3 may seem pretty skinny for a Champion Hurdle, but on everything we have seen to date, this horse looks a little out of the ordinary to say the least.
A perfect five from five over obstacles, the mount of Nico De Boinville routed the field by a staggering 22 lengths in the Supreme Novices Hurdle here 12 months ago, and has continued where he left off this season. He won the Fighting Fifth Hurdle and Christmas Hurdle by a combined 29 lengths and looks even better than 12 months ago. This race represents his next step towards racing immortality, and there are few expecting to see him beaten.
However, in racing, there is no such thing as a certainty and there will be plenty lining up to take him on. Easily the most viable challenger to the jolly is the Willie Mullins runner, State Man (3/1). Last season's County Hurdle winner has shown himself to be a notch above a handicapper in no uncertain terms this season - bagging a trio of Grade 1s, including an impressive success in the Irish version of this race last time out.
With the suspicion being that we still haven't seen the very best of him, he may at least give Constitution Hill something to think about. The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained I Like To Move It (16/1) is peaking at just the right time for this and looks the most interesting outsider in the field.
Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle
Tuesday 14th March, 4:10pm
Always an intriguing contest, this event for the fairer sex has been given a double dose of stardust this year, with former Champion Hurdler's Honeysuckle (9/4) and Epatante (7/2) included amongst the list of entries. With stablemate Constitution Hill dominating the Champion Hurdle market, it isn't too surprising to see Epatante line up, but many are disappointed that Honeysuckle heads here rather than attempting to defend her Champion Hurdle crown.
The fact that the pair are being aimed at this is an indication that their powers may be waning, but even if not quite at their best, either could be more than good enough to win. Elsewhere in the field, Henderson's Marie's Rock (7/2) arrives in fine form and won the race last year, but also holds an entry in the Stayers Hurdle later in the week. Brandy Love (6/1) and Echoes In Rain (7/1), meanwhile, go for the most successful trainer in the history of this race – Willie Mullins.
Ballymore Novices' Hurdle
Wednesday 15th March, 1:30pm
Another novice hurdle, and another Mullins runner at the head of the market, with that honour falling to the Simon Munir & Isaac Souede-owned, Impaire Et Passe. Since making the switch from France in April of last year, this one has made rapid headway towards the summit of the novice ranks.
An easy winner of his maiden in December, he then took the step into Grade 2 company in his stride when slamming the opposition in the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown. He is up in class and trip here but rates a major threat to all.
As impressive as Impaire Et Passe has been, possibly the best form in the race belongs to the Paul Nicholls runner, Hermes Allen (3/1). Reportedly not particularly impressive at home, this one saves his best for the track, and really caught the eye when cantering to success in the Grade 1 Challow Novices Hurdle at Newbury. Nicholls has never won this event, but this horse may represent his best chance yet. Others likely to be involved include the Rich Ricci runner, Gaelic Warrior (9/2), Grade 1 winner, Good Land (6/1), and the improving Inthepocket (16/1).
Brown Advisory Novices' Chase
Wednesday 15th March, 2:10pm
Gordon Elliott has twice finished as the champion trainer at this meeting, and whilst he hasn't quite hit the heights in recent seasons, hopes are high that he can make his presence felt in 2023. One of the runners leading the charge is the unbeaten Gerri Colombe (15/8), who goes for gold in this 3m½f contest. By a sire in Saddler Maker, who regularly does well at the Festival, this seven-year-old boasts a pair of Grade 1 wins to his name and is being touted as a future Gold Cup horse in some quarters.
A tilt at this year's Gold Cup was mentioned as a possibility for second favourite The Real Whacker (9/2), who caused a shock when winning a Grade 2 at this track for Patrick Neville last time out. Fans of previous festival form may be drawn to Thyme Hill (11/2), who finished second in last season's Stayers Hurdle, and Sir Gerhard (5/1), who won the Champion Bumper in 2021, and the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle in 2022.
Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase
Wednesday 15th March, 3:30pm
The 2022 winner Energumene (2/1) returns to defend his Champion Chase crown, and was a hot favourite to do just that until being turned over in the Clarence House Chase at this track. Horses can always be forgiven one bad run, but that effort does leave him with something to prove for now.
It is Clarence House runner-up Edwardstone (7/4) who now heads the market. The Alan King runner also boasts strong festival form, having won last season's Arkle Chase in good style.
Editeur De Gite (13/2) meanwhile finished ahead of both Energumene and Edwardstone to win that Clarence House contest and looks well worth his place in the line-up - for all that he did enjoy the run of the race that day. Gentleman Du Mee (9/1) is a strong second string for Wille Mullins having impressed in the Dublin Chase in February, whilst Dan Skelton's Nube Negra (25/1) was within ½l of winning this in 2021 and returns for another crack.
Turners Novices' Chase
Thursday 16th March, 1:30pm
The Day 3 opener is another strong race for the Irish, with the first five in the betting all hailing from the Emerald Isle. Topping that list is the Gordon Elliott-trained, Mighty Potter (6/4).
This exciting horse is a perfect three from three over fences, his effort in the Ladbrokes Novices' Chase last time out makes him the one to beat on this season's form. On the downside, his only previous Festival appearance resulted in a pulled-up effort in last season's Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
The Willie Mullins representative Appreciate It (5/1) fared somewhat better in his Supreme Novices Hurdle effort, winning the 2021 edition by a monstrous 24 lengths. He hasn't been quite so good since, but was third in the Irish Arkle last time out, and may be suited by this step up in trip. Joseph O'Brien's Banbridge (4/1) also brings strong Cheltenham form to the table, having landed last season's Martin Pipe race, whilst Paul Nicholls course and distance winner, Stage Star (14/1), may prove the best of the home team.
Thursday 16th March, 2:50pm
With defending champion Allaho unable to defend his crown, this hugely popular contest had looked set to be one of the most wide-open Grade 1s of the meeting. However, all that changed following the Ascot Chase on the 18th of February, as Nicky Henderson worked his magic once more to revitalise the brilliant Shiskin.
A pair of desperate efforts had suggested we had seen the best of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and Arkle winner, but following a wind op and tender handling, Shiskin roared back to his best with a 16-length romp at Ascot. One of the classiest performers of recent times when at his peak, he is now a general 4/5 favourite for this race. The big question though, is whether that was a one-off, or a sign that he really is back.
Many will feel unsure about Shiskin and he does need to back up that return to form. He will certainly face a stiff test of his credentials here. Chief amongst the opposition is the Mullins runner, Blue Lord, who is a three-time Grade 1 winner in his own right and finished a solid third in the 2022 Arkle.
Gordon Elliott's Fury Road (8/1) has often threatened to win this sort of race, but possibly the most interesting runner at a bigger price is Henry De Bromhead's Envoi Allen (12/1). A little unpredictable these days, he nevertheless gets a big tick in the Festival form box, having won the Champion Bumper in 2019 and Ballymore Novices' Hurdle in 2020.
Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle
Thursday 16th March, 3:30pm
The Charles Byrnes runner Blazing Khal hasn't had the best of luck with injuries, having missed the whole of 2022 following a setback. However, when he is fit he is very good – so good that he is yet to taste defeat in four starts over hurdles. His win last time out in the Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle at Navan thrust his hat firmly into the ring for this. Considering that was his first run in 428 days, he can reasonably be expected to strip fitter here and duly heads the betting at what may prove to be generous odds of 10/3.
Blazing Khal is just one of many runners with strong claims. Flooring Porter (13/2) will be the first port of call for many, considering he won this in both 2021 and 2022, and looks to be coming to the boil at just the right time once again. Then we have Home By The Lee (6/1), who has beaten Flooring Porter (13/2) in their two most recent clashes, and the talented Teahupoo (9/2) who adds to the strong Irish challenge. The pick of the home team would look to be Nicky Henderson's Marie's Rock (9/2), who will receive a useful 7lb mares’ allowance if taking on this challenge.
JCB Triumph Hurdle
Friday 17th March, 1:30pm
There are currently only three runners available to back at a single-figure price in this event for the four-year-olds, and all three hail from the yard of Willie Mullins. Blood Destiny (15/8) leads the way, having won his two starts since joining the yard with the minimum of fuss.
However, the stronger form on paper belongs to Gala Marceau (11/2) and Lossiemouth (47/25), who finished first and second in the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown. Lossiemouth looked very unlucky that day, and there will be many believing she can reverse the placings here.
Further down the list, St Donats (10/1) adds a dose of French flavour to proceedings and will be interesting if making the trip over for Hugo Merienne. British hopes look to be a little thin on the ground, with the Gary Moore-trained duo of Bo Zenith (20/1) and Jupiter Du Gite (40/1) perhaps the most likely to make their presence felt.
Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle
Friday 17th March, 2:50pm
Staying power is the name of the game in what is traditionally the most gruelling novice event of the week. There aren't too many races at the meeting where Willie Mullins hasn't made his mark, and the Closutton maestro has been the dominant force in this of late, with three wins in the past six years.
His Embassy Gardens (7/1) looks the ideal type this year and showed stamina to be his strong suit when scoring by 35 lengths on his first crack at a staying trip last time out. As good as Willie Mullins's record is in this race, it is Emmett Mullins who is responsible for this year's favourite, Corbetts Cross (4/1), a horse sure to attract plenty of attention.
Raced just once for Mullins, Corbetts Cross showed he possesses speed and class to go with his stamina when landing a Grade 2 over 2m at Naas. Back up to what ought to be a more suitable trip, he looks a big player. Others for the shortlist are Hiddenvalley Lake (9/1) from the yard of Henry De Bromhead, and Paul Nolan's Sandor Clegane (12/1).
Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase
Friday 17th March, 3:30pm
Last but not least, the big one. Always the classiest staying chase of the season, bar none, the 2023 edition of the great race looks well up to scratch. We do, however, have a pretty warm favourite, with the Willie Mullins-trained, Galopin Des Champs (15/8) out on his own at the head of the market.
Jolly backers may still be scarred by this one's tumble at the final fence in the Turners Novices' Chase here 12 months ago, but there are strong reasons to believe he may gain compensation in the biggest race of all. That fall represented his only defeat over fences, with his three most recent Grade 1 victories coming by a combined 39 lengths. The seven-year-old arrives as the Irish Gold Cup champion and looks all set to make a bold bid.
Next in line comes defending champion, A Plus Tard, at a rather distant 15/2, and anyone rewatching last year's race may be pretty quick to snap up that price. The Henry De Bromhead runner didn't just win this 12 months ago, he absolutely annihilated a stellar field by 15 lengths. The big question concerns his well-being, with his only effort in the current campaign seeing him pulled up in the Betfair Chase at Haydock. Not an ideal prep, but he could hardly be in better hands to be primed and readied for the big day.
There was a time when Paul Nicholls made this race his own. The glory days of Kauto Star and Denman may now be a fading memory, but in King George hero, Bravemansgame, Nicholls could have the right horse to get his name back up in lights. He was 14 lengths too good for his rivals at Kempton, the question is can he show a similar level of form around here? His only previous Cheltenham effort saw him finish a well-beaten third in the 2021 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle, so that has to be a doubt.
Another runner well-fancied by many is 2022 Grand National hero, Noble Yeats (10/1). In a race which can turn into a war of attrition, there are unlikely to be too many finishing better coming up the hill. Similar comments apply to Stattler (9/1), who showed stamina to be his forte when winning the National Hunt Chase here 12 months ago. Others arriving with high hopes are 2022 third, Protektorat (16/1), Cotswold Chase winner Ahoy Senor (16/1), and the intriguing Hewick (25/1), who won the American Grand National on his most recent start.
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2022/23 National Hunt Season – Leading Trainers
|British Trainers||Irish Trainers|
|Trainer||Wins||Prize Money||Trainer||Wins||Prize Money|
|Paul Nicholls||136||£2.66m||Willie Mullins||194||€4.40m|
|Dan Skelton||106||£2.03m||Gordon Elliott||170||€3.19m|
|Nicky Henderson||69||£1.36m||Henry de Bromhead||69||€1.37m|
|Fergal O’Brien||124||£1.35m||Gavin Cromwell||53||€0.86m|
|Donald McCain||100||£1.09m||Joseph Patrick O’Brien||28||€0.86m|
|Gary Moore||54||£0.96m||Noel Meade||20||€0.47m|
|David Pipe||68||£0.96m||Peter Fahey||16||€0.41m|
|Venetia Williams||30||£0.85m||A.J. Martin||12||€0.40m|
|Joe Tizzard||44||£0.80m||John Patrick Ryan||18||€0.36m|
|Ben Pauling||73||£0.76m||John C. McConnell||28||€0.36m|
2022/23 National Hunt Season – Leading Jockeys
|British Jockeys||Irish Jockeys|
|Brian Hughes||149||752||Paul Townend||90||238|
|Sean Bowen||108||535||Jack Kennedy||77||320|
|Harry Cobden||99||342||Rachael Blackmore||52||366|
|Harry Skelton||82||367||Danny Mullins||51||420|
|Sam Twiston-Davies||71||524||Keith Donoghue||44||322|
|Gavin Sheehan||69||326||Darragh O’Keeffe||42||529|
|Paddy Brennan||68||246||Patrick Mullins||42||110|
|Tom Cannon||62||336||Davy Russell||35||164|
|Sean Quinlan||60||462||JJ Slevin||35||338|
|Tom Scudamore||56||348||Jordan Gainford||30||337|
Top Rated 2022/23 British & Irish Trained Chasers
|British Trained||Irish Trained|
|Shishkin||174||N. Henderson||A Plus Tard||180||H. de Bromhead|
|Bravemansgame||172||P. Nicholls||Allaho||177||W.P. Mullins|
|Protektorat||170||D. Skelton||Energumene||176||W.P. Mullins|
|Edwardstone||170||A. King||Galopin Des Champs||175||W.P. Mullins|
|L’Homme Presse||170||V. Williams||Conflated||168||G. Elliott|
|Greaneteen||169||P. Nicholls||Minella Indo||168||H. de Bromhead|
|Editeur Du Gite||166||G. Moore||Gentleman De Mee||167||W.P. Mullins|
|Ahoy Senor||166||L. Russell||Hewick||167||J.J. Hanlon|
|Nube Negra||163||D. Skelton||Noble Yeats||167||E. Mullins|
|Royale Pagaille||163||V. Williams||Blue Lord||166||W.P. Mullins|
Top Rated 2022/23 British & Irish Trained Hurdlers
|British Trained||Irish Trained|
|Constitution Hill||173||N. Henderson||State Man||167||W.P. Mullins|
|Thyme Hill||161||P. Hobbs||Teahupoo||163||G. Elliott|
|Champ||160||N. Henderson||Flooring Porter||162||G. Cromwell|
|Paisley Park||160||E. Lavelle||Klassical Dream||162||W.P. Mullins|
|I Like To Move It||157||N.Twiston-Davies||Honeysuckle||160||H. de Bromhead|
|Not So Sleepy||156||H. Morrison||Vauban||160||W.P. Mullins|
|Goshen||154||G. Moore||Blazing Khal||157||C. Byrnes|
|McFabulous||153||P. Nicholls||Home By The Lee||157||J.P. O’Brien|
|Dashel Drasher||153||J. Scott||Zanahiyr||157||G. Elliott|
|Marie’s Rock||153||N. Henderson||Commander Of Fleet||155||G. Elliott|
|Epatante||153||N. Henderson||Saldier||155||W.P. Mullins|
|Sceau Royal||153||A. King||Sharjah||155||W.P. Mullins|
The meeting starts on Tuesday, which is known Champion Day. Races then run through until the Friday of the same week, with Wednesday being Ladies Day, Thursday St. Patrick’s Day and Friday Gold Cup Day. With each day comes a mix of Graded races, ranging from 1-3 and some lower class but competitive races for good measure.
Day One – Champion Day, Tuesday 12th March 2024
The opening day features four Grade 1 races that include The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, The Arkle Chase, Champion Hurdle and the Mares’ Hurdle. On top of that you have one Grade 2 race, the National Hunt Cup, and two Grade 3 races in the Ultima Handicap Chase and the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
- 1:30 – Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) – 2m ½f
- 2:10 – Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) – 2m
- 2:50 – Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3) – 3m 1f
- 3:30 – Unibet Champion Hurdle (Grade 1) – 2m ½f
- 4:10 – Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1) – 2m 4f
- 4:50 – Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) – 2m ½f
- 5:30 – Wellchild National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys’ Novices’ Chase (Grade 2) – 3m 6f
Day Two – Ladies Day, Wednesday 13th March 2024
Day two sees four more Grade 1 races in the form of the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase, the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Champion Bumper. The two Grade 3 races of the day are the Coral Cup and the Grand Annual. Finally, there is the Class 2 Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase.
- 1:30 – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) – 2m 5f
- 2:10 – Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) – 3m ½f
- 2:50 – Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) – 2m 5f
- 3:30 – Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1) – 2m
- 4:10 – Glenfarclas (Cross Country) Chase (Class 2) – 3m 6f
- 4:50 – Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase (Grade 3) – 2m
- 5:30 – Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Grade 1) – 2m ½f
Day Three – St Patrick’s Day, Thursday 14th March 2024
St. Patrick’s Day includes three Grade 1 races in the form of the Marsh Novices’ Chase, the Ryanair Chase and the Stayers’ Hurdle. One Grade 2 race is run – the Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle – along with the Grade 3 Pertemps Final Hurdle and the Paddy Power Plate Handicap. Day 3 concludes with the Class 2 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup.
- 1:30 – Turners Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) – 2m 4f
- 2:10 – Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) – 3m
- 2:50 – Ryanair Chase (Grade 1) – 2m 4½f
- 3:30 – Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle (Grade 1) – 3m
- 4:10 – Magners Plate Handicap Chase (Grade 3) – 2m 4½f
- 4:50 – Jack De Bromhead Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2) – 2m 1f
- 5:30 – Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Chase (Class 2) – 3m 2f
Day Four – Gold Cup Day, Friday 15th March 2024
The closing day of the Festival is Gold Cup Day and you’ll need no clues about the race that grabs the headlines. The biggest race of the Cheltenham Festival is unquestionably the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which is actually one of the biggest Grade 1 races in the world, offering up a £625,000 purse and run over 3 Miles and 2 ½ furlongs.
On top of this, the Friday also sees two more Grade 1 races, the Triumph Hurdle and the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. There is also one Grade 2, the Mares’ Chase and one Grade 3 race, the County Hurdle. The Class 2 Hunters’ Chase follows the Gold Cup with the race list for the week is rounded off by another Class 2, the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle.
- 1:30 – JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1) – 2m 1f
- 2:10 – McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) – 2m 1f
- 2:50 – Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) – 3m
- 3:30 – Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup (Grade 1) – 3m 2½f
- 4:10 – St. James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase (Class 2) – 3m 2½f
- 4:50 – Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase (Grade 2) – 2m 4½f
- 5:30 – Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (Class 2) – 2m 4½f
Please note that the above schedule and race names are provisional and are subject to change
About The Cheltenham Festival
Few meetings in the racing calendar have the history and prestige of the Cheltenham Festival. Not only does it boast countless much-loved races during the four days that it’s on, but it is also the home to one of British horse racing’s most famous events: The Gold Cup (shown above). The meeting’s origins are inextricably linked to the inauguration of the National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup, which was run for the first time at Market Harborough back in 1860. As we’ll explain here, however, it took far longer for the Festival to reach its modern day proportions.
The Early Years of Racing in Cheltenham
The first known organised horse race to occur in Cheltenham took place on the Nottingham Hill area in 1815. It proved to be an uneventful occurrence, with no racing taking place in the town again until 1818. In that year it was in Cleeve Hill and five different races took place. It was obviously far more popular than it had been in 1815 as it happened again the following year. Far more had been done to prepare for the 1819 version of the racing, however, with a grandstand having been built, a track laid and three days of racing put on instead of one.
The success of that meeting meant that racing had seemingly found a new home at Cheltenham, with crowds over the following decade growing to the point that more than fifty thousand people were turning up to watch it. A minority of people weren’t there for the horses, but instead for the purposes of picking pockets, meeting with prostitutes and worse. It led to the local rector, Reverend Francis Close, suggesting to his parishioners that it wasn’t a good thing for the area. In 1829 bottles were thrown at the horses and their jockeys, whilst in 1830 the grandstand that had been built more than a decade before was burnt down.
From 1831 until 1834 racing moved from Cleeve Hill to Prestbury Park, but the ground wasn’t as good so it returned to its former location in 1835. At that point in English history an economic depression had hit and flat racing lost its lustre. Attempts were made to encourage people to return but by 1843 it was all but over for the region. That was also to do with the rising popularity of jump racing, with the Grand Annual Steeplechase drawing large crowds in Andoversford in 1834. Part of the attempts to revive racing in Gloucestershire involved having the race run at Prestbury Park between 1847 and 1853.
The Creation of the Festival
All of the above might seem incidental, but it helps to explain why W.A Baring Bingham bought the ground at Prestbury Park in the hope of returning the side to its former racing glory. Initially the ground was used as a stud farm, but in 1902 he put on a two day meeting that was given the name ‘The National Hunt Festival’. Meanwhile another event by the name of the National Hunt Meeting, which had started at Market Harborough in 1860 and included the aforementioned National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup, was moving from venue to venue and attracting plenty of interest.
The National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup was considered to be one of the most prestigious races in the British horse racing calendar, with cities and towns competing to see it run on their racecourses during its more formative years. One such town was Cheltenham, which had been looking for a top-class race in order to see horse racing return to its shores in a more serious capacity.
Baring Bingham was able to persuade the National Hunt Meeting’s organisers to host the event at his Prestbury Park location in 1904 and then again in 1905. In 1911 it was decided to move the Meeting forward to March and to host it at the Cheltenham location permanently. That was an unquestionable boon for the area, with racing once again a permanent fixture on the racecourse. Even so, it wasn’t until Frederick Cathcart became involved that the Meeting began to grow into what it would later become. He suggested that Cheltenham should be the home of jump racing in the same way that Newmarket was considered to be the home of flat racing.
In 1923 Cathcart oversaw the expansion of the Festival to be three days long, with no sign of interest in the racing slowing down. The year after he also introduced an event that would become the pride of the entire Festival, the Gold Cup. Since then, of course, the meeting has grown and grown. In the 1930s a horse named Golden Miller won five consecutive Gold Cups, including an unprecedented double of the Gold Cup and Grand National in 1934. All of this increased public awareness of the Cheltenham Festival and it’s continued to grow ever since.
The Development of the Course
For all that Golden Miller caught the public’s imagination, it was the invasion of the Irish to the Festival that really saw it take off. The Emerald isle’s love affair with Cheltenham began at the end of the 1940s when Cottage Rake won three consecutive Gold Cups. It was the first time an Irish trained horse had won the race and the Irish have been coming back ever since. There’s even a competition each year to see whether more English or Irish trained horses will win races during the week of the Festival called the Prestbury Cup.
The increasing popularity of the Festival also led to an increase in investment for the venue from outside sources. In the 1960s a group called Racecourse Holdings Trust bought Cheltenham Racecourse and put a massive amount of money into its redevelopment. As an example, the grandstand that has remained the same since it had opened in 1911 was upgraded in its entirety. The BBC also decided to add horse racing from Cheltenham to its outside broadcasts, allowing more people to get involved in the excitement.
It was in amongst all of this that Arkle came to the fore and saw Cheltenham’s star shoot into the stratosphere. He won a hat-trick of Gold Cups in the 1960s, as well as winning twenty-seven of the thirty four races he ran, including twenty-three when he was carrying an extra twelve stone or more in handicapping weight. Visit Cheltenham Racecourse and you’ll see a statue of the horse in the grounds; a testament to just how good a champion he was.
The Cheltenham Festival Today
All of that is from the Festival’s history, though, so what of it in the present day? It is considered to be one of the highlights of the sporting calendar, matching the likes of the FA Cup Final and Wimbledon in terms of interest from the public. There have been some stunning races over the years, such as when Istabraq won a hat-trick of Champion Hurdles in the 1990s or when Best Mate won three Gold Cups between 2002 and 2004.
The Cheltenham Festival holds a position of genuine respect in the horse racing industry, which is noticeable by the fact that pretty much the entire jump racing calendar feels as though builds up to it. It is the climax of the year in jump racing, with only the Grand National coming after it and being considered to be a race of equal importance. The meeting uses both the Old and New Courses, starting on the old at the beginning of the week before switching to the new for the second half of the festival.
In 2014 the meeting saw over 230,000 punters pass through the gates, with over £250 million wagered around the world.
Ruby Walsh is the most decorated Jockey at the Cheltenham Festival wining the ‘Top Jockey Award’ no less than eleven times. His most successful festival meetings were in 2009 and 2016 when he amassed seven victories over the four days, the most victories by any jockey at the Cheltenham Festival.
Willie Mullins is the winning most trainer from the festival with 94 wins, winning the ‘Top Trainer’ award ten times. The most victories for one trainer at a meeting also lies with Willie Mullins who had ten wins in 2022.
As mentioned earlier, the pinnacle of the festival is without doubt the Gold Cup. Since the race was first run in 1924, some of the best horses to grace the planet have been victorious in the race. No horse has won the race more times than Golden Miller, who won the race on five consecutive occasions 1932 to 1936.
Another standout name from the archives of the Gold Cup is that of Arkle. The horse is without a doubt a legend within racing circles and won the race three times in a row from 1964 to 1966.
In more recent times, the head-to-head battles of Kauto Star and Denman, who crossed paths between 2007 and 2009 with some breath taking races. Paul Nicholls was lucky enough to own both horses, but Kauto Star had the upper hand in the fascinating duel winning twice in 2007 and 2009, whilst Denman picking up his win in 2008. There are other facts to tell you about, of course, so here’s a little look at some of the more fascinating ones
- The Festival features twenty-eight different National Hunt races over the course of its four days
- Five tons of cheese and five tons of smoked salmon are eaten during the Festival
- Meanwhile, eight thousand gallons of coffee and tea are served
- The maximum capacity of the Racecourse is seventy-thousand, which is for Gold Cup Day, though this is now capped at 68,500
- The average attendance on each of the four days is around sixty-five thousand
- Cash machines dispensed £2.3 million during the Festival in 2016
- For the local Gloucestershire region, the meeting is believed to bring in about £100 million
- The most successful horse in one race is Quevega, who won the David Nicholson Mare’s Cup every year from 2009 until 2014
- There are 350 chefs on site for the week and one of the things they’ll be cooking is nine tonnes of potatoes eaten during the Festival