The Cheltenham Festival is one of the main highlights of the National Hunt racing season, held over four days in March. Prize money for the Cheltenham Festival is second to only the Grand National and there are several Grade I feature races over the course of the event.
The Festival is noted on the racing calendar as much for its atmosphere as for its racing, with the phrase ‘Cheltenham roar’ having long been coined to describe the noise made by the crowds.
Origins of the Cheltenham Festival
The origins of the Cheltenham Festival date back to 1860, although the Festival as we know it and at its current location began in 1911.
Prior to this the racing event, known then as the Grand National Hunt Meeting, was held at a variety of locations, including Market Harbour, Cheltenham and Warwick. The Ladbrokes World Hurdle – formerly known as the Stayer’s Chase – is the oldest race still currently run, dating from 1912.
The feature races
There are 27 races in total over the four days of the Cheltenham Festival, with each individual day revolving around one feature race.
Day one, known as Champion’s Day, features the Champion’s Hurdle. Day two, Ladies’ Day, is known for the Queen Mother Champion Chase. On day three, referred to as St. Patrick’s Day, spectators gather for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle.
The fourth and final day (Gold Cup Day) is named after the blue riband event: the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Types of race
The Cheltenham Festival showcases a wide variety of events, with 14 steeplechases, 12 hurdles races and one bumper race, which is run on the flat as a sort of testing race for new horses.
Eight races are for novice or juvenile horses, 11 are handicap races and four are championship. There has also been a Cross Country Chase held since 2005, where horses are required to jump 32 obstacles such as ditches, walls, water and hedges as well as navigate steep banks, creating a unique spectacle for the crowd.
A day at the races
The Cheltenham Festival is as much about the social aspect as the racing, and this is never truer than on Ladies’ Day.
Cheltenham has a reputation for being slightly more colourful and laid-back than Royal Ascot, with thousands of women competing for the Best Dressed prize in an array of extravagant outfits.
The venue is populated with mobile catering stalls and bars, featuring live music at various points throughout the Festival. For members and club ticket holders there are also several quality restaurants serving everything from afternoon tea to tapas, and the exclusive Golden Miller Champagne Bar for those who want to really splash out.
The Cheltenham Festival is one of the most prestigious events in the racing calendar, staging a number of thrilling races that can make stars of both horse and rider. With plenty of excitement and an electric atmosphere, this is not to be missed.