One of the biggest events in the UK’s social calendar, the Cheltenham Festival is where you see the finest British and Irish-trained horses at their best, jumping a range of gruelling courses over four days in March. The Irish, in particular, flock over to this quiet Cotswold town, transforming it into a buzzing metropolis of gossip and intrigue, race cards always at the ready, with winners and losers coming thick and fast.
The race began in 1860 and initially moved around several locations, but in 1911 it settled in to Prestbury Park in Cheltenham, where it remains. In 2015 there were 27 races in all and 2016 is set to be even bigger.
The Festival kicks off with the Champion Hurdle on the 15th March. This is a Grade 1 race that covers just over 2 miles – with eight serious hurdles along the way. The list of winners of this race reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of the world’s finest hurdlers. Look out today also for the National Hunt Chase that runs over four miles: a real test of endurance.
Day two, on the 16th March, is Ladies Day. This is the day when race-goers also shine, with glamour very much to the fore. There’s plenty of equine action too, with seven races, including the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
March 17th is St Patrick’s Day so naturally the Irish are out in force. Clothes go green but the Guinness stays cool and black. The big races of the day include the World Hurdle and the Ryanair Chase.
The climax of the festival is Gold Cup Day on the 18th March. Of the seven races today the most important is the Cheltenham Gold Cup Steeple Chase, a testing course covering more than three miles with jumps aplenty. This is followed by the Foxhunter Steeple Chase that covers the same course but with amateur riders: this is known as ‘The Amateurs’ Gold Cup’ and is perhaps the year’s most hotly contested Hunter Chase.
The Cheltenham Festival only happens once a year, and each year has a different vibe. Every year courses are tweaked, new course records are set and there are plenty of dramas on the course and off. One thing that does remain steady is the famous ‘Cheltenham Roar’, the sound of the crowd as the tape goes up for the start of each race. Just click here for more information about the races and riders, what’s on and where.