Cheltenham Festival 2018 Guide
The Cheltenham Festival has become the most important week in the National Hunt racing calendar. While prize money remains second to the Grand National, and the National may still be considered the most famous race on the planet, the buzz of the Festival has grown to such a degree in recent years that it now possibly usurps the great Aintree race in reputation. It has certainly become a critical time for bookmakers, with Cheltenham responsible for 10% of the Tote’s total annual on-course takings.
Synonymous with the Irish in terms of both participation and attendance, Cheltenham plays host to four days of some of the greatest racing on the planet. The highlight of the Festival is unquestionably the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and the fabled double of the Gold Cup and Grand National is still the preserve of a few truly legendary horses. The last to achieve it was the great Golden Miller in 1934.
The Festival has a huge reputation for being the epitome of social racing, and gallons of beer and champagne are sunk by the tens of thousands of racegoers who flock to Cheltenham every year for this feast of National Hunt racing.
It can be historically asserted that the Cheltenham Festival 2018 will mark 203 years of racing in the attractive spa town. Racing in Cheltenham dates back to 1815 when the first recorded meeting was held on Nottingham Hill. However, it was three further years before the second meeting was staged. And the first event resembling the modern Cheltenham Festival was held in 1861.
Over the next 60 years, the event’s prestige slowly grew as racing became increasingly established as a populist sport. But it was when the jewel in the crown of the Cheltenham Festival, the Gold Cup, was established in 1924 that the Festival began to take on its present reputation. The inception of the Champion Hurdle followed in 1927, the Champion Chase in 1959, and finally, the Stayers Hurdle which was first run in 1972. Each of these races is the centrepiece of their respective day in Cheltenham programme.
It is hard to believe in the present context, but the Cheltenham Festival has not always enjoyed the exulted reputation it attracts today. The event has steadily gained prominence within the racing calendar, and today is considered one of the marquee sporting events in Great Britain, along with iconic events such as Wimbledon, the Open Championships, the British Grand Prix and the FA Cup Final.
One event which particularly raised Cheltenham’s profile was ‘Dickinson’s Famous Five’ in 1983 when Michael Dickinson trained the first five home in National Hunt’s premier steeplechase. Another came in 1989 when the most popular grey in racing history, Desert Orchid, waded through the unsuitably heavy ground to victory and a permanent spot in the British racing public’s affection.
Since then most of the most famous jumps horses in Britain have been strongly linked to Cheltenham. As well as his five King George triumphs, Kauto Star’s feat in becoming the first horse to regain the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2009 helped further promote what had already become a massive racing occasion. Other all-time great champions worthy of places in the National Hunt Hall of Fame include Dawn Run, the brave mare who has the unique distinction of winning the Champion Hurdle and the Gold Cup, three-time winner Best Mate, and Kauto Star’s old sparring partner Denman.
The first four-day Festival took place in 2005 and it is now the pinnacle of the UK racing calendar, certainly for jumps fans. Attendances have grown year on year, with the Fez now attracting a total in excess of 250,000 racegoers each year.
In 2001, the Cheltenham Festival was cancelled owing to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain which led to the slaughter of over six million cows and sheep. Foot-and-mouth can be spread through contact with clothing and farming equipment which made staging the Festival, particularly with the risk of sending the disease across to Ireland, impossible.
The first decade of the 21st century was not a particularly fortunate one for the Cheltenham Festival, with the day two of the 2008 meeting wiped out due to storm-force winds. This led to a 10-race card on Thursday and nine races on Gold Cup Friday.
Cheltenham Festival 2018 Race Schedule
The Cheltenham Festival 2018 will take place between the 13th and 16th March. In total, 28 races will be held over the four days, with many fans staying for the duration. This year’s program is as follows:
Tuesday 13th March – Champion Day (Old Course)
13:30 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 1/2f
14:10 Arkle Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) 2m
14:50 Festival Trophy Handicap Steeple Chase (Grade 3) 3m 1f
15:30 Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1) 2m 1/2f
16:10 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle Race (Grade 1) 2m 4f
16:50 National Hunt Steeple Chase (Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase) (Grade 2) 4m
17:30 Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase (Listed) 2m 4 1/2f
Wednesday 14th March – Ladies Day (Old Course & Cross Country)
13:30 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 5f
14:10 RSA Steeple Chase (Grade 1) 3m 1/2f
14:50 Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) 2m 5f
15:30 Queen Mother Champion Steeple Chase (Grade 1) 2m
16:10 Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase 3m 6f
16:50 Boodles Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) 2m 1/2f
17:30 Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Grade 1) 2m 1/2f;
Thursday 15th March – St Patrick’s Thursday (New Course)
13:30 JLT Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)
14:10 Pertemps Final (Handicap Hurdle) (Listed) 3m
14:50 Ryanair Steeple Chase (Grade 1) 2m 5f
15:30 Stayers’ Hurdle (Grade 1) 3m
16:10 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable (Handicap Chase) (Grade 3) 2m 5f
16:50 Trull House Stud Mares Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m 1f
17:30 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase 3m 2f
Friday 16th March – Gold Cup Day (New Course)
13:30 Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 1f
14:10 County Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) 2m 1f
14:50 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) 3m
15:30 Cheltenham Gold Cup (Grade 1) 3m 2 1/2f
16:10 Foxhunter Steeple Chase Challenge Cup 3m 2 1/2f
16:50 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle 2m 4 1/2f
17:30 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 2m 1/2f
Let us now take a look at each of the four Cheltenham race days in greater detail, beginning with none other than the most spectacular opening race day to any global racing event, Champion Day.
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After months of anticipation, the famous Cheltenham Roar heralds the start of the Greatest Show on Turf. The Gold Cup may be the headline act of the week, but Festival Fever starts with a bang on Champion Day.
With racegoers expected to pack the venue to the rafters, gates open for the day’s racing at 10.30am, with the first race at 1.30pm and the last off at 5.30pm. Over the roughly eight hours that the course is open, there is plenty of opportunity for socialising, eating and imbibing.
The feature is the most important and prestigious hurdle race of the British racing season. The Champion Hurdle was won last year in fine style by Buveur D’Air to give Nicky Henderson a record sixth victory in the race. He’s strongly fancied to regain his crown and again collect his share of a lucrative prize fund of £400,000, although 2015 champion Faugheen is back to try and reclaim the title. My Tent Or Yours has been a runner-up no fewer than four times at the Cheltenham Festival after chasing home his stablemate 12 months ago. Could he go one better this time?
The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, for horses four years and older, is the traditional curtain-raiser to the Festival. Run over an extended two miles, it is the best novice hurdle of the year and witnesses the odd surprise. Last year’s renewal was won by Labaik who had a habit of being left at the start. But Gordon Elliott’s charge was on his best behaviour at Prestbury Park, winning at odds of 25-1 and taking the best part of a £125,000 prize fund.
Next is the Arkle Chase named after the legendary Irish thoroughbred. This is the race for two-mile novice chasers and has been won by modern greats including Moscow Flyer and Sprinter Sacre, both of whom went on to land the Queen Mother Champion Chase the following year. With total prize money of £175,000, it is the joint-richest novice race on the calendar.
Before the day’s highlight comes the first handicap of the week, the Festival Handicap Chase over three miles and one furlong. This was once seen as a good pointer to the Grand National but Rough Quest was the last horse to win both races, winning the big one at Aintree in 1996 under Mick Fitzgerald. AP McCoy provided perhaps its most famous finish in 2009, with the champ urging Wichita Lineman along from early on and somehow galvanising the eight-year-old to come clear up the hill to the delight of the punting public.
After the Champion Hurdle comes the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle. Originally named in memory of legendary trainer David Nicholson, it was added to the Festival in 2008 with Donald McCain’s Whiteoak its first victor. Then it was won for the next six years in succession by Willie Mullins’ mighty Quevega. In 2015, it produced one of the most sensational moments in racing history when odds-on jolly Annie Power (who 12 months later won the Champion Hurdle) fell at the last to save the bookmakers a fortune after Mullins favourites had already won three races on the card. Even with Annie Power’s fall, the race still went to the Master of Closutton as Glens Melody crossed the line in front. Apple’s Jade is on course to defend her title for Gordon Elliott in the Gigginstown House Stud colours.
Then follows the longest race of the Festival and the one with the richest history. The National Hunt Chase, commonly known as “the four-miler”, is limited to novice chasers and amateur riders. It was first to run in 1860 with Cheltenham becoming its permanent home in 1911. Last year’s renewal went to former Triumph Hurdle winner Tiger Roll for trainer Gordon Elliott who claimed the race two years previously with another Cheltenham specialist Cause of Causes.
A spectacular day of racing ends with the Centenary Novices’ Handicap Chase which was run for the first time in 2005 when the Festival was extended to four days. Its most popular win came in 2012 courtesy of Hunt Ball who had risen a whopping 73 pounds in the handicap in three months before giving trainer Keiran Burke and his owner, milk farmer Anthony Knott, a famous victory. At close to 5.40pm, the sun will be set on a thrilling day’s sport with attention turning to the second day of four.
Champion Hurdle History
The Champion Hurdle was first to run in 1927, usurping the Imperial Cup as the premier hurdle race in Britain. Five horses have completed a hat-trick of victories with Hatton’s Grace the first in 1951 before Sir Ken won the next three. Persian War scored his third consecutive triumph in 1970 and See You Then repeated the feat in 1987 having won his first, and Nicky Henderson’s first Champion Hurdle, as a five-year-old in 1985.
Istabraq was the last horse to win three Champion Hurdles in 2000 and he would surely have won a fourth had it not been for the 2001 Festival being cancelled due to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. Aidan O’Brien’s charge (yes, that Aidan O’Brien) did go for a fourth victory in 2002 but was pulled up on the first circuit by regular jockey Charlie Swan and retired to his owner JP McManus’s Martinstown home.
Willie Mullins’ Hurricane Fly was the last two-time winner of the race in 2013, becoming the first horse to regain the crown since Comedy of Errors in 1975. His jockey Ruby Walsh shares the record of four Champion Hurdle victories with Tim Molony who rode Hatton’s Grace to the last of his successes before winning the next three with Sir Ken.
Buveur D’Air’s triumph last year made Nicky Henderson and JP McManus the most successful trainer and owner in the history of the race respectively with six wins apiece. Before that, the pair’s only previous victor in tandem was Binocular in 2010, ridden by AP McCoy.
Other famous winners of this race include Bula, Night Nurse and Sea Pigeon.
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The advent of a Ladies Day is a fairly recent development at Cheltenham. Unlike Royal Ascot where dress codes are de rigueur, the official guidance on what to wear at the home of jumps racing is to “dress accordingly” given that racing is held during the winter months. That said, Ladies Day is gaining in popularity and there are some outfits almost as spectacular as the racing on show.
Gates open for Ladies Day at 10.30am, with the first race at 1.30pm and the last race last being run at 5.30pm.
The highlight is the Queen Mother Champion Chase which is the premier two-mile steeplechase of the year. There was a major upset last year as Henry de Bromhead’s exuberant frontrunner Special Tiara won at 11-1 with heavy odds-on favourite Douvan coming home lame. Special Tiara is back to defend his crown at the age of 11, but last year’s Arkle winner Altior is the hot favourite after an excellent belated seasonal debut in the Game Spirit at Newbury. Nicky Henderson’s charge is bidding for a third consecutive win at the Festival having cruised clear in the 2016 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Day two begins with the Baring Bingham Novices’ Hurdle which has usually been known by its sponsor down the years, most notably as “The Neptune”. It is currently the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and takes place over two miles and five furlongs. Despite being over a trip further than that of the Champion Hurdle, it has produced several winners of that great race including Istabraq, Hardy Eustace and Faugheen.
The RSA Novices’ Chase has long been referred to as “The RSA” and is, along with the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the most valuable novice race on the calendar. The fences and the trip of three miles make this a searching examination for any novice chaser. Denman (2007), Bobs Worth (2012) and Lord Windermere (2013) all won the RSA before taking the biggest prize of all, the Gold Cup, the following year. Might Bite will seek to join that roll of honour this year.
Next up is the Coral Cup which is one of the Festival’s great handicap hurdles with as many as 26 runners going to post. Irish horses have won the last two renewals with Jessica Harrington’s Supasundae, who recently upset Faugheen in the Irish Champion Hurdle, taking victory at 16-1 last year.
After the Queen Mother Champion Chase is the Cross Country Chase which has been dominated by the Irish since its inception in 2005. Nina Carberry has ridden Enda Bolger-trained winners four times, all in the colours of JP McManus. Last year saw another victory for McNamara’s green and gold battalion with Cause of Causes completing a hat-trick of wins at the Festival.
The Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle follows and consists largely of horses not deemed good enough for Friday’s Triumph Hurdle. With such inexperienced horses, there is often an improver who has been treated leniently by the handicapper as in the case of Sanctuaire who fairly bolted up for Paul Nicholls back in 2010.
The final race of the day is the Champion Bumper which is another race Ireland fares particularly well in. It is the only race of the week without obstacles and up until recently, it was common to see top flat jockeys turn up for a ride. Jamie Spencer was the last to win it on board Pizarro in 2002. Florida Pearl and Cue Card are among the great horses to have won the Bumper with the latter obliging at odds of 40-1!
Queen Mother Champion Chase History
Inaugurated as the National Hunt Two-Mile Champion Chase in 1959, the most important steeplechase over the minimum trip was renamed in 1980 to celebrate the Queen Mother’s 80th birthday. She was an ardent supporter of jumps racing and a regular visitor to Cheltenham up until her death in 2002.
Badsworth Boy is the only three-time winner of the race, twice for Michael Dickinson before claiming his third success in 1985 when saddled by his mother Monica. There have been several dual winners with Moscow Flyer, Master Minded and Sprinter Sacre achieving doubles this century.
There was barely a dry eye in the house when Sprinter Sacre regained his crown in 2016, three years after his first success. Between those two victories, “The Black Aeroplane” had suffered from a heart defect with Nicky Henderson nursing him back to full health and eventually silencing the voices calling for him to be retired. Sprinter Sacre is one of several horses to have won the Arkle before following up in the Champion Chase 12 months later.
Tom Dreaper is the race’s most successful trainer with six victories including twice-winner Fortria and the great Flyingbolt. All of those wins were secured with Pat Taaffe in the saddle and he and Barry Geraghty head the jockeys standings.
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St Patrick’s Thursday
The Cheltenham Festival attracts thousands of visitors from across the Irish Sea and, with it taking place in the middle of March every year, the racecourse named a day after the Irish patron saint. Of course, St Patrick’s Day is on March 17th but what’s a couple of days? There’s certainly enough Guinness consumed and Irish cheering to justify the moniker. There was plenty of the latter last year as Ireland tallied 19 wins to run away with the BetBright Cup.
Gates open for St Patrick’s Day Thursday at 10.30am, with the first race at 1.30pm and the last race at 5.30pm.
The feature is the Stayers Hurdle which has reverted to its original name having been called the World Hurdle for several years for sponsorship reasons. Jedd O’Keeffe’s Sam Spinner and recent Irish Champion Hurdle winner Supasundae are battling for favouritism following the tragic fatal fall of reigning champion Nichols Canyon over Christmas. But after four unsuccessful tilts at the Champion Hurdle, can The New One return to winning ways at the Festival as he tries three miles for the first time?
The opener is the Golden Miller Novices’ Chase, better known as “The JLT” after its current sponsors, over two and a half miles. First, run in 2011, and controversial if you held the view that you needed a two-and-a-half mile horse to win the Arkle, it has become a useful race for those looking at potential Ryanair and Gold Cup horses. Sir Des Champs was second in the 2013 Gold Cup a year after winning the JLT, and Vautour followed up in the Ryanair after his JLT success of 2015. Sadly, we can only speculate as to whether Vautour would have one day triumphed in the Gold Cup.
Next up is another of those fiendishly difficult handicap hurdles in the form of the Pertemps Final. Taking place over three miles, it’s made up of horses who have qualified through the year and it’s not a race for favourite-backers. It’s also seen its fair share of dramatic finishes, not least when Fingal Bay got up under Richard Johnson to pip Daryl Jacob on Southfield Theatre in 2014.
The Ryanair Chase is considered by some to be a joint-feature race with the Stayers Hurdle on Thursday. It’s certainly seen its fair share of top-class horses but it’s often used as a stepping stone towards the Gold Cup the following year. Imperial Commander is the only horse to complete that particular double, claiming the Gold Cup in 2010. Former Arkle winner Un De Sceaux is favourite to retain his title and join Albertas Run who is presently the sole two-time victor in the Ryanair.
After the Stayers Hurdle comes to the Mildmay of Flete which is still occasionally known as the Byrne Group Plate after a previous sponsor. It is currently backed by Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable. Over two miles and five furlongs, it can throw up a decent horse as proved by last year’s winner Road To Respect who won the Grade 1 Leopardstown Christmas Chase for Noel Meade and is a Gold Cup contender this year.
Next is the newest addition to the Festival, the Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle sponsored presently by Trull House Stud. Willie Mullins, Susannah Ricci and Ruby Walsh have teamed up with the winner in both previous years – Limini and Let’s Dance 12 months ago – and Mullins has high hopes of completing the hat-trick with Laurina.
Day three ends with the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir which is a handicap chase over just shy of three and a quarter miles. With 24 runners set to line up, it’s another tricky puzzle to solve although the Pipes (son David picking up where father Martin left off) do have a decent record in the race. And then it’s onto Gold Cup day…
Stayers’ Hurdle History
The Stayers Hurdle is the newest of the four Championship races at the Festival, has become a permanent fixture in 1972. Three miles on the New Course is a real stamina test with non-stayers simply failing to get home up the hill.
While it is very much the leading long-distance hurdle of the year, it can be a home for failed chasers. That view was amplified by the race’s most successful horse Big Buck’s who had switched to staying hurdles after giving Sam Thomas no chance at the last in the 2008 Hennessy Gold Cup. Paul Nicholls’ charge won 18 hurdle races in a row after that unseat including four consecutive Stayers Hurdles. An injury forced him to miss the 2013 Festival and he finished down the field in 2014 before being retired.
Inglis Drever won three Stayers Hurdles in four years, all under different jockeys, with the last coming in 2008. On all three occasions, he came home like a train having dropped back alarmingly with a mile to go. Howard Johnson’s inmate suffered a leg injury in Newbury’s Long Distance Hurdle on the same day as Big Buck’s’ Hennessy blunder and was retired a couple of months later before suffering a terminal bout of colic the following October.
Baracouda was another great winner of the Stayers Hurdle with Thierry Doumen twice pushing out the stylish gelding to victory in a run of 14 wins from 15 races. Trained by Thierry’s father Francois, Baracouda was then runner-up twice in the Cheltenham showpiece behind Iris’s Gift and Inglis Drever.
The race has also been used as a stepping stone towards the top staying chases with Doran’s Pride and Thistlecrack among previous winners who moved on to success over the bigger obstacles.
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Cheltenham Gold Cup Day
While the entire Cheltenham Festival is a magnificent spectacle in every respect, proceedings really build toward its climax. The Gold Cup is the pinnacle of jumps racing and the ultimate test of horse and jockey with 22 fences and three miles and two and a half furlongs on Cheltenham’s New Course to be negotiated.
Gold Cup Day is on Friday 16th March with gates opening at 10.30am. The first race gets underway at 1.30pm with the last coming under starter’s orders at 5.30pm.
The clue is in the name with the Gold Cup the feature event of the day and of the week. Sizing John joined the roll of honour 12 months ago to give Jessica Harrington her first win in the big race and see the trophy travel across the Irish Sea for the third time in four years. But this year’s favourite is Nicky Henderson’s RSA Chase winner and King George hero Might Bite. Other contenders include Native River and Coney Island although Joseph O’Brien’s recent Irish Gold Cup winner Edwulf would be a most popular winner having lain collapsed for over an hour after last year’s National Hunt Chase.
While the Gold Cup dominates the final day of the Festival, there are plenty of other top-class races to enjoy. The Triumph Hurdle is the traditional opener on Gold Cup day and, while it isn’t the cavalry charge of old since the introduction of the Fred Winter, it is still a lively and competitive heat between the best juvenile (four-year-old) hurdlers. At two miles and one furlong on the New Course, this is something of a stamina test and horses who win this almost invariably step up in trip in later years. Katchit was the last horse to complete the Triumph-Champion Hurdle double in 2008 while more recent winner Zarkandar and Tiger Roll have gone on to success at longer trips with the latter winning the four-mile National Hunt Chase last year.
After that is the County Hurdle which for years was the closing race of the Festival and would often see punters trying to claw back their losses from the week. With a bumper field, now reduced to a maximum field of 26 runners, it was always a tricky race to try and get back in the black but there would often be a well-punted favourite. That still holds although no jolly has won since Paul Nicholls’ Desert Quest in 2006. Rooster Booster took victory for Philip Hobbs in 2002 before claiming the Champion Hurdle 12 months later. Willie Mullins has won four of the last eight renewals with stable stalwarts Thousand Stars, Wicklow Brave and last year’s victor Arctic Fire all obliging at 20-1 or bigger.
The Spa Novices’ Hurdle, more commonly known as “The Albert Bartlett” after its long-time sponsors, is a Grade 1 three-mile novice hurdle which was added to the Festival in 2005. Connections often have to choose between sending their horse to this race or the Neptune on Wednesday, although the Albert Bartlett is a much stiffer test of stamina taking place on the New Course. Weapon’s Amnesty (2009) and Bobs Worth (2011) both won this race before claiming the RSA Chase the following year with Bobs Worth then going on to land the Gold Cup.
While some spectators decide the end of the Gold Cup is the cue to head for the exit, many stay to watch the amateurs have a go at the same fences and distance in the Foxhunter Chase. It was won last year by Paul Nicholls’ Pacha du Polder under Bryony Frost who has enjoyed a number of big Saturday successes this season. A year previously, Olympic champion cyclist Victoria Pendleton had finished fifth on the horse after just a few months’ experience as a jockey. Pacha du Polder ended a run of six years of Irish dominance of the Foxhunters.
We’re very much in the closing stages now with the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle the penultimate race. The two-mile five-furlong contest is sometimes known as “The Boys’ Race” as it is restricted to jockeys who have ridden fewer than 75 winners and would normally have a weight allowance against fully-fledged riders. It is named after 15-time Champion Trainer Pipe who had 34 Cheltenham Festival triumphs. Pipe’s partnership with AP McCoy bore the most fruit and the pair teamed up with the novice Make A Stand to win the Champion Hurdle in 1997. Willie Mullins has won this race three times with Sir Des Champs (2011), Don Poli (2014) and Killultagh Vic (2015) all going on to enjoy success over fences.
The finale of the Cheltenham Festival is the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual which recently took the name of the racecourse’s former owner and father of Nicky Henderson, now the Festival’s most successful trainer. It is the oldest race having first been run in 1834 although it was discontinued in the 1860s only to be revived at the start of the 20th century. Henderson Junior has won it twice with Greenhope in 2006 and Bellvano under a typically canny Paul Carberry ride in 2012. Henrietta Knight’s Edredon Bleu won this race in 1998 before going on to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the King George with Pearlyman and Katabatic also completing the Grand Annual-Champion Chase double. And the punters still see it as the last opportunity to finish ahead for the week before either making their way into town for a celebratory/contemplative drink or starting the trip home.
Cheltenham Gold Cup History
The Cheltenham Gold Cup as we know it was first held in 1924 but it took a few years to knock the National Hunt Chase off its perch as the premier steeplechase at the Festival. There was a Cheltenham Gold Cup held as early as 1819 but it was a three-mile flat race held at nearby Cleeve Hill.
Some of the legends of jumps racing have won the Gold Cup, none greater than Arkle who claimed a hat-trick of victories in the mid-1960s. But Golden Miller is the most successful horse in the race’s history with five wins from 1932 to 1936 and he remains the only horse to win the Gold Cup and the Grand National in the same year (1934). Jenny Pitman’s Garrison Savannah came close to matching the feat in 1991, winning the Gold Cup before finishing runner-up to Seagram at Aintree.
Desert Orchid was the most popular winner in 1989 with the grey defying heavy ground and the Cheltenham track which had never really been to his liking. A year later came one of horse racing’s biggest upsets as 100-1 shot Norton’s Coin came home in front of Toby Tobias with Desert Orchid third.
Best Mate is the most recent three-time victor, securing the hat-trick in the rain in 2004. His handler Henrietta Knight was criticised for running him just a couple of times a season but she clearly knew what she was doing with ‘Matey’ always in A1 condition for the big day. Running in the colours of ardent Aston Villa fan Jim Lewis, Best Mate became another favourite of the Prestbury Park faithful. His death from a heart attack in November 2005 made front page news and his ashes were buried beside the winning post at Cheltenham a month later.
In recent years, the rivalry between Denman and Kauto Star garnered the attention of the wider sporting public. Denman produced, to quote commentator Richard Hoiles, a “relentless, remorseless” frontrunning display to seize the crown in 2008. But Kauto Star wrested it back the following year, becoming the first horse to regain the Gold Cup. Imperial Commander lowered their colours 12 months on before both ran mighty races behind Long Run in the 2011 edition. That was Denman’s last Cheltenham appearance but Kauto Star, after winning a record fifth King George, was pulled up in the 2012 Gold Cup. The 12-year-old received a warm ovation from the stands as Ruby Walsh rode him back to the stables.
With a prize fund of £625,000, only the Grand National is more lucrative on the jumps calendar. But more than that, the race is the jewel in the crown of the National Hunt season and attracts the best steeplechasers on the planet. With four wins, Paul Nicholls is one behind the record of five held by Arkle’s trainer Tom Dreaper. Arkle’s jockey Pat Taaffe leads the way with four victories.
Booking Tickets for the Cheltenham Festival 2018
Buying tickets directly from Cheltenham (cheltenham.thejockeyclub.co.uk) for the Festival is the easiest way to book with discounts available for purchasing well in advance. It’s certainly worth booking ahead for Gold Cup day which has sold out a month before the big day in recent years.
Tickets for the first three days are available on the day. Entry to the esteemed Club Enclosure costs £85 per person or £90 on the day, a Tattersalls Enclosure ticket will set you back £55 or £60 on the day, and the Best Mate Enclosure is available for £40, or £45 on the day.
The prices rise for Gold Cup day with a Club ticket costing £110 (£120 in the unlikely event of availability on the day), Tatts £75 (£80 on the day) and the Best Mate £60 (£65 on the day).
Group discounts are available direct from the Racecourse on Tattersalls and Best Mate tickets when 15 or more tickets are purchased in advance in one transaction.
How to Bet at The Cheltenham Festival 2018
Racing and betting go hand-in-hand, especially at Cheltenham. There are many different ways to place your bets in the modern era, so here is a guide to the best ways to stake your money on the forthcoming Cheltenham Festival.
Different Types of Bets
The first category of bets that can be placed on the Cheltenham Festival relates to a single result, achieved by a single horse, in a single race. Bookmakers offer three different types of a bet of this nature, which are as follows.
- Win – this quite simply involves a single stake, and backing a horse to win. Punters receive their stake back, and their stake multiplied by the odds, should their horse come in first. Any other result is worthless to the punter.
- Place – a place bet can see a return for a punter if their selection finishes first or within a certain number of places within the field. This latter number usually varies depending on the size of the field.
- Each-way – this works very similarly to a place bet, except that it requires a combination of win and place bets of equal size. Bookmakers will pay a proportion of a horse’s starting price for a place, which is usually set by bookmakers at 1/4 or 1/5.
- The next category of bets are slightly more complicated, and considerably less likely to come off. Professional punters tend to veer away from these particular bets, as they do not offer much hope of victory. Conversely, it is possible to win a lot of money via some of these with a small stake; hence the fact that newspaper headlines often focus on punters who have won astronomical amounts of money with an accumulator.
- Double – a double involves betting on the outcome of two races. The punter only receives a return from the bet if both results are predicted correctly. What types of bet are allowed in this double can vary greatly from bookmaker to bookmaker, but one can be certain that the bookies monitor this extremely carefully.
- Treble – is extremely similar to a double, except that it involves three races.
- Accumulator – this is another type of bet in which all selections must win in order for the punter to receive a return. Unlike doubles and trebles, there is no theoretical limit on the number of events that this can be spread over. Thus, punters will often take 10 or 12 football results in an accumulator as an example of low odd selections. Realistically, bookmakers are likely to place limits on this as they could conceivably leave themselves open to a monstrous payout. Of course, the chances of pulling off a major accumulator are relatively slim.
Another major category of betting is the so-called ‘full cover bets’. These consist of all possible doubles, trebles and accumulators across a given number of selections. These can be quite complex, or sound quite complex in theory, but are a little more forgiving than accumulators. This category of bets comes in many shapes and sizes, so here are a few common examples.
- Trixie – this is a wager on three selections which consist of four separate bets: three doubles and a treble.
- Yankee – this is a wager on four selections and consists of 11 separate bets: six doubles, four trebles and a fourfold accumulator.
- Super Yankee – this is a wager on five selections and consists of 26 separate bets as 10 doubles, 10 trebles, five fourfolds and a fivefold accumulator.
Finally, it is also possible to make forecast or exacta bets, which involve forecasting the order of finishers within a particular race. There are many options available for this type of bet, so it is advisable to check with a bookmaker before placing such a stake.
How You Can Bet on the Cheltenham Festival 2018
If you are attending the Festival itself, there are a huge number of bookmakers based on course. These are based trackside, and also many of the major high street bookmakers have outlets at the Festival.
It is also worth bearing in mind that high street and online bookmakers often offer better odds than on-course bookies.
When You Can Bet
There are no particular hourly restrictions on betting in the United Kingdom, so bets can be placed online at one’s leisure. Obviously, on-course bookmakers will only be available from the time that the gates open until closing time, which is roughly speaking around 10.30am to 5:30 pm. There are, of course, restrictions on age with no-one aged under 18 legally allowed to place a bet.
How to Collect Your Winnings
Collecting winnings on course is extremely easy; simply retain your ticket and progress to the bookmaker in question at some point during the Festival. If you haven’t used an on-course bookmaker and have instead utilised a high street vendor then it is always possible to simply go into your local bookmaker at any time and claim your winnings.
Online Betting Options
Online betting on the Cheltenham Festival will undoubtedly be very popular, as the number of bookmakers on the Internet has grown exponentially in recent years. Online gambling has become massive, and it is probably the best way to gamble in the modern era, even if it perhaps doesn’t share the romanticism of placing your stake and collecting your winnings at the course.
There are numerous bookmakers online offering horse racing odds across both desktop and mobile devices. Always look for a Best Odds Guaranteed price promise in order to ensure you get the best value for your bets and it is also worthwhile to check out betting exchanges to determine the market value on the horses you wish to back. Additionally, price comparison sites such as Oddschecker are a very useful resource which enables you to identify the best price available for your particular bet.
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The Cheltenham Festival is a magnificent sporting occasion, but it also offers fantastic socialising opportunities. In many ways, the event is the ideal corporate occasion for entertaining special guests very much in line with a Lord’s Test match or Wimbledon. Enjoying the hospitality at the Festival need not be prohibitively expensive if you take all of the options into consideration. There are in fact a large amount of on-course options whether you’re looking for a private box, or simply want to dine at one of the Cheltenham racecourse restaurants.
Private Box Packages
The Cheltenham Festival has established a reputation for being the home of National Hunt racing, and the course does everything possible to attract corporate clients as well as everyday punters. With this in mind, there are a variety of options available for people looking for a more private way to enjoy the festival with clients or possibly just friends and acquaintances.
Long Run Boxes
Named after the 2011 Gold Cup hero, these boxes with balconies are only available for the Festival. Offering a breathtaking panoramic view of the course, they are in understandably high demand across the four days. The Long Run boxes accommodate between 24 and 40 guests for lunch on the first three days, and shared tables of 10 on Gold Cup day.
Parade Ring Viewing Boxes
Overlooking the paddock and adjacent to the Members’ Lawn and Guinness Grandstand, these chalet balconies are perfect for watching horses leave and victorious connections return to the Winner’s Enclosure. Each box accommodates up to 32 guests for lunch.
Cheltenham also has a wide variety of private boxes with facilities to suit a wide range of budgets, catering for between 10 and 30 guests. Each race day package includes morning coffee and biscuits, a four-course meal or finger buffet, and afternoon tea. And of course the best view in the house at the pinnacle of National Hunt racing.
Food and Drink Establishments at Cheltenham Racecourse
Aside from the corporate packages available at the Festival, there are also a wide variety of eateries to suit every taste. The restaurants contained on-course are as follows.
Moscow Flyer Restaurant
This is very much a traditional restaurant, located next to the Hall of Fame, and always an interesting point of historical reference for racegoers.
The Festival Restaurant
This particular establishment has the feel of upmarket bistro and is very popular throughout the duration of the Festival.
Horseshoe Pavilion Restaurant
This is very much regarded as the premier restaurant within Cheltenham’s Tented Village and offers outstanding hospitality and food. If you want good lunch, an all-inclusive bar and a base for the day then this is the place.
Champions Walk Restaurant
This is a unique establishment as it offers punters and diners the opportunity to watch horses leave the parade ring and, for the victor, return to the Winner’s Enclosure. Combines superb views with a more flexible dining experience.
Only available during the Festival, the Cleeve Suite overlooks the course near the penultimate fence. Opened in 2016, it is the perfect choice for entertaining clients. The day package includes champagne on arrival, a four-course set lunch, afternoon tea and complimentary drinks.
Final Fence Restaurant
This establishment provides a viewing balcony at the very heart of the Cheltenham action, along with convenient access to a viewing area for the course. It is also located within easy reach of both the Tented Village and Parade Ring and you will get a great sight of the drama unfold at the last flight.
Gold Cup Restaurant
The Gold Cup Restaurant, situated just off the Hall of Fame, does not offer a view of the course but it provides direct access to the See You Then Terrace and is a quick walk to the Parade Ring. A three-course buffet and afternoon tea are the order of the day.
Chez Roux at Cheltenham
The esteemed chef Albert Roux offers diners the opportunity to taste some of the most exquisite cuisines in the country at the Chez Roux at Cheltenham establishment. A variety of stunning dishes to savour make this an unmissable experience for Cheltenham racegoers who have a taste for the high life.
Paddock View Restaurant
Like the Horseshoe Pavilion, this offers a great base for the day but is for those who prefer their lunch slightly away from the madding crowd. With easy access to the Parade Ring, the Paddock View Restaurant is only available during the Festival and delivers hearty fare with a four-course carvery buffet lunch followed by afternoon tea. Unlike the Horseshoe Pavilion, drinks are not included in the package.
This spectacular restaurant overlooks the winning post from the fifth floor of the Grandstand. This is the creme de la creme of racecourse experiences with a five-course a la carte menu to match an unparalleled view of the action.
Sizing John Restaurant
Named after the most recent Gold Cup winner, this is located next to the Guinness Village and perfect for those who want to soak up the atmosphere. The package includes a champagne reception, a four-course set lunch, afternoon tea and a complimentary bar.
Theatre@ The Festival
On the third floor of Cheltenham’s premium course-facing suites, this new restaurant offers excellent views of the closing stages as well as superb Asian Fusion food.
Virtually all restaurants located at Cheltenham will offer special packages to diners during the festival. However, it must be stated that the availability of these can vary, as they sell out very quickly indeed. If you are serious about dining at Cheltenham, your best bet is to contact the racecourse as quickly as possible in order to book your table.
Examples of possible packages available at Cheltenham are as follows:
• Champions Walk Package, £480 per person (£600 on Gold Cup day).
• Horseshoe Pavilion Package, £435 per person (£560 on Gold Cup day).
• Gold Cup Restaurant Package, £455 per person (£575 on Gold Cup day).
• Chez Roux at Cheltenham, £770 per person (sold out on Gold Cup day).
All packages at the Festival vary significantly, and thus you should contact the racecourse to establish precisely what is offered for your money. It is also possible to book through third-parties.
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Cheltenham Festival – Racecourse Rules, Regulations and Facilities
Here is a rundown of all the rules, regulations and facilities related to the Cheltenham Festival.
There is no official dress code for the Cheltenham Festival. However, entry to certain parts of the grounds such as the Club Enclosure may be refused if someone is deemed to be dressed inappropriately. Fancy dress is permitted at the Cheltenham Festival, as long as the outfit is not deemed offensive. The organisers of the festival naturally retain the right to decline entry into Cheltenham at their discretion.
There is a certain amount of parking available at the Cheltenham Festival, although it is highly debatable as to whether it is advisable to drive there. One can expect a considerable wait when leaving the Festival should from one of the main car parks. Nonetheless, parking can be purchased in advance via the Cheltenham Festival call centre at the price of £12 per day. Car parking on the day costs £20. Although media related to the Festival states that there is plenty of parking space, it is by no means inconceivable that all car parks could fill up completely.
The Cheltenham Festival is intended to be accessible for racegoers of all levels of physical ability, including the elderly, those with young children or people with disabilities. It is also possible to make special arrangements for particular circumstances with the festival in advance. E-mails should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. There is a map with locations of all disabled facilities contained within the links section on this website for the Cheltenham Festival.
Cheltenham racecourse opened a new £45 million grandstand, the Princess Royal Stand, in November 2015. Together with additional bars and development, the place certainly feels less cramped than it did in previous years and the racegoer experience is better than ever. Facilities and access for disabled and less able-bodied attendees have also been improved.
Hearing loops are available on the viewing steps of the Tattersalls Grandstand in order to enhance the commentary experience for those individuals who utilise hearing aids.
Cheltenham operates a pro-guide dogs policy, merely stipulating that all such animals must be kept on a lead at all times while visiting the racecourse.
First Aid Points
The Cheltenham racecourse has recently opened a new First Aid Centre, which only became active very recently. This is situated above the Pre Parade Ring behind the Paddock Bar & Terrace, but members of staff are all briefed in health & safety issues and will be able to clearly direct you to this area upon request.
The Cheltenham Mobility is intended to assist those people who would otherwise struggle to travel from the car parks and public transport drop-off points unaided. The Cheltenham Mobility service offers mobility scooters, wheelchairs and perch stools for hire on race days. Additionally, the racecourse also offers a golf buggy service. Each of these services can be booked beforehand, and there are further links related to this in the links section of this website.
Cheltenham is a fantastic place to stay, not merely because of the Cheltenham Festival, but also because the Cotswolds are on your doorstep. There is a wide variety of both traditional and modern accommodation available, and attending the Cheltenham Festival can be very much a memorable cultural experience.
Many hotels, guesthouses and bed and breakfast establishments offer race day packages throughout the Cheltenham Festival, which can often include tickets to the racing itself. It is therefore well worth shopping around when booking accommodation, as there are some excellent deals to be found for the thrifty among us.
Five-star accommodation is available at No. 131, Cheltenham Spa, No. 38 The Park, Cheltenham Spa and The Howard Arms, Ilmington. There is also a raft of three and four-star accommodation to suit every conceivable budget and taste, so finding something that is particularly correlated with your personal circumstances should not be difficult.
Cheltenham Festival Home Page: http://www.cheltenham.co.uk/
Cheltenham Festival Ticket Search: https://cheltenhamtickets.thejockeyclub.co.uk/
Dining and Hospitality Packages at Cheltenham: http://cheltenham.thejockeyclub.co.uk/events-tickets/whats-on/
Cheltenham Festival History: http://www.cheltenhamfestival.net/category/cheltenham-festival-history/
Cheltenham Racecourse Map: http://cheltenham.thejockeyclub.co.uk/plan-your-race-day/visitor-information/racecourse-map