The History of Cheltenham Festival
Although the National Hunt has met on Cheltenham’s hills since around 1818, it has now been over a century since the event was first held at Prestbury Park in 1911, when it became known as the Cheltenham Festival.
The racecourse is located in the scenic Cotswolds just outside Cheltenham in Gloucestershire, and has been expanded over the years to cope with the growing interest in horse racing. Prestbury Park can now hold almost 70,000 spectators in its three grandstands; fortunate, as the Festival has become one of the most popular UK sporting events of the year.
Since 1911, horse racing fans from across the UK and Ireland have congregated at Cheltenham in March. The Festival started out as a three-day event, and when the Cheltenham Gold Cup was established in 1924 it became the highlight of the races. The Champion Hurdle began three years later, with the addition of the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 1959 and the Stayers Hurdle in 1972. In 2005, the Cheltenham Festival was extended to include a fourth day of racing, with a feature race on each day. The Gold Cup, as one of the most challenging chases and biggest prizes of the season, forms the climax of the Festival on the Friday.
Over the years, plenty of famous horses have made their name at the Cheltenham races including Kauto Star, Arkle and Best Mate, who gave his name to the newest grandstand at Prestbury. Furthermore, the rider who has won the most races during the four days of the Festival wins the coveted title of Top Jockey; dominated in recent years by Ruby Walsh, the Irish jockey who has ridden 30 Cheltenham winners including a record-breaking seven in 2009. He was beaten to the 2012 prize by Barry Geraghty, who won five races to take the crown he first won in 2003.
Cheltenham Festival 2013
The Cheltenham Festival, also known as the National Hunt Meeting, is one of the biggest and most popular events in the horse racing calendar. Taking place in mid March, the event coincides with St Patrick’s Day, therefore proving popular with Irish horse racing fans and resulting in vast quantities of Guinness being consumed.
Cheltenham Festival events see horses competing over courses of set lengths, featuring a range of hurdles and fences of varying difficulties. Friday’s Gold Cup event at Cheltenham – sponsored by Betfred – is regarded as the pinnacle of jump racing, alongside the Aintree Grand National.
However, the Gold Cup is just one of around 28 races that take place at the Cheltenham Festival. Cheltenham 2013 will run from the 12th to the 15th of March, and includes Champion Day, Ladies Day, St Patrick’s Thursday, and Cheltenham Gold Cup day – widely regarded as the climax of the jump racing season. Each day features a championship as well as six other races, including events for novices, juveniles or mares, and races sponsored by companies or charities. These can of course be flat races or Bumpers (with no obstacles), hurdles (with jumps of at least 3.5 feet) or chases (where the jumps are 4.5 feet or more).
Cheltenham races can be run on the Old Course, the slightly trickier New Course, or the Cross Country Steeplechase course; however, all three finish with a straight run that passes right in front of the grandstands, giving fans at the 2013 Cheltenham Festival a stunning view of the action.