The Cheltenham Festival highlights the Jump Horse Racing calendar, spanning four days and featuring 28 races. British and Irish-trained horses and jockeys battle it out for the winning title on the outskirts of this beautiful spa town.
This Festival attracts over 260,000 people annually to soak up this captivating spectacle’s atmosphere. In 2019 it was a record-holding year for the number of visitors – 266,799 visitors enjoyed the event.
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The Great Cheltenham Festival
The Cheltenham Festival dates back to 1860, originally called the Grand National Hunt Meeting, held at various venues.
Then with an enlarged paddock and a new stand, Cheltenham became a permanent venue for the meeting from 1911.
The Festival includes multiple championship races over the 4 days of the event. These races date back to the 20th century and include The World Hurdle (1912), The Gold Cup (1924), The Champion Hurdle (1927), and the Queen Mother Champion Chase (1959).
In recent years, the most prolific jockeys have included Tony McCoy, who has retired and been knighted, and more recently, fellow Irishman and race TV ambassador Ruby Walsh. Partnered with trainers like Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins, Walsh has won this championship eleven times since 2004 and celebrated with a record of seven wins in 2016, more than any other player who rode before him.
The Early Days
Under Frederick Cathcart’s leadership, the meeting grew greatly in importance, and due to such popularity, it extended from two days to three in 1923.
The following year a three-mile level weight steeplechase called The Cheltenham was introduced. The Gold Cup was followed in 1927 by The Champion Hurdle.
When Frederick Cathcart died in 1934, at the age of 74, his notice of death in a newspaper Sporting Life stated: “He was untiring in his efforts to increase the popularity and public appeal of the races with which he was associated. Much of the success of the Cheltenham chase was due to Mr. Cathcart’s energy and enterprise.”
All NH Meetings needed was a star to project its appeal to a wider audience who would buy Cheltenham tickets in droves.
Golden Miller has filled many vacancies by winning the Gold Cup five times in the 1930s for becoming the sport’s first household name. The first of these victories came in 1932 at just five.
The next one followed in 1934 when, at seven, he won both the Gold Cup and the Grand National in the same season – a record never equalled before or since.
His Gold Cup winning streak (1932-1936) might have been even better had the 1937 renewal not been lost to weather. Golden Miller retired in 1939 with 28 wins from 52 races.
The Modern Era
The event has continued to gain prominence in the racing calendar both in terms of entertainment and betting tips. And it is now widely recognized as one of Britain’s premier sporting events, alongside Wimbledon, the British Open, the British Grand Prix, and the FA Cup Final.
The Dickinson Famous Five and Dawn Run’s landing of the Champion Hurdle/Gold Cup double catapulted the Festival to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness in the 1980s, a decade that culminated in Desert Orchid’s triumph in conditions that only Cheltenham can handle.
Istabraq and then Best Mate were the horses that brought the next generation to own the Festival before Kauto Star became the first Cheltenham Gold Cup Champion to win the title in 2007 and 2009.
This Festival is the biggest single event in the county, generating an estimated £50m for local hotels, shops, pubs, and clubs. In 2005, the first four-day Festival was held, with six races each day. A new 3m7f Cross Country Chase has been added to Tuesday’s card, which still features the Champion Hurdle.
Wednesday’s highlight has remained as the Queen Mother Champion Chase, but the Stayers Hurdle is now the highlight of every Thursday’s card. Friday is Gold Cup day, and the first four-day Festival was undoubtedly a huge success, and the format was retained in 2006 and looked set to stay and continue.
The build-up to Cheltenham now dominates the entire jumps season with every proper race after the turn of the year seen as some form of festival trial.
Some have argued that this harms other top-class races, which are prestigious events in their own right. However, any downside is certainly outweighed by the increased interest in the Festival, which has broadened the appeal of national hunting competitions on a global level and brought thousands of new enthusiasts to the festival.
It also provides the climax and focus that the Flat season lacks very much. Attendance has also grown yearly, with crowds easily exceeding 200,000 throughout the meeting.
If we combine this with those watching on TV, listening to the radio, and watching live online broadcasts – which you can read more about in our Cheltenham Festival 2022 guide – then you have in front of you, no doubt one of the most anticipated racing spectacles in the world.
The quality of entrants in each race is first class, and the event seems to have a more international flavor each year. Runners from France, Eastern Europe (especially in the Cross Country Chase), and Germany are becoming more common and enjoying considerable success.
The Cheltenham festival is undoubtedly the most prestigious festive sports event throughout England, if not the world.
It has a great heritage and an old name and glory to preserve. With investments made by the government and renowned interest from the people, it is no surprise that this Festival is flourishing yearly and will do so even more in times ahead.