Excitement Building for March’s Cheltenham Festival
Horse racing fans all over the world, from diehards to casuals, are starting to get excited about this year’s Cheltenham festival, which is due to take place in March. The four-day festival is one of the UK’s oldest institutions, famous for elite level races such as the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Champion Hurdle, the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Stayer’s Hurdle. It’s famous for its raucous atmosphere with fans on the grandstand generating an impactful sound known as the “Cheltenham Roar” on the first day. As well as following extensive coverage on the TV, radio and internet, Fans watching from home can also join the fun, with many following expert racing analysis from sites like oddschecker and backing potential winners. There can be up to 30 races, all of varying distances and formats, so there are always plenty of events to follow.
The Champion Hurdle
Without doubt the highlight of day one of The Festival is the Champion Hurdle, arguably the most popular hurdle race of the year. First run in 1927, there is a long history of entertaining contests with many legendary runners making a name for themselves in the traditional curtain raiser. Since its inauguration, its format has largely remained the same, with the biggest difference being seen in the number of runners.
The first ever Champion Hurdle was contested by just four runners and numbers have fluctuated since then, peaking at 24 in 1964 and 1991. It is the final leg of the Triple Crown of Hurdling which also includes the Fighting Fifth Hurdle held at Newcastle in November and the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day. Last year’s winner, Henry de Bromhead trained Honeysuckle, is the favourite for this year’s race, with Grand National winning jockey Rachael Blackmore expected to team up with her again. Despite the difficulty of this race there have been 15 multiple winners in previous years, so both jockey and trainer will be quietly confident of retaining their crown.
The Queen Mother Champion Chase
The feature race of day two at Cheltenham is the Queen Mother Champion Chase, a no frills, two-mile race to the post, perfect for thrill seekers who enjoy highspeed races. Launched in 1959 as the “National Hunt Two-Mile Champion Chase, its name was changed as an 80th birthday present to the Queen Mother who was a huge racing fan and successful owner. Last year’s Champion Chase was won by Put The Kettle on, another from Henry de Bromhead’s stable, who was ridden to victory by Aidan Coleman, beating a field of 9. However she is seen as nothing more than an outsider for this year’s race, with the likes of Nube Negra, Greaneteen and Envoi Allen all more fancied having performed well so far this season.
The main event of day three, the Stayers Hurdle, is seen as the definitive test for jumpers with twelve jumps to conquer over three miles. It is the most prestigious long-distance hurdle race in the National Hunt calendar, although it was only added to The Festival in its current format in 1972. With so many jumps over such a long distance, the Stayer’s Hurdle is famous for shock wins, last years winner Flooring Porter was a massive outsider at 12/1, while Lisnagar Oscar’s win in 2020 from 50/1 was an even bigger surprise.
Cheltenham Gold Cup
The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the marquee event of the whole festival. It is a steeplechase open to horses aged five and above, run over 3 miles and 2 ½ furlongs with 22 fences to tackle. It was originally a flat race when it was run for the first time in 1819, before the jumps were added in 1924. It is the worlds most famous steeple chase both because of its difficulty and the prize money at stake. This year’s prize for first place is £625,00, a considerable increase on last year’s total, which was won by De Bromhead-trained Minella Indo and Jack Kennedy. However, they are only fourth favourites this time round, with the likes of Royal Pagaille and last year’s runner-up, A Plus Tard, expected to be the frontrunners.