There are many big racing meetings and festivals scattered throughout the year, both on British and foreign shores. However if you hear a racing fan speak of the festival, it will be the Cheltenham Festival to which they refer.
The Cheltenham Festival really is THE festival for all racing fans and there’s simply nothing else quite like it. From the famous “Cheltenham roar” which accompanies the opening race, through to the conclusion of the last of the 27 contests, the excitement, the tension and the drama is relentless.
Cheltenham Festival Day One Overview
The Cheltenham Festival opens with the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. The race has existed in one form or another since way back in 1946 but was given its current title in 1978. The most promising of the newcomers to the hurdling game tackle eight flights of hurdles over a trip of two miles and half a furlong. The crowd generating the famous roar which accompanies the start of this race invariably has a large Irish contingent. A lot of the Irish will still be cheering come the finish line, horses from the Emerald Isle often take home the first prize of the festival. The great Vincent O’Brien won this 10 times and the history of the race is peppered with Irish successes. It is worth keeping a close eye on this race with respect to Festivals of the future. The likes of Brave Inca, Binocular and Kicking King all made their first festival appearances in this race, as did Henrietta Knight’s superstar, Best Mate.
The top chasing prospects enter the fray for the second race on the opening day as they compete for the Arkle Trophy. The race is named after one of the greatest jumps horses to ever set foot on the track. The mighty Arkle won the Cheltenham Gold Cup three times during his spectacular career. There is no hanging around here in a race which is run over of a trip of two miles and features 13 fences. An ability to jump accurately at speed is key to success, and keep an eye on any French-bred horses as they have done very well over the years. Front runners on the other hand have fared poorly – it’s difficult to judge a race correctly from the front whilst still saving enough for the punishing run up the Cheltenham hill to the finish line. Few have managed to pull this off. Several graduates of this race have gone on to take the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Festival in subsequent years including the likes of Moscow Flyer and Sprinter Scare.
The first handicap event of the festival precedes what is the main event of Day One: the Champion Hurdle. The best of the best in the hurdling ranks invariably arrive at the top of their game, in pursuit of the highest accolade awarded to competitors over the smaller obstacles. The top trainers will all have carefully plotted the campaign of their hurdling stars, with the aim of taking home this big prize.
In common with the opening race of the day, the trip is two miles and half a furlong with eight hurdles to be negotiated. One notable aspect of this race is the number of multiple winners over the years. Pay close attention to the chances of the winner of the previous year’s race, whilst any previous winning or placed Festival form on a horse’s CV is also worthy of note. In addition it pays to concentrate on the more experienced runners, those aged six years and upwards have a far better record than the younger horses. Amongst the superstars of yesteryear to have triumphed here on more than one occasion are Istabraq, See You Then, Bula and Sea Pigeon. The brilliant mare Dawn Run also won this race prior to becoming the first mare to land the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
A mare’s hurdle, national hunt chase and a novice handicap chase wrap up the action on the opening day. Racing fans have time to collect their thoughts before moving on to the next enthralling day of entertainment.
For more details about the individual races on the open day, see our Cheltenham Festival Day One Betting Guide.
Cheltenham Festival Day Two Overview
We again open proceedings with a novice hurdle event. The Neptune Novices’ Hurdle provides a contest for those novice hurdlers seeking a greater test of stamina. The race is run over a trip of two miles and five furlongs and features 10 flights of hurdles.
When looking at this race, focus on horses towards the head of the market as shocks are rare. The field is generally made up of younger horses, winners over the age of six are few and far between. Other races at the festival seem to favour horses who have been lightly raced, that isn’t the case here. Race fitness should be taken as a positive, so take particular note of those horses who finished first or second last time out and come into the race battle-hardened as a result of running regularly.
Another point worthy of note is that those horses who started out in bumper races fare significantly better than those making the switch from flat racing. Istabraq won his first race at the Festival in this one, whilst future dual Champion Hurdle winner Hardy Eustace also took home the prize.
Another race for novices is up next and this one’s a real test; the RSA Chase. Three miles and half a furlong is the trip with nineteen fences to be jumped. Staying and jumping ability are thoroughly examined and some really talented individuals have won this over the years. Arkle, Denman and Bobs Worth are amongst the high class performers to have emerged victorious in this race before later rubber stamping their class by winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
When looking to narrow the field the first step should be to focus solely on those horses aged seven or eight as they have dominated the race over the years. The stern challenge this race imposes also makes it necessary to have had a recent race. Any horse not to have run in the previous three months is up against it when viewing the stats. When looking further back through the form, those horses who were contesting novice hurdles in the previous season, but have quickly progressed to the chasing ranks have an excellent record.
The next race on the card is the Coral Cup which is often one of the most anticipated handicap races of the Festival. This is swiftly followed by the Queen Mother Champion Chase which is the highlight of the second day. This is the race connections of the best middle distance chasers covet above all others. Run over a trip of two miles and featuring 12 stiff fences, course form is worth its weight in gold. A two mile chase at Cheltenham is a unique test and runners must truly stay the trip. Any course and distance winner in the field must immediately go on the shortlist, along with horses to have won or run well in the previous season’s Arkle.
Chasers to have performed in the Tingle Creek at Sandown en route to Cheltenham also often do well. This is another of the championship events to have seen a spate of multiple winners over the years. Overall this usually goes to one of the more fancied runners who have been relatively lightly campaigned. Famous previous winners include Crisp, Viking Flagship, Moscow Flyer and Master Minded.
The action on Day Two continues with a cross country chase, followed by a handicap hurdle for four-year-olds. The only flat race of the week, the Champion Bumper, ends the day.
For more information about the individual races, see our Cheltenham Festival Day Two Betting Guide.
Cheltenham Festival Day Three Overview
Day Three of the Cheltenham Festival opens with one of the newer races at the meeting. The JLT Novices’ Chase was only introduced to the schedule in 2011 and it has proved to be a popular addition. Run over two and a half miles, the race offers a route into the Festival for those novices whose best trip falls somewhere between the two miles of the Arkle and the three miles plus of the RSA Chase. A high class hurdler from the previous season seems to be a good place to start when seeking out the winner, providing they have already shown signs of translating this ability to the larger obstacles.
General trends for the Festival’s chase races should also be considered when looking through the runners, namely sticking to those in the seven to eight-year-old age bracket, with course form again given utmost respect. The Dipper Chase, run over a slightly longer trip over the course on New Year’s Day, offers a good trial for this race.
The second race on the card is the Pertemps Final which gives the handicap hurdlers a chance to shine. Hot on the heels of this race is another relative newcomer to the Cheltenham scene.
The Ryanair Chase joined the Festival party in 2005 and quickly became one of the highlights of the third day. Any chaser of five years or older is free to tackle the two miles and five furlongs trip, age proving no barrier to success for the likes of Fondmort, Our Vic and Albertas Run who all took this race at the age of 10.
A horse with a touch of class and the requisite toughness to see out the punishing home straight is what is required here. Look for horses who like to race up with pace and have copper-bottomed stamina. The King George VI run at Kempton on Boxing Day offers a good preparation for this contest.
The Grade One action continues with the fourth race of the day, the Stayers’ Hurdle (previously the World Hurdle). This is the championship event for the season’s staying hurdlers and is the feature of Day Three at Cheltenham.
The contest has provided some truly memorable moments from some outstanding horses over the years. Brilliant winners include Barracouda (twice), Inglis Drever (three times) and the legendary Big Buck’s (on four occasions).
It’s best to swerve front runners in this race. Trying to make the running over this distance at such a challenging track has proved a bridge too far for many a talented horse over the years.
The most important form indicators come from previous runs at the Cheltenham Festival or good efforts in either the Long Walk Hurdle or the Cleeve Hurdle. Form tends to hold up to a large degree, resulting in those towards the head of the betting market fighting out the finish more often than not.
Two intriguing handicap chases round off the card on Day Three. The first of which is a Grade Three contest, whilst the final race of the day is restricted to amateur riders.
For more details and info about the individual races on the penultimate day of the Festival, see our Cheltenham Festival Day Three Betting Guide.
Cheltenham Festival Day Four Overview
The first of seven races contested on the final day of action at the Cheltenham Festival is the Triumph Hurdle. The race is restricted to four-year-old novice hurdlers and is run over a trip of two miles and one furlong. Since its introduction to the festival in 1968 the race has become a primary target for the best first season hurdlers. Winners of the race don’t always go on to maintain their superiority in their subsequent career, Katchit and Persian War are two of a rare breed to have followed up with a win in the Champion Hurdle itself.
Due to the age of the horses there isn’t as much previous form on which to base a selection. It is nevertheless best to stick with horses that have demonstrated a high level of ability in their careers to date. A flat rating of 80 or above or a hurdle rating of at least 135 gives a horse a fair chance of success.
The second race of the day is the County Hurdle, a handicap event that is run over two miles one furlong. This is swiftly followed by the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. This three mile event is another to have entered the fray in 2005 and attracts the younger stayers who are perhaps not yet deemed ready for the challenge of a World Hurdle. High on the list of success factors for this race are having run well over this trip and experience of the course. Those with a preference for racing up with the pace should also be given extra credit as hold up performers often struggle to land a blow. Victory in this race can be a good pointer to future festival success. Weapons Amnesty won the RSA the year after taking this, whilst Bobs Worth went on to win the biggest one of them all, the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The next race up is the big one, not just of Day Four but of the Festival as a whole. For many, the Cheltenham Gold Cup is in fact the highlight of the whole racing year. The Grand National may provide a unique spectacle but in terms of quality jumps racing, it is this race which sits atop the pile.
A race steeped in history having been first run back in 1924, the list of previous winners is littered with jumping legends. Golden Miller, Arkle, Dawn Run, Desert Orchid, Best Mate and Kauto Star are all horses who achieved popularity on a national scale. A large part of this acclaim can be attributed to their remarkable feats in this race. This truly is the race in which history and lasting memories are made.
It takes a rare mix of class, heart, stamina and jumping ability for a horse to prove themselves the best staying chaser in training and be awarded the famous Gold Cup. Three miles and two and a half furlongs with 22 fences provide the most thorough of examinations. Experience is important when looking at this race, the vast majority of winners having had at least six chase starts. In terms of age those in the seven to nine years of age bracket tend to fair best and winners have generally demonstrated their class by previously winning at least one Grade One contest. The King George VI is particularly useful when looking for pointers ahead of this race. If you only watch one race at the Festival, make it this one as it offers one of the most exciting and dramatic sporting spectacles of the year.
The Gold Cup may be over and done but the action continues with three more races on the final day. The Foxhunter Chase is next and gives the amateur riders a chance to tackle the Gold Cup course. The penultimate race is an event for conditional jockeys before the Grand Annual closes the meeting. Then it’s all over… until next year.
For more details about the individual races on the final day, see our Cheltenham Festival Day Four Betting Guide.