Renowned for its unrivalled jump racing action in the picturesque Gloucestershire countryside – the Cheltenham Festival undoubtedly represents the pinnacle of National Hunt Horse Racing in the UK.
The magnificent four-day event succeeds in attracting the very finest horses year-in-year-out along with some of the most decorated jockeys in the business all vying to compete for the ultimate sporting accolades. Avid racegoers can indeed relish an experience unrivalled by most, with the feature races, including the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Queen Mother Champion Chase, certain to catch the eye.
Owners and trainers long dream of entering runners in races at Cheltenham, which has only made its elite status more prominent. Year on year the four-day bonanza increases in popularity, with record crowds of over 71,500 in attendance during Gold Cup Day in 2020.
Proceedings kick off in style with Champion Day, a fixture boasting four Grade One races. The day opens with the exciting Supreme Novices Hurdle, which has seen the likes of Vautour, Douvan and Brave Inca reign victorious.
The showcase of the opening day, however, is undoubtedly the Champion Hurdle. The premier two-mile hurdle is globally recognised as one of the National Hunt’s most prominent spectacles and has seen a superb selection of legendary victors, including Istabraq, Hurricane Fly and Sea Pigeon.
2021 saw Rachael Blackmore become the first female jockey to claim Champion Hurdle victory on the incredible Honeysuckle and who knows what records will be broken in 2022!
Quite simply one of the best jockeys in the business
Another Grade 1 win for the brilliant @rachaelblackmor
— CheltenhamRacecourse (@CheltenhamRaces) March 16, 2021
Other major races on day one include the Arkle Challenge Trophy, the Ultima Handicap Chase and the National Hunt Steeple Chase Challenge Cup, which is Grade 2 Novice Chase of about 4m.
Ladies Day: Fashion, Excitement and Blistering Pace Racing
Following on from the splendid opening day, is one that needs no introduction. Ladies Day, renowned for its unparalleled glamour and style, it is regarded as one of the world’s most eminent social occasions on the horse racing calendar. Ladies will once again flock in their thousands to Cheltenham Racecourse for this extremely attractive day out as they compete for the coveted prize of ‘Best Dressed Lady’.
To win the competition coined under the hashtag #COLOURMEMARCH, all you are required to do is add a splash of colour to your outfit and be spotted by a Cheltenham Racecourse official, or enter yourself via a marquee located above the Parade Ring at The Festival. But the finery and luxury of this spectacular social event belie the fact that it merely provides the backdrop for world-class, high octane action on the racetrack.
The sporting highlight of the day is certainly the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the ultimate test for two-mile steeplechasers. The list of winners includes Master Minded, Sprinter Sacre and Badsworth Boy, some of the greatest racers in the history of the division.
Put The Kettle On is the current titleholder, ridden by Jockey Aiden Coleman. Recent years has seen the mighty Altior claim back to back Champion Chase victories with Nico de Boinville. It was hoped in 2020 that he could repeat the success once more in a bid to achieve the hat-trick, which would have landed the Nicky Henderson-trained gelding a Cheltenham victory for the fifth successive year!
In 2019, Altior broke Big Buck’s jumps record by winning 19 consecutive jump races between October, 2015 and April, 2019 before his winning streak was ended by Cyrname in the Grade Two Chase at Ascot last November. Sadly, he was unable to run during Cheltenham 2020 due to injury, missing out on a potential three time Queen Mother Champion Chase victory.
The Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle is another popular race at Cheltenham on the second day of the Festival. Having been won by the likes of Faugheen, Simonsig and the late Willoughby Court, it is certainly a contest that oozes quality.
St. Patrick’s Thursday: The Stayers’ Hurdle Headlines the Cards
Expect the Guinness to be in full flow on St Patricks Day, with racegoers celebrating in style at the Cheltenham Festival on day three. A fabulous atmosphere coupled with some of the event’s most coveted races makes this fixture a firm favourite among avid racing enthusiasts.
2019 was particularly inspiring as we saw a number of firsts for our women in sport. Bryony Frost made history in the Ryanair Chase, becoming the first female jockey to win a Grade One hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. She guided Frodon to glory in what can only be labelled an extraordinary day and one of the most significant in recent racing history.
The pulsating race, which was introduced to the Festival in 2005, has also been won by popular competitors including Cue Card, Albertas Run and Imperial Commander.
Another highlight race is the Stayers Hurdle, which represents a true test of stamina for three-mile hurdlers. Three-time and four-time winners, Inglis Drever and Big Bucks, are the contest’s most famed competitors whilst the imperious Thistlecrack also made history in 2016 by romping to victory in breath-taking fashion.
Paisley Park romped to victory in the 2019 Stayers’ Hurdle, to land his blind owner, Andrew Gemmell his first Cheltenham Festival win. Despite being the favourite to win in 2020, the title taken by Lisnagar Oscar. The 2021 Cheltenham Festival saw the crown go to Flooring Porter but who will you be backing in 2022?
Other notable contests include the Novices’ Hurdle and The Pertemps Final.
Enjoy the Blue Riband Race of the Week – Gold Cup Chase
Last but certainly not least is Cheltenham Gold Cup Day. The fabulous final day features the renowned Wellchild Cheltenham Gold Cup, which is arguably the premier race of the week. It is in this gruelling three and a quarter mile test where much of the sport’s icons have paved their legacy, with Arkle, Best Mate, Desert Orchid and Kauto Star among the list of esteemed winners.
Al Boum Photo returned to Cheltenham in 2021 looking to take the Cheltenham Gold Cup title for the third year.
In 2019, Al Boum Photo provided Willie Mullins with his first success in the Gold Cup race and achieved the back-to-back win in 2020. Sadly he missed out on the hat trick in 2021, coming in third place with Minella Indo taking the crown.
Adding to the feast of festival action on the final day is the exciting Triumph Hurdle. Termed as the biggest race of the entire jumps season for juveniles, this contest succeeds in attracting a wonderful selection of high-class runners. Other races at Cheltenham Festival of note include The Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle, the Martin Pipe Hurdle and The Grand Annual Chase.