The runners and riders are ready for the thrills of the Cheltenham Festival – but are you? How much do you know about what the 2016 event has in store? If you’re a novice as far as horse racing knowledge is concerned, don’t worry. Just read our handy guide to find out more.
Get the Low-down on the Cheltenham Festival
With a long-held place on the racing calendar, an electric atmosphere, and a whopping £4.1 million prize fund, the annual Cheltenham Festival is a favourite for many of the UK and Ireland’s leading racehorse owners and jockeys. Held at Cheltenham Racecourse, it also attracts nearly a quarter of a million spectators every year.
Originally a three day event, it was extended in 2005. Each day is special and features a championship race:
Champion Day – Tuesday 15 March 2016
The excitement starts on Champion Day, when the tapes are lifted for the first race and the crowd lets out the famous “Cheltenham roar”. This year’s opening day schedule four steeplechases and three hurdles, so there’ll be plenty of action for spectators to enjoy.
The most important race of the day is also the most prestigious of the hurdle season – The Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy. A Grade 1 race (the highest of the National Hunt’s race grades), it dates back to 1927, and previous winners have included Persian War, Istabraq and Hurricane Fly.
Ladies’ Day – Wednesday 16 March 2016
Cheltenham’s Ladies Day is as much an event for fashionistas as it is for racing fans, but don’t let that distract you from what’s happening on the course. The highlight of Wednesday’s race card is the Betway Queen Mother Champion Steeple Chase, a two-mile, twelve-fence affair, first held in 1959. Originally known as the National Hunt Two-Mile Champion Chase, it was renamed to mark the eightieth birthday of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, in 1980.
As well as being in prime position to watch this Grade 1 steeplechase, which has been won by horses such as Moscow Flyer and Dodging Bullets, Ladies’ Day attendees will be able to see six other races, including the Coral Cup Hurdle and the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.
St. Patrick’s Thursday – Thursday 17 March 2016
The Cheltenham Festival crowd always includes a strong contingent from the Emerald Isle and they’ll be in good spirits on St. Paddy’s Day. Irish owners and jockeys have traditionally done well at Cheltenham, but will Lady Luck be with them again this year?
The race that will have everyone on the edge of their seats is the Grade 1 Ryanair World Hurdle, a twelve-hurdle Championship race run over three miles. Gavin Sheehan was first across the line on Cole Harden last year, giving his countrymen and women something to celebrate and they’ll be hoping for another Irish win.
Gold Cup Day – Friday 18 March 2016
The final day is named after the jewel in the festival’s crown, the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup. Run over three miles and two and a half furlongs, and featuring twenty-two fences, this race is isn’t for the faint-hearted.
Previous winners of the beautiful golden trophy have included well-known jockeys like Richard Dunwoody, Ruby Walsh and Tony McCoy, while the list of title-winning horses includes household names like Desert Orchid, Best Mate and Kauto Star.
Will you be enjoying the Cheltenham Festival for the first time this year? Are you heading to the racetrack or planning to watch the action from the comfort of your sofa? Let us know.