The meeting that almost the entire National Hunt season is based around takes place in mid-March.
The Cheltenham Festival isn’t nicknamed the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ for no reason and most of the best jumps horses in training across the widest array of races will be competing over the four days at Prestbury Park in March.
Much of the build-up surrounds how open-looking many of the races are so there is great value to be had for punters at the Festival.
Below we will highlight our selections for each of the twenty-eight races on show, as well as providing a comprehensive guide to the meeting and its history.
Champion Day Races (Tuesday)
|1:20||Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Hurdle||Grade 1||2m½f|
|1:55||Arkle Novices’ Chase||Grade 1||2m|
|2:30||Ultima Handicap Chase||Grade 3||3m1f|
|3:05||Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy||Grade 1||2m|
|3:40||Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle||Grade 1||2m3f|
|4:15||Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle||Grade 3||2m|
|4:50||National Hunt Challenge Cup Novices’ Chase||Grade 2||3m5f|
Ladies Day Races (Wednesday)
|1:20||Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle||Grade 1||2m5f|
|1:55||Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase||Grade 1||3m½f|
|2:30||Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle||Grade 3||2m5f|
|3:05||Queen Mother Champion Chase||Grade 1||2m|
|3:40||Glenfarclas Chase||Class 2||3m6f|
|4:15||Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase||Grade 3||2m|
|4:50||Weatherbys Champion Bumper||Grade 1||2m½f|
St Patrick’s Thursday Races (Thursday)
|1:20||Marsh Novices’ Chase||Grade 1||2m4f|
|1:55||Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle||Grade 3||3m|
|2:30||Ryanair Chase||Grade 1||2m4½f|
|3:05||Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle||Grade 1||3m|
|3:40||Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase||Grade 3||2m4½f|
|4:15||Parnell Properties Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle||Grade 2||2m1f|
|4:50||Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup||Class 2||3m2f|
Gold Cup Day Races (Friday)
|1:20||JCB Triumph Hurdle||Grade 1||2m1f|
|1:55||McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle||Grade 3||2m1f|
|2:30||Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle||Grade 1||3m|
|3:05||WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup||Grade 1||3m2½f|
|3:40||Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase||Grade 3||2m4½f|
|4:15||Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase||Grade 2||2m4½f|
|4:50||Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle||Class 2||2m4½f|
About the Cheltenham Festival Meeting
The Cheltenham Festival is simply the biggest National Hunt racing meeting in the world. For four days the best horses over hurdles and fences gather at Prestbury Park for a collection of exciting races that includes a staggering 14 Grade 1s.
Known simply as the Festival, the meeting always takes place in March, from Tuesday to Friday, and often includes St Patrick’s Day. For that reason, among others, it’s hugely popular with Irish racing fans and the battle between British- and Irish-trained horses is a key storyline throughout the Cheltenham Festival.
Prestigious as they are, not all Grade 1 races are created equally. Amongst the 14 top level races at the Cheltenham Festival it’s the four championship races that stand alone. These are the feature races of each day at the Festival and some of the biggest races of the National Hunt season.
The Champion Hurdle is the feature race of the first day of the Cheltenham Festival. It’s the biggest hurdle race of the season and forms the third leg of the Triple Crown of Hurdling alongside the Fighting Fifth Hurdle and the Christmas Hurdle.
Run over 2 miles and ½ furlong on the Cheltenham Old Course, this is a race that focuses heavily on the ability to finish strongly. It’s also often a very tactical race with jockeys doing all they can to ensure they are in the perfect position after the final of the eight hurdles to kick for home.
As you’d expect for the biggest hurdling race, the Champion Hurdle has been won by many of the best known hurdlers of all time since its inauguration in 1927. Hatton’s Grace became the first horse to win the Champion Hurdle three times in 1951 whilst Istabraq (1998, 1999, 2000) is the most recent to achieve the hat-trick. More recent years have seen the likes of Buveur d’Air, Faugheen and Hurricane Fly claim the winner’s share of a prize fund that reached £400,000 in 2018.
Queen Mother Champion Chase
When you think of steeplechase racing, lung-busting contests like the Grand National and Cheltenham Gold Cup immediately come to mind. Chases come in many different forms though and the Queen Mother Champion Chase is the championship race for minimum distance chasers. A much-loved contest, the thrilling speed of the horses tackling truly testing obstacles is a sight to behold.
Taking place over just under 2 miles (1m 7f 199y to be precise) on the Cheltenham Old Course, the Champion Chase is among the most fascinating spectacles of the Festival. The way the race unfolds means it could almost be where the phrase ‘jockeying for position’ comes from, as this is all about being in the right position for the closing straight up the Cheltenham hill.
Since being first run in 1959, the Champion Chase has been won by horses who made all and by those who burst through the pack late on. Badsworth Boy is the only horse to win the Queen Mother Chase three times but it is a race in which multiple winners and winners aged eight or over are common, so the “three-peat” may well be achieved in the coming years.
Just as steeplechases are not all simply tests of stamina, hurdling is not all about speed. The Stayers’ Hurdle is the championship race for the specialist long distance hurdling division. It’s run over 3 miles on the New Course at Cheltenham on St Patrick’s Thursday and includes a dozen hurdles to really test both horses and jockeys.
The first running of the Stayers’ Hurdle was all the way back in 1912. The winner, Aftermath, secured £100 for his connections. 100 years later and the prize fund had ballooned to more than a quarter of a million pounds. It’s the combination of that lucrative prize and the prestige that comes with winning the Stayers’ Hurdle that ensures high quality fields turn up year after year.
Big Buck’s dominated the Stayers’ Hurdle (known then as the World Hurdle) with four wins on the trot between 2009 and 2012. Since then it’s been much more open with winners priced between evens and 12/1, so this is a race full of opportunity for punters.
Cheltenham Gold Cup
The Cheltenham Gold Cup is not just Friday’s feature race, it’s the feature of the entire Cheltenham Festival. Whilst some will claim to prefer other races, for the average punter and casual racing fan, it’s all about the Gold Cup.
Simply put, National Hunt races do not come more prestigious than this one. They don’t come much more lucrative either as this is the most valuable chase save for a select few handicaps.
The Cheltenham Gold Cup takes place over 3 miles 2½ furlongs. Combine that with the 22 fences that must be negotiated and you have a tough test of stamina but the best Gold Cup horses are so much more than just stayers. The likes of Kauto Star, Best Mate and L’Escargot had almost the perfect combination of speed, stamina and jumping ability, which is exactly how it should be for this race.
In 1959 the New Course at Cheltenham became the host for the Gold Cup. In years gone by we have seen a 100/1 winner in the shape of Norton’s Coin and a 1/10 winner in the legendary Arkle, who dominated this race in the 1960s. More recently, fans’ favourite Kauto Star became the first horse to regain the Gold Cup in 2009, having previously triumphed in 2007.
Other Big Grade 1s
In addition to the four championship races there are several other big Grade 1 races to enjoy during the Cheltenham Festival. The following are the pick of these big contests.
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
The famous Cheltenham Roar that greets the start of the Supreme Novice’s Hurdle is one of the best known sounds in sport. It highlights the levels of excitement about the start of the Cheltenham Festival but this is more than just a warm up act. The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is a Grade 1 race open to novice hurdlers aged four and older.
The race takes place over 2 miles ½ furlong and sees up to 20 horses competing for a prize fund that reached a new high of £125,000 for the 2018 renewal. Douvan’s win in 2015 saw Ruby Walsh become the first jockey to ride five winners of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Willie Mullins the first trainer to reach the same number.
Arkle Challenge Trophy
The Arkle Challenge Trophy is the second Grade 1 of the Cheltenham Festival. It’s a steeplechase run over a distance of just shy of two miles, which is a specialist distance in chasing. The Arkle is also a novices chase and was introduced in 1969, with its name paying tribute to the three time winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The Arkle is often used as a stepping stone for minimum distance chasers to go on and contend the Champion Chase, so it’s well worth noting the winner of the race for future reference.
Only fillies and mares aged four and older are permitted to race in the Mares’ Hurdle. This race was for a long time known as the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle after the successful jockey and trainer and the trophy still bears his name. Run over 2 miles 4 furlongs, this is the final Grade 1 of the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.
Willie Mullins is the dominant trainer of the Mares’ Hurdle. He won nine of the first nine editions of the race with six of those wins coming from super mare, Quevaga. Mullins and Quevaga played a vital role in the growing popularity of the Mares’ Hurdle, which was promoted to Grade 1 level in 2015.
The RSA Chase is a Grade 1 steeplechase for novices and is run over a shade over 3 miles. The earlier editions of the race contained two divisions but it was soon amalgamated into one race.
Although the novices competing in the RSA Chase still have plenty of room for improvement, it’s a race that has provided plenty of leading contender for more big contests including the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National. That tells you a lot about the importance of stamina, whilst a certain amount of experience is also important as the vast majority of winners were older than the minimum age of five.
Registered as the Festival Trophy, the Ryanair Chase is a Grade 1 open to horses aged five or older. There are 17 fences to be jumped during the 2 mile 5 furlong trip in what has become an increasingly prestigious race.
The Ryanair Chase is one of the races that was added to the Cheltenham Festival when it became a four day meeting in 2005. For many racing pundits, the Ryanair is the most prestigious non-championship race of the Festival. In its relatively short history, Albertas Run is the only horse to win more than once (as of 2018), whilst it’s Ruby Walsh who leads the jockey stats with four wins.
JCB Triumph Hurdle
The JCB Triumph Hurdle is open only to four-year-old novice hurdlers. It is run over 2 miles 1 furlong but has produced winners of big races at longer distances including 2014 winner, Tiger Roll, who won the 2018 Grand National.
The most common next step for winners of the Triumph Hurdle, however, is the Champion Hurdle. Four horses have completed the double but whatever route future winners take they tend to be horses worth following.
Best of the Rest
As you can tell from the list of races above, there is tremendous variety in the races that comprise the Cheltenham Festival. In addition to those Grade 1s there are a host of other Grade level races and competitive handicaps to excite punters during the four days. Here’s our pick of the best of the rest.
National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup
The National Hunt Chase is a special race at Cheltenham Festival as it is open only to amateur riders. The Grade 2 contest is for novice chasers and takes in 24 fences during a monster trip of 4 miles. No race has been run more times at the Festival than the National Hunt Chase which was first held in 1860.
The Novices’ Hurdle has been known by a few names since being introduced in 1971 but it has continued to rise in stature and has been won by some hugely promising horses in recent years including Samcro, Faugheen and The New One. Although it’s open to horses aged four and older, it’s rare to find a winner aged anything other than five or six.
JLT Novices’ Chase
Five-year-olds and older are eligible to compete in the JLT Novices’ Chase which is a Grade 1 run over 2 miles 4 furlongs. The winner must navigate 17 fences which is far from easy given the novice status of all the competitors. The big Irish yards have had a great time in the JLT Novices’ Chase and Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott look set to contest it for a long time to come.
Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
There are 12 fences to be jumped during the 3 miles of the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. This Grade 1 contest regularly includes the best up and coming hurdlers in National Hunt racing. While some stay over the smaller obstacles, others kick on to big things over fences including Bobs Worth, who won in 2011 before winning the RSA Chase in 2012 and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2013.
The crowds at Prestbury Park are still digesting the Gold Cup by the time the Foxhunter Chase gets underway over exactly the same course and distance. Known as the ‘amateur Gold Cup’ because only amateur riders can compete, the Foxhunter Chase is a real speciality race which punters must keep in mind when making their bets.
The Cheltenham Festival was first held in 1860 but in those early days races were not actually held in Cheltenham. Then known as the Grand National Hunt Meeting, the Festival moved around a few different racecourses including Prestbury Park before a committee decided to settle on its current home in 1911. The National Hunt Chase is the oldest race still run in the Cheltenham Festival while the Stayers’ Hurdle is the oldest of the four championship races.
It wasn’t until 2005 that the Cheltenham Festival became a four day meeting. That saw the introduction of a number of new races and provided a certain amount of symmetry with one championship race held on each day.
There have been clamours to extend the Festival to five days but they’ve so far been resisted with the emphasis remaining on ensuring the current races are as well subscribed as possible. We may see a fifth day added, so lucrative is the Festival, but regardless, we look forward to Cheltenham having a future as long and illustrious as its past.
A Complete History of the Cheltenham Festival
Such is the popularity of the Cheltenham Festival today, it is thought the four day meeting is worth £100m to the Gloucestershire economy. It is National Hunt racing on a truly epic scale featuring, some of the most prized races on the circuit.
Now a little over a 100 years old, how did the Festival become such an enormous hit? As we’ve come to learn, its history is as every bit as exciting and interesting as the racing it hosts.
1860 – Cheltenham Festival Origins
Although the Cheltenham Festival as we know it didn’t begin until later on, its roots date back to the creation of the National Hunt Chase. The event was part of the ‘Grand National Hunt Meeting’, initially hosted by Market Harborough but later moved from racecourse to racecourse. Cheltenham staged the event once in 1861 but it wasn’t until 1904 when it returned, two years after a new course was established as Prestbury Park.
1911 – Cheltenham Takes Control
After a series of racecourse improvements, the National Hunt Committee decided that the two-day Grand National Hunt Meeting should move to Cheltenham, from Warwick, on a permanent basis. The inaugural edition wasn’t one to remember sadly with torrential downpours rather spoiling the atmosphere and making it incredibly tough for the horses involved.
While 1911 stands as the undisputed birth year of the Festival, there are two races on its current card with histories stretching further back. The St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase, sometimes known as the amateur Gold Cup due to it being run over the same distance, began in 1904.
Even older is the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase, which is in fact the oldest National Hunt chase still in existence having been inaugurated back in 1834 when named simply the Grand Annual. It had several homes in the 19th century but has lived at Cheltenham ever since 1913.
1912 – Stayers’ Hurdle Founded
A year after Cheltenham secured the rights to hold the Festival they introduced the Stayers’ Hurdle, then known as the Stayers Selling Hurdle. Part of the rules stipulated that the winning horse would be sold for £50 after the race; imagine the bargains available if that still existed! The Stayers’ Hurdle stands as the oldest Festival race still in existence that is currently a championship event.
1920 – County Handicap Hurdle Underway
One of the oldest races to feature at the Cheltenham Festival, the County Handicap Hurdle, enjoyed its first running in 1920, won by a horse named Trespasser. The 4/7 favourite saw off seven challengers that day, a tiny field compared to today’s standards. Traditionally it had been the curtain closer of the entire meeting but in 2009 it became the penultimate race on the final day.
1924 – Gold Cup Begins
Although a race by the name of the Cheltenham Gold Cup first took place in 1819, this was a flat contest, unrelated to jump racing’s Blue Riband. The Gold Cup as we know it first featured in 1924, taking place on the Old Course while largely being overshadowed the National Hunt Chase. Its prize money of £685 at the time was less than the £1,000 offered in the County Handicap Hurdle but how times have changed.
1927 – The Champion Hurdle is Born
Rolled out to Cheltenham crowd for the very first time was the Champion Hurdle, offering £365 to the winning horse, Blaris. Only four horses contested the inaugural running, although this was one more than featured in the 1932 edition of the minimum distance hurdle.
1928 – Stayers Hurdle Dropped
Organisers at Cheltenham take the decision to drop the Stayers’ Hurdle from the Festival for the first time. It returned in 1930 but found itself outed again between 1939 and 1945.
1931 – Frost Gets in the Way
March isn’t a month known for being frosty but unseasonably cold conditions froze the ground at Cheltenham in 1931. Unsafe for racing, the Festival was called off for the first time.
1936 – Miller Truly Golden
Golden Miller completes a truly unbelievable sequence of five straight Gold Cup victories. The Irish-bred horse initially won as a five year old and proceeded to win the next four renewals, all as the strong favourite. As if five Gold Cup wins wasn’t enough, Golden Miller is also the only horse to win the Cheltenham Festival’s prized race and the Grand National in the same year (1934).
1937 – Flooding an Issue
If Golden Miller’s connection had been weighing up a sixth Gold Cup title then they were out of luck. Although the horse only retired in 1939, flooding meant there was no running of the Gold Cup in 1937. Wet weather didn’t cancel the entire meeting though with other races such as the Champion Hurdle still going ahead in the mud.
1943 – War Sacrifices
During the early years of World War II the Festival largely carried on as normal but as things progressed hosting racing action proved impossible. In 1943 there was no option but to cancel the meeting, the first time non-weather factors had been responsible. The same occurred again in 1944 before action resumed the following year.
1946 – Two New Races Created
Shortly after the end of the war, Cheltenham added another race to its repertoire, the Broadway Novices’ Chase. The three mile contest underwent several name changes during the 1960s but we’ve long known it now as the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase. From fairly humble origins the steeplechase for horses aged five years and older has become one of the highlights on day two of the Festival.
The other new recruit was the Kim Muir Amateur Riders’ Steeplechase, introduced by Mrs Evan Williams as a way of honouring her brother, a Calvary officer, who died during World War II. Later, in 1991, on the year of his death, the highly successfully trainer Fulke Walwyn was added to the race title.
1947 – Champion Hurdle Golden Era Begins
The Champion Hurdle may be one of the great National Hunt races but even it has its highs and lows. Shortly after World War II came to an end, fans witnessed one of the highs as three horses, National Spirit, Hatton’s Grace and Sir Ken, won eight consecutive renewals between them. Considered to be among the most talented hurdlers the sport has seen, it was pure chance they all featured across a small space of time.
1947 – Many Other Races Postponed
National Spirit only had chance to win the 1947 edition of the Champion Hurdle thanks to the hard work of the organisers. Twice the race had been postponed due to snow but the third time proved the charm. Unfortunately for many other races, there simply wasn’t space to fit them in elsewhere so the bulk of Festival races have no records for this year.
1951 – Mildmay of Flete Handicap Chase Established
Cheltenham creates a new steeplechase in order to honour the 2nd Baron Mildmay of Flete who tragically died months earlier. The celebrated amateur jockey rode three Festival winners during his time and the inaugural running of the race named after him couldn’t have been any more exciting. Waterlogging delayed it by a month but it was fully worth the wait as Canford and Slender crossed the line at the same time, producing a rare dead heat.
1954 – Local Success
The Gold Cup witnessed its first locally trained winner in the form of Four Ten. Trainer John Roberts was base in the now demolished, but then very nearby Prestbury Court.
1954 – Piggott on Show
Lester Piggott’s fame came strictly over the flat but the racing legend did have a try over the obstacles earlier on in his career. This year the 11-time champion Flat jockey made his Festival debut, winning the now-defunct Birdlip Selling Hurdle on 2nd March. It’s the only Festival race Piggott ever won although he did also win the Triumph Hurdle before it moved to Cheltenham.
1957 – Herbert Denied Spotlight
As Linwell stormed home in the Gold Cup, few would have been celebrating more than Ivor Herbet. The well-known racing journalist was the trainer of the bay gelding but a conflict of interest barred him from obtaining a trainer’s licence. Charlie Mallon, head of his stable staff, therefore officially took the role as trainer and it is his name that features in the record books.
1959 – Along Comes the Champion Chase
Recognising the need for a high class minimum distance steeplechase, the then National Hunt Two-Mile Champion Chase enjoyed its inaugural appearance in 1959. The original title hardly rolled off the tongue but it stopped being an issue in 1980 when the race changed to its present title of the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
1964 – Famous Gold Cup Battle
The excitement levels were at fever pitch heading into this Gold Cup renewal as Mill House, representing England, took on pride of Ireland, Arkle. The two seven year olds couldn’t have been in any better shape and what a battle they produced on the New Course. Miles clear of the trailing pack, the pair entered the home stretch neck and neck before Arkle managed to pull away as they approached the line.
1966 – Arkle Completes Stunning Treble
He may not have reached the five Gold Cup wins managed by Golden Miller but Arkle’s trio was far more emphatic. His five length victory in 1964 later proved to be a close call as in 1965 and 1966 the stunning nag won by 20 and 30 lengths respectively. The latter you’ll not be surprised to learn is the largest winning distance ever recorded in the Grade 1 event. No wonder the bookies had him down at odds of 1/10!
1968 – Triumph Hurdle Joins the Festival
Founded in 1939, the Triumph Hurdle took its time before being included on the Festival schedule. Hurst Park in Surrey initially hosted the event but following its closure in 1962 the minimum distance event needed a new home. Cheltenham took up the reigns in 1965, scheduling it during its April meeting before bringing it a month forward in 1968.
1969 – Cotswold Chase Dropped
As a way of paying tribute to three-time Gold Cup winning Arkle, the Arkle Challenge Trophy replaced the Cotswold Chase. Initially it began featuring on the second day of the Festival but found itself moved to the opening day 10 years later.
1971 – Baring Bingham Novices’ Hurdle Begins
The name Baring Bingham may not be overly familiar to most but it was he who purchased Prestbury Park in 1898 and organised the earlier editions of the Grand National Hunt Meeting. Created in his honour was this two mile five furlong race hurdle race won by the Ruby Walsh-Willie Mullins combination on four occasions.
1972 – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Merges
For decades the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, which in more recent times has been the opening race of the entire Festival, was split into two or even three divisions. This came to an end in 1972 though as the Gloucestershire Hurdle as it was then known became a simple one race affair.
1974 – George Duller Handicap Hurdle Drops Out
The Festival waves goodbye to the George Duller Handicap Hurdle and says hello to the Coral Golden Hurdle Final. For much of its early history the race went by this name but in 1992 it changed to the more familiar Pertemps Final. The contest is the culmination of eight qualifying races taking place across the country earlier in the season and in 2018 it went from a Listed to a Grade 3 event.
1978 – Snow Disruption
Winter continued a little longer this year as it covered Cheltenham racecourse with plenty of snow. The adverse weather didn’t complete ruin the meet but not all races managed to feature. One of these to miss out was the Gold Cup but fortunately a date was found in April to run the showpiece event.
1980 – A Year of Banned Substances
Tied Cottage storms home in the Gold Cup, reaching the line eight lengths clear of Master Smudge in second. The 12 year old led from start to finish but after the race, officials found traces of the prohibited substance theobromine in a urine sample. Accidental contamination of food stuffs was blamed but as unintentional as it was, disqualification had to follow.
There was disqualification in the Champion Chase too, this time Chinrullah the victim after securing an unbelievable 25 length victory. After the Mick O’Toole trained horse took the unfortunate crown as the only horse to suffer two disqualifications at the Festival as he also featured in the Gold Cup the following day. Like with Tied Cottage, theobromine was the issue.
1981 – Age No Barrier for Wumpkins
When winning the Pertemps Final as an 11 year old in 1979, few were expecting more success in the race for Willie Wumpkins. Not only did he win again the following year though, he completed the event’s only hat-trick in 1981 at the ripe age of 13, much to the delight of the crowd. Incredibly this final victory came eight years after the fan favourite first tasted Cheltenham Festival success, making for a true comeback tale.
1983 – Badsworth Boy Claims a Hat-Trick
A third consecutive win for Badsworth Boy makes him the first horse to win the Champion Chase on more than two occasions. The son of Bold Ruler was trained by a combination of Michael, Tony and Monica Dickinson. Michael had been officially noted as the trainer for the first two wins while Monica took the plaudits for the third.
Although Michael wasn’t credited with Champion Chase success this year, he did find his way into the history books very shortly after via another means. The Yorkshireman completed the extraordinary feat of training the first five finishers of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The Dickinson Famous Five, as it was called at the time, were as follows: 1st: Bregawn, 2nd: Captain John, 3rd: Wayward Lad, 4th: Silver Buck, and 5th: Ashley House.
1987 – Armytage First Female Success
At just 21 years old, Gee Armytage became the first female jockey to ride a winner at the Cheltenham Festival. She did so in the Kim Muir Challenge Cup on an 11 year old horse called The Ellier. Not willing to stop there, the daughter of successful trainer Roddy Armytage then scored another winner the following day on the aptly named Gee-A.
1990 – Huge Gold Cup Upset
Fully expecting Desert Orchid to retain his Gold Cup crown, punters heaped money on Dessie who set off at an odds-on price. Seeing him finish behind 8/1 shot Toby Tobias was surprising enough but nobody in their wildest dreams thought he would wind up behind the shock winner Norton’s Coin. Despite a complete lack of form, the obscurely bred gelding won at a huge 100/1 price, the longest in Gold Cup history.
1992 – Festival Bumper Added
Unable to think of a more inspired name, the Festival Bumper emerged as the latest race to take place at Cheltenham’s historic meeting. Now known as the Champion Bumper, it became the first, and remains the only, flat race to take place during the entire Festival. The name change in 1997 represents its status as the most prestigious bumper race taking place on the National Hunt calendar.
The first horse to feature on the winners’ list of the Champion Bumper, Montelado, returned the following year to win the Supreme Novice Hurdle. The 1997 champion, Florida Pearl, became the next to win over the obstacles on his Festival return when scoring gold in the RSA Chase.
1993 – Coral Cup Established
Coral becomes the latest sponsor looking to get in on the Festival act. The popular bookie sponsored a new handicap, initially run over a distance of two miles and five furlongs. Olympian, who had won the Imperial Cup the previous weekend at Sandown, claimed glory in the inaugural renewal. For this double he scooped his connections a bonus prize of £50,000 courtesy of Coral.
1994 – Avro Anson Denied
A brilliant battle in the Stayers’ Hurdle saw Avro Anson edge out Martin Pipe’s joint favourite Balasani. The result was switched however when the stewards penalised the initial winner for causing interference.
2000 – Istabraq Shows His Prowess
Although not quite able to match Golden Miller’s run of five Festival victories, Istabraq did make it four on the turn of the new millennium. The Aidan O’Brien trained hurdler initially won the Baring Bingham Novices’ Hurdle before securing triple success in the elite Champion Hurdle.
2001 – Foot-and-Mouth Crisis
An outbreak of food-and-mouth disease in 2001 not only caused a crisis in the British agriculture and tourism sectors but it had a huge impact on horse racing too. Organisers had hoped to reschedule the Cheltenham Festival to later in the spring but a confirmed case of the disease located just five miles from Prestbury Park sunk the plans. Unable to host the Festival due to the racecourse being in the exclusion zone, Cheltenham had to refund almost 150,000 badges in what was a devastating blow.
To some extent, contingency plans spared the Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase and Stayers’ Hurdle. Sandown hosted these races under a different guise during April’s Whitbread Gold Cup meeting. The four events carried Grade One status and featured over similar distances as normal but they can’t truly count as genuine renewals of the big Cheltenham races.
2005 – The Festival Grows
To the delight of the many people who subscribe to the ‘I wish it could be Cheltenham everyday’ ethos, an extra day was added to the Festival. Traditionally the action spanned three days but the inclusion of day four allowed a championship race to feature on every day of the meeting.
The extra day of racing created a need for an additional four races to ensure each day had an even six in total. The new recruits were the Festival Trophy (Ryanair Chase), Spa Novices’ Hurdle, Centenary Novices’ Handicap Chase, Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Handicap Hurdle and the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase. Those of you paying attention will see that five races are mentioned above, that’s because the Cathcart Challenge Cup, a previous Festival feature, was scrapped.
2007 – Kauto Star Wins Big
A Betfair initiative rolled out in 2005 offered a bonus of £1m to any horse able to win the Betfair Chase, the King George VI and the Gold Cup, also known as the Stayers Chase Triple Crown. Kauto Star had already won the first two prior to lining up for the 2007 edition of the Gold Cup and he duly complete the clean sweep, pocketing his connections a huge jackpot in the process. By the end of his career Clive Smith’s horse netted £3.7m in earnings.
2008 – Another Race Added in a Stormy Edition
Just three years after increasing the number of races by four, Cheltenham adds another event, the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle. Named after the hugely successful jockey and trainer, it is available to all fillies and mares over the age of three. It would become the first of four races joining the Festival over the next eight years. Its first running coincided with some truly awful conditions at Cheltenham however, so bad in fact that day two of the meeting had to be cancelled.
High winds were to blame for the disruption on the morning of the Festival’s second day. Gusts on the course has been so strong that an unspecified structure had blown down. With a selection of temporary buildings present by the track, the risk of something else falling was simply too great and the day’s action was abandoned. Fortunately things calmed down on Thursday and Friday and the cancelled races simply took place on these days.
2009 – Martin Pipe Honoured
Martin Pipe joins Fulke Walwyn, Vincent O’Brien, Fred Winter and David Nicholson as the next person who has a race named after him at the Festival. Appropriately, a handicap was chosen for what many viewed as a long-overdue honour. A humbled Pipe, who retired in 2006, predicted at the time that his son David would no doubt maintain a keen interest in the race but as of 2019 he’s yet to win it.
2011 – Golder Miller Novices’ Chase Added
With organisers at Cheltenham keen on increasing another day to seven races, they added the Golden Miller Novices’ Chase. The name may not ring a bell but that’s because it’s always ran under a sponsored title, initially called the Jewson Novices’ Handicap Chase and then the JLT Novices’ Chase. It slotted in on day three of the Festival and in 2014 enjoyed promotion to Grade 1.
2012 – Big Buck’s Makes it Four
For the fourth time, Big Buck’s gets himself first past the post in the Stayers’ Hurdle, breaking his own record as the race’s most successful horse. Ruby Walsh had to push him hard in the final stages but the French-foaled horse had enough to see off Voler La Vedette. Already a true legend of the sport, Big Buck’s attempted to make it five in 2013 but could only managed a fourth place finish.
2014 – Quevega Proves Unbeatable
Usually one festival win is impressive enough but a solitary taste of success was not enough for the French-bred Quevega. The Willie Mullins trained mare somehow made it six wins in a row in the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle, or rather the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle as it is called for sponsorship reasons. By securing her sixth win she ended up breaking the record for the most wins at the Festival set by Golden Miller, who triumphed in the Gold Cup on five consecutive occasions in the 1930s.
2016 – One Final Race Added
Bringing the total number of races up to 28 at the Festival, making it seven races on each day, is the Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. Nicky Henderson was quick to praise the addition calling it an “enormous boost to the National Hunt breeding fraternity”. On its inaugural running the two mile, one furlong hurdle offered £75,000 in prize money.
2018 – Mullins Continues to Bump
After a four year drought, Willie Mullins gets back on top in the Champion Bumper by claiming his ninth win in the prestigious flat race. With this latest win, courtesy of the five year old Envoi Allen, Irish trainer became responsible for more than a third of all winners in the race.
2019 – Record Breaking Attendance
Despite the presence of stormy weather threatening to delay the start of the Festival, droves of spectators came in their numbers to view the action live. Undeterred by the poor weather, a record breaking crowd of 67,934 attended the opening day of the Festival.