We reckon Cheltenham Racecourse probably needs no introduction but for the benefit of the uninitiated, this is essentially the most prestigious and important jumps racing track in Britain and the code’s unofficial HQ.
While other meetings are hosted including very important days in November and December, many of us know this track for the Cheltenham Festival which is held in the middle of March every year.
Part of the iconic reputation Cheltenham Racecourse has is not just about the quality of its racing, but its beautiful location as well. The track is situated in a natural amphitheatre just below the Cotswold Hills.
Upwards of 70,000 people can pack into the racecourse on major days, which they often do during the Cheltenham Festival, a four-day spectacular that contributes hundreds of millions of pounds in betting revenue to the industry.
- Address – Cheltenham Racecourse, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL50 4SH.
- Owner – The Jockey Club.
- TV Station – Racing TV.
- Type – National Hunt.
- Surface – Turf.
Cheltenham is split primarily into the New Course and the Old Course, though it is the only jumps venue in Britain to also feature a Cross-Country course in the middle of the track.
Left-handed and very undulating, Cheltenham features stiff fences which are in keeping with its reputation as Britain’s most important jumping venue.
The last half-mile around Cheltenham is basically all uphill meaning the lead can change hands after the last hurdle or fence, though in fact this doesn’t happen as often as one may think.
Despite plenty of talk within the game of the importance and the stiff nature of the ‘Cheltenham hill’, from the two-furlong marker to the line it is actually steeper at Ascot for example meaning punters shouldn’t get too hung up on this when handicapping races.
Going along with that is the fact that those racing prominently rather than from behind tend to do better at Cheltenham.
The New Course is left-handed and is thought of as more stamina-sapping than the Old Course.
Two-and-a-half-mile hurdle and chase races, as well as 2m5f hurdles, begin in a chute in the middle of the track before joining the New Course proper.
From the bend nearest the stands and out to the far side, the Old Course runs to the outside of the New Course. They join up in the straight towards the line.
The Old Course is used on the first two days of the Cheltenham Festival and has more of an emphasis on speed, those two days hosting the two-mile Arkle and Champion Chase, as well as the Champion Hurdle.
Cheltenham Track Analysis
Top jockeys to have ridden regularly around Cheltenham always seem to remark on how different the two courses are.
While Cheltenham is often described as ‘stiff’ across the board, in fact the Old Course rides much faster than the New Course with tactics forged accordingly. From a punting point of view, speed figures and the like can be used more accurately on the Old Course with stamina the main angle on the New.
Tactical speed is usually crucial. A jockey may not want to lead, but will absolutely need to have a horse that can change gear and slip into a gap when one opens up as getting left behind at the top of the hill can lead to a race being over before the horses hit the straight.
Jockeys have themselves done their bit to partially debunk the Cheltenham hill theory. If the ground is very testing and/or they’ve gone for home too soon, they can of course be caught.
However, slipping into a strong position at the top of hill before kicking for home when it straightens up works much more often than not as long as the horse is not handicapped out of the race weight-wise.
Visiting Cheltenham Racecourse
For other meetings, visiting Cheltenham and its famous racecourse is a real treat. During the Festival however, this can be a nightmare if not organised well in advance.
Around 250,000 attend the Cheltenham Festival each March across its four days, so punters need to be very logistically organised in terms of tickets, travel and hotel rooms.
How to Get to Cheltenham Racecourse
With the Cheltenham Festival in mind specifically, which is incredibly crowded, the idea is simply to make it to Cheltenham itself and then think about getting to the racecourse.
The nearest major airport is Bristol which brings in flights from Scotland, the north of England and Ireland. From there, Cheltenham is just over 40 miles and one hour away up the M5. Trains from Bristol Temple Meads are also available, taking just over two hours to Cheltenham Spa station.
From the Birmingham area, racegoers can head down the M5 to junction 10 for Cheltenham. The journey is around 50 miles and takes around 1¼ hours.
From London via Oxford, head west on the M40 to the A40 for Cheltenham.
Most attendees will head into Cheltenham by train. Cheltenham Spa station has regular arrivals from Birmingham New Street, Bristol Temple Meads, Cardiff Central, Edinburgh via Leeds, Glasgow Central, London Paddington, Newcastle, Nottingham, Plymouth and others.
Once in Cheltenham, there are dedicated Races bus services allowing direct access to the track. The bus services operate between Cheltenham Spa station, Cheltenham town centre and the racecourse’s south car park.
Where to Stay
For quieter meetings, there are enough rooms around Cheltenham and in nearby Gloucester.
When it gets busy, many private rentals and B&Bs are quickly taken up at inflated prices, especially around festival time.
Racegoers can stay in Chipping Norton, Bourton-on-the-Water, Stow-on-the-Wold, Shellingford, Broadway, Stroud and many other places. Early bookings are very much advised.
Cheltenham Racecourse Fixtures
|Friday||15th Dec 2023||Afternoon||Jump / Turf|
|Saturday||16th Dec 2023||Afternoon||Jump / Turf|
Major Events at Cheltenham Racecourse
Those on the fringes of National Hunt racing will see Cheltenham Racecourse as being synonymous with The Festival.
It’s true of course, but as the home of jumps racing in Britain this place is about much more than four days in March.
The Cheltenham Festival is these days not only the highlight of the National Hunt season, but it has become close to all-encompassing, often to the detriment of other major jumps meetings.
Prize money is second only to the Grand National, with the feature being the Gold Cup which is the race all jumps trainers, owners and jockeys want to win.
Formerly a three-day meeting, The Festival has been run from Tuesday-Friday since 2005 with heavy talk of a fifth day to come from 2024 onwards.
All races at the Cheltenham Festival are important for their own reasons:
|Supreme Novices’ Hurdle||Novices’ Hurdle, Grade 1||2m½f||Old Course||Tuesday|
|Arkle Challenge Trophy||Novices’ Chase, Grade 1||2m||Old Course||Tuesday|
|Ultima Handicap Chase||Handicap Chase, Grade 3||3m1f||Old Course||Tuesday|
|Champion Hurdle||Hurdle, Grade 1||2m½f||Old Course||Tuesday|
|Mares’ Hurdle||Hurdle, Mares Only, Grade 1||2m4f||Old Course||Tuesday|
|Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle||Handicap Hurdle, 4yo Only, Grade 3||2m½f||Old Course||Tuesday|
|National Hunt Challenge Cup||Novices’ Chase, Amateur Jockeys Only, Grade 2||3m6f||Old Course||Tuesday|
|Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle||Novices’ Hurdle, Grade 1||2m5f||Old Course||Wednesday|
|Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase||Novices’ Chase, Grade 1||3m½f||Old Course||Wednesday|
|Coral Cup||Handicap Hurdle, Grade 3||2m5f||Old Course||Wednesday|
|Queen Mother Champion Chase||Chase, Grade 1||2m||Old Course||Wednesday|
|Cross Country Chase||Chase (Cross-Country), Class 2||3m6f||Old Course||Wednesday|
|Grand Annual Challenge Cup||Handicap Chase, Grade 3||2m||Old Course||Wednesday|
|Weatherbys Champion Bumper||National Hunt Flat Race, 4-6-6yo Only, Grade 1||2m½f||Old Course||Wednesday|
|Turners Novices’ Chase||Novices’ Chase, Grade 1||2m4f||New Course||Thursday|
|Pertemps Final||Handicap Hurdle, Grade 3||3m||New Course||Thursday|
|Ryanair Chase||Chase, Grade 1||2m4½f||New Course||Thursday|
|Stayers’ Hurdle||Hurdle, Grade 1||3m||New Course||Thursday|
|Plate Handicap Chase||Handicap Chase, Grade 3||2m4½f||New Course||Thursday|
|Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle||Novices’ Hurdle, Mares Only, Grade 2||2m1f||New Course||Thursday|
|Kim Muir Chase||Handicap Chase, Amateur Jockeys Only, Class 2||3m2f||New Course||Thursday|
|Triumph Hurdle||Novices’ Hurdle, 4yo Only, Grade 1||2m1f||New Course||Friday|
|County Hurdle||Handicap Hurdle, Grade 3||2m1f||New Course||Friday|
|Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle||Novices’ Hurdle, Grade 1||3m||New Course||Friday|
|Cheltenham Gold Cup||Chase, Grade 1||3m2½f||New Course||Friday|
|Festival Challenge Cup||Open Hunters’ Chase, Class 2||3m2½f||New Course||Friday|
|Mares’ Chase||Chase, Mares Only, Grade 2||2m4½f||New Course||Friday|
|Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle||Handicap Hurdle, Conditional Jockeys Only, Class 2||2m4½f||New Course||Friday|
Other Major Cheltenham Races
Cheltenham hosts races in April and May too, but their major races away from The Festival are in October, November, December and January. Particular meetings of note include the November Meeting and Cheltenham Trials Day.
The best of them are:
|Handicap Chase||Handicap Chase, Class 2||2m||Showcase Meeting||October|
|November Novices’ Chase||Novices’ Chase, Grade 2||2m||November Meeting||November|
|Paddy Power Gold Cup||Handicap Chase, Grade 3||2m4f||November Meeting||November|
|Handicap Hurdle||Handicap Hurdle, Listed Race||3m||November Meeting||November|
|Mares’ Bumper||National Hunt Flat Race, Mares Only, Listed Race||2m½f||November Meeting||November|
|Handicap Chase||Handicap Chase, Grade 3||3m3½f||November Meeting||November|
|Cheltenham Chase||Chase, Grade 2||2m||November Meeting||November|
|Greatwood Hurdle||Handicap Hurdle, Grade 3||2m½f||November Meeting||November|
|Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle||Novices’ Hurdle, Grade 2||2m½f||November Meeting||November|
|Handicap Chase||Handicap Chase, Grade 3||3m2f||International Meeting||December|
|Triumph Trial||Juvenile Hurdle, 3yo Only, Class 2||2m1f||International Meeting||December|
|Racing Post Gold Cup||Handicap Chase, Grade 3||2m4½f||International Meeting||December|
|Bristol Novices’ Hurdle||Novices’ Hurdle, Grade 2||3m||International Meeting||December|
|International Hurdle||Hurdle, Grade 2||2m1f||International Meeting||December|
|Dipper Novices’ Chase||Novices’ Chase, Grade 2||2m4½f||New Year||January|
|New Year’s Day Handicap Chase||Handicap Chase, Grade 3||2m4½f||New Year||January|
|Relkeel Hurdle||Hurdle, Grade 2||2m4½f||New Year||January|
|Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle||Hurdle, 4yo Only, Grade 2||2m1f||Trials Day||January|
|Handicap Chase||Handicap Chase, Grade 3||2m4½f||Trials Day||January|
|Cotswold Chase||Chase, Grade 2||3m1½f||Trials Day||January|
|Cleeve Hurdle||Hurdle, Grade 2||3m||Trials Day||January|
|Classic Novices’ Hurdle||Novices’ Hurdle, Grade 2||2m4½f||Trials Day||January|
About Cheltenham Racecourse
While important for decades, Cheltenham has now become the heart of all things jump racing. Cheltenham is where all horsemen wish and hope to have winners.
Aside from a spattering of admittedly top-class and important handicaps and conditions races, Cheltenham is where all of Britain’s best National Hunt races are run.
Cheltenham hosts 16 days of excellent racing every season. Major meetings in October, November and December are backed up by racing on New Year’s Day and the Trials Day fixture at the end of January.
Further meetings are held in April and/or May, but the focal point of the season for Cheltenham and the wider jump racing scene is of course The Festival, held every year in March.
The Cheltenham Festival is truly the jewel in the crown of this code of horse racing. Once a three-day meeting, The Festival is now a four-day event and could be extended further to incorporate a fifth day, much to the chagrin of the purists in the sport.
The Festival features 28 races currently. A mix of Grade 1 events, Grade 2’s, competitive handicap chases and hurdles, novice races, mares-only races, juvenile events, amateur jockeys’ races and a cross-country race are all featured.
Each day features a championship race. Tuesday’s main event is the Champion Hurdle, though the Arkle for the novice chasers is also huge.
Wednesday’s championship event is the two-mile Champion Chase, while Thursday is when the Stayers’ Hurdle over three miles is on show. These days, the Stayers’ Hurdle shares top-billing with the Ryanair Chase too.
Friday, the last day of the meeting, is highlighted by the Cheltenham Gold Cup. This is the number one race of the entire season. Staged over 3 miles, 2½ furlongs of the tough New Course, the Gold Cup is the true test of a jumper.
Tactical speed to stay in position, jumping prowess over the stiff Cheltenham fences, balance over the undulations and down the hill as the race gets going and sheer stamina are all required of a potential Gold Cup winner.
More than 250,000 attend the Cheltenham Festival each year and that may even rise in the near future.
A timeline of Cheltenham Racecourse’s history:
- 1815 – racing first takes place on Nottingham Hill.
- 1818 – racing is organised at nearby Cleeve Hill.
- 1829 – a priest preaches the evils of racing – the grandstand is burnt to the ground before the 1830 meeting!
- 1834 – steeplechasing is established at Andoversford.
- 1898 – racing is moved to the site where Cheltenham Racecourse is now situated.
- 1924 – the Cheltenham Gold Cup is first introduced.
- 1960 – the original Tattersalls Grandstand is opened to accommodate growing crowds.
- 1990 – pre-parade ring used for the first time with more new facilities opened in 1992 and 1993.
- 2005 – The Festival is extended to four days for the first time with the introduction of the Ryanair Chase.
- 2015 – a £45 million redevelopment is shown off in time for the November meeting.