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Cheltenham Festival Guide

The Cheltenham Festival is the best week of National Hunt action in the racing calendar.

28 races. 14 Grade One’s. Four memorable days.

Dating back to 1911, the Festival has been a year-on-year fixture for over 100 years.

Taking place in the middle of March, Tuesday 16th until Friday 19th in 2021 to be exact, it is an event like no other.

The big questions from the Jumps season are answered at Prestbury Park in front of 250,000 racegoers.

Britain’s best take on the Irish elite as the eyes of the sporting world turn to Gloucestershire.

Read more for a breakdown of each day…

Day One

Join us for the infamous Cheltenham Roar.

You simply cannot beat the opening day of the Festival.

Taking place on the Tuesday, the annual curtain raiser arrived in the form of the Grade One Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

The best two-mile novice hurdlers duel up the Cheltenham hill and bid to get their respective connections off to the best possible start.

The day’s championship race is the Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy.

From Istabraq to Sea Pigeon, and from Faugheen to Buveur D’Air, some of the finest horses in Jumps history have landed the esteemed prize.

Normally a frenziedly run affair, the feature contest of the Tuesday determines who rules the roost in the two-mile open hurdle division.

Tuesday 16th March | Full schedule:

· 13:30 – Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) – 2m 87y

· 14:10 – Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) – 1m 7f 199y

· 14:50 – Ultima Handicap Steeple Chase (Grade 3) – 3m 1f

· 15:30 – Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1) – 2m 87y

· 16:10 – Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle – 2m 3f 200y

· 16:50 – Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) – 2m 87y

· 17:30 – National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys’ Novices’ Chase – 3m 5f 201y

Day Two

The second day of the Festival kickstarts with another Grade One, the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.

There are a further three elite level races on the card, with the feature determining the best two-mile chaser in training: the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.

After another superb day of National Hunt racing, the Weatherbys Champion Bumper brings the Festival to its half way stage before Thursday’s action.

Wednesday 17th March | Full schedule:

· 13:30 – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) – 2m 5f

· 14:10 – Festival Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) – 3m 80y

· 14:50 – Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) – 2m 5f

· 15:30 – Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1) – 1m 7f 199y

· 16:10 – Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase – 3m 6f 37y

· 16:50 – Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase (Grade 3) – 1m 7f 199y

· 17:30 – Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Grade 1) – 2m 87y

Day Three

The penultimate day of the Festival opens with the Marsh Novices’ Chase.

Contenders attempt to set an early benchmark for the Ryanair Chase – an open company Grade One ran later on the same day.

But it’s the Paddy Power Stayers Hurdle that highlights the third day card and proves who reigns supreme in the three-mile division over timber.

Can Paisley Park regain his crown?

Thursday 18th March | Full schedule:

· 13:30 – Marsh Novices Chase (Grade 1) – 2m 3f 168y

· 14:10 – Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) – 2m 7f 213y

· 14:50 – Ryanair Chase (Grade 1) – 2m 4f 127y

· 15:30 – Paddy Power Stayers Hurdle (Grade 1) – 2m 7f 213y

· 16:10 – Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase (Grade 3) – 2m 4f 127y

· 16:50 – Daylesford Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2) – 2m 179y

· 17:30 – Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase – 3m 2f

Day Four

The curtain comes down on Friday afternoon with the final seven races of the Festival, highlighted by the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Who will reign victorious in the blue-ribbon event of the sport?

Including the aforementioned, we have a further three Grade One’s on the card, as well as the introduction of the newly run Grade Two Mrs Paddy Power Mares Chase.

This is before the conclusion of the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle bids racegoers farewell for another twelve months, until we do it all over again.

Friday 19th March | Full schedule:

· 13:30 – JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1) – 2m 179y

· 14:10 – County Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) – 2m 179y

· 14:50 – Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) – 2m 7f 213y

· 15:30 – Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase (Grade 1) – 3m 2f 70y

· 16:10 – Foxhunter Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase – 3m 2f 70y

· 16:50 – Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase (Grade 2) – 2m 4f 217y

· 17:30 – Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle – 2m 4f 56y

Cheltenham Racecourse

There are three courses that equate to the entirety of Cheltenham Racecourse, and while all have differences, they are all left-handed, undulating and the ultimate test of the racehorse.

The New Course is used for the International Meeting, New Year’s Day, Festival Trials Day, the April Meeting and days three and four of the Festival.

On this course, there are just two flights of hurdles in the final six furlongs of races, therefore placing more of an emphasis on stamina.

The Old Course, meanwhile, is used for the Showcase and November meetings, as well as the opening two days of the Festival.

This course is slightly sharper than the new course, so sound jumping is of upmost importance.

Finally, we have the Cross Country Course, which is the only track of its kind in the United Kingdom and is similar to facilities seen at Punchestown and Pau.

It was first introduced to Cheltenham in 1985.

This course is used for the November and International meetings, and is used on the second day of the Festival.

Enclosures

Numerically the same as the course, there are three separate enclosures at Cheltenham Racecourse – the Club, Tattersalls and Best Mate.

The Club enclosure is the most premium experience at Cheltenham, allowing the best views from the main grandstand, lawn and winning post.

There is also paddock seat viewing and access to the Hall Of Fame, shopping village and Princes Royal Stand.

The Tattersalls enclosure gives up close and personal views of runners and riders in the parade ring.

Synonymous with the Festival, the Guinness Village is accessible in March from the Tatts, as well as a wider choice of bars and eateries across the rest of the season.

Finally, the Best Mate enclosure is located opposite the main stand but hosts an atmosphere like no other.

Named after the three-time Cheltenham Gold Cup victor, the Best Mate is the cheapest ticket choice and is most ideal for the novice racegoer.

Despite no access to the parade ring or main enclosures, there is still a stunning view of the course and Cleeve Hill, and is a great alternative for those who want to make the day more affordable.

Jockeys

For any jockey, the one place you want to ride a winner is at Cheltenham.

Ruby Walsh is the all-time leading Cheltenham Festival winning jockey with 59 successes dating back to 1998 until his retirement in 2019.

Walsh was leading jockey at 11 Festival’s and was the first jockey to ride four winners on a single day back in 2017.

He rode Kauto Star to a duo of successes in the Cheltenham Gold Cup – the legendary horse becoming the first to regain his crown in the race after being defeated by stable-mate Denman in between.

His legacy at Prestbury Park also associates him with famous names of the sport including Big Bucks, Faugheen, Quevega and Hurricane Fly.

In 2020, Paul Townend took home the leading jockey title after recording five success – including three on the final day.

He rode Al Boum Photo to a second win in the Cheltenham Gold Cup on day four of last year’s Festival.

Last 5 Leading Jockeys

· 2020 – Paul Townend (5)

· 2019 – Nico de Boinville (3)

· 2018 – Davy Russell (4)

· 2017 – Ruby Walsh (4)

· 2016 – Ruby Walsh (7)

Trainers

The men and women responsible for having the horses ready for the greatest meeting of the year.

Willie Mullins currently sits on top of the perch as the all-time leading handler in Cheltenham Festival history.

He has 72 victories to his name dating back to his first winner in 1995, and following seven winners at the 2020 Festival.

Al Boum Photo, as with Paul Townend, has provided the Closutton chief with his two Gold Cup successes.

Similarly to his retained rider Townend, Willie reigned king of his field and was crowned leading trainer with seven winners.

Seven Barrows steward Nicky Henderson sits just four winners behind Irishman Mullins on 68.

The six-time British champion trainer has won three of the last four renewals of the Unibet Champion Hurdle.

Henderson himself clocked up seven winners when taking home the leading trainers’ title back in 2012, but it’s been Irish domination ever since.

The aforementioned Mullins (6) and Gordon Elliot (2) have shared the spoils between them for the past eight renewals.

Last 5 Leading Trainers

· 2020 – Willie Mullins (7)

· 2019 – Willie Mullins (4)

· 2018 – Gordon Elliot (8)

· 2017 – Gordon Elliot (7)

· 2016 – Willie Mullins (7)

Festival History

The Cheltenham Festival originally started out as a flat event, dating back to August 1818 on record.

Held on Cleeve Hill, the first ever Gold Cup winner was Spectre in 1819.

For the next decade, the event attracted crowds of 50,000 and more before its location switched to Prestbury Park.

Usually held in the summer months, the first National Hunt equivalent of the Festival took place in April 1902 and the Grand Annual is the oldest known jumps race in the calendar.

The Festival as we know it today was moved to March in 1911 where it has been held ever since, to ensure there was no clashes with the Aintree Grand National.

It has been a year-on-year event ever since, apart from the 2001 Festival’s cancellation due to the foot-and-mouth disease.

In 2005, the Festival became a four-day event.

Cheltenham Festival | All-Time Stats:

· Leading jockey – Ruby Walsh | 59 wins

· Leading trainer – Willie Mullins | 72 wins

· Most successful horse – Quevega | 7 wins

· First Gold Cup winner – Spectre | 1819

· Last Gold Cup winner – Al Boum Photo | 2020

· Record Festival attendance – 266,779 | 2019

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