History of the Cheltenham Festival

History of the Cheltenham Festival

The Cheltenham Festival is one of the highlights of the racing calendar, attracting thousands to the racecourse, with millions watching at home, for 4 days of world class horse racing. But how did the Festival start, and what makes it so special? Bet UK take a look at how the Cheltenham Festival as we know and love, came to be. Remember to check out our Cheltenham betting tips ahead of this year’s Festival.

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Origins of the Cheltenham Festival

The first recorded racing at Cheltenham racecourse can be dated back to 1818. Back then, it was a 1 day affair with just 5 races. The first officially recorded winner at a Cheltenham Festival was a five year old mare, Miss Tidmarsh, who helped to prove the success of a regular meeting on Cleeve Hill. After the first meeting, a grandstand was built around the racecourse and the meeting was extended from 1 day to 3. Even more importantly, the signature Gold Cup was introduced for the 1819 meeting and gave the Festival it’s first feature race. Until the turn of the century, the popularity of flat racing dwindled and steeplechase and jumps races became the event that attracted the public’s attention.

Frederick Cathcart might be an unfamiliar name, but he can be credited with making Cheltenham the iconic course that it is today. As Newmarket established itself as the home of flat racing, Cathcart decided that Cheltenham should become the home of jump racing. With Cathcart now in control, the first official Cheltenham Festival took place in 1911. Cheltenham’s popularity grew year on year, with the Gold Cup slowly becoming one of the most important races of the year. Golden Miller won the Gold Cup each year from 1932-36, becoming one of the first big names in horse racing.

After World War 2, the racecourse was bought by Jonny Henderson, the father to hugely successful trainer Nicky Henderson. This prompted the BBC to catch wind of the popularity of horse racing and legendary horses continued to make their name. In particular, Arkle dominated the Gold Cup. Arkle has the highest Timeform racing ever awarded to a steeplechaser at 212. First winning in 1964, Arkle also won the next 2 years and was rewarded with a statue at the course, as well as having a race named after him at modern Festivals.

The Modern Cheltenham Festival

The modern Cheltenham Festival consists of 4 days of racing, with 7 races on each day. That has been the way since 2005, but the format is almost set in stone now and is unlikely to change the near future. These days, over 200,000 combined visitors flock to Cheltenham, providing up to £50m for businesses in the surrounding areas. As well as changing the town of Cheltenham, the Festival has started to change the face of British racing. Each jump race between January and the start of the Festival is now analysed and judged as a final test before the Festival. Trainers and owners spend weeks planning which races to enter their horses in order to best prepare them for Cheltenham.

The popularity for the Festival isn’t just growing in the UK. Entrants from France, Germany and Ireland are becoming more and more popular, with the Irish particularly enjoying constant success at Cheltenham.

Irish Love for the Cheltenham Festival

Ever since Arkle’s remarkable run in the 60’s, the love affair between Irish racing fans and the Cheltenham Festival has grown ever stronger. Despite a lack of winners over the 80’s and 90’s, since the turn of the century, Irish horses, trainers and jockeys have enjoyed unparalleled success. In all races since 2010, just over 50% have been Irish bred and trained, including a record 19/28 in 2017. With such success, it would be a safe bet to assume that the Irish will be more successful again this year.

The Thursday of each Festival is also dedicated to its Irish following, known as St Patrick’s Thursday. The day is often the best for atmosphere, with punters making the most of the famous Guiness Tent in between the races. Trainers and Jockeys to look out for include Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott, Davy Russell and Barry Geraghty, who have all enjoyed success at Festivals in the past.

2020 Cheltenham Festival Schedule

Tuesday 10th March

Time Race Grade Length
1:30 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 1 2m 87y
2:10 Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase 1 1m 7f 199y
2:50 Ultima Handicap Chase 3 3m 1f
3:30 Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy 1 2m 87y
4:10 Festival Mares’ Hurdle 1 2m 3f 200y
4:50 Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase - 2m 4f 44y
5:30 National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase 2 3m 5f 201y

Wednesday 11th March

Time Race Grade Length
1:30 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle 1 2m 5f
2:10 RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase 1 3m 80y
2:50 Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle 3 2m 5f
3:30 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase 1 1m 7f 199y
4:10 Glenfarclas Chase - 3m 6f 37y
4:50 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle 3 2m 87y
5:50 Weatherbys Champion Bumper 1 2m 87y

Thursday 12th March

Time Race Grade Length
1:30 Marsh Novices’ Chase 1 2m 3f 168y
2:10 Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle 3 2m 7f 213y
2:50 Ryanair Chase - 2m 4f 127y
3:30 Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle 1 2m 7f 213y
4:10 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase 3 2m 4f 127y
4:50 Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle 2 2m 179y
5:30 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase - 3m 2f

Friday 13th March

Time Race Grade Length
1:30 JCB Triumph Hurdle 1 2m 179y
2:10 Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle 3 2m 179y
2:50 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle 3 2m 179y
3:30 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase 1 3m 2f 70y
4:10 St James’s Place Foxhunter Challenge Cup Open Hunters Chase 2 3m 2f 170y
4:50 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase 3 2m 62y
5:30 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle - 2m 4f 56y

Bet On The Cheltenham Festival at Bet UK

Bet On The Cheltenham Festival at Bet UK

In the lead up to the event, get the latest Cheltenham betting odds over at Bet UK’s online betting. Not sure which horse to bet on? Then take a look at our Cheltenham betting tips for the thoughts of our racing expert.

*All odds from Bet UK’s online betting markets correct at the time of writing.

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