Cheltenham Festival

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Coordinates: 51°55′13″N 2°3′28″W / 51.92028°N 2.05778°W / 51.92028; -2.05778

The Cheltenham Festival is a meeting in the National Hunt racing calendar in the United Kingdom, with race prize money second only to the Grand National. The four-day festival takes place annually in March at Cheltenham Racecourse in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. It usually coincides with Saint Patrick's Day and is particularly popular with Irish visitors.

The meeting features several Grade I races including the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase, and Stayers' Hurdle. Large amounts of money are gambled; hundreds of millions of pounds are bet over the course of the week. Cheltenham is noted for its atmosphere, including the "Cheltenham roar", which refers to the enormous amount of noise that the crowd generates as the starter raises the tape for the first race of the festival.

History[]

Origins[]

Cheltenham racecourse in 2010

The Cheltenham Festival originated in 1860 when the National Hunt Chase was first held at Market Harborough. It was initially titled the Grand National Hunt Meeting and took place at several locations since its institution, at the turn of the 20th century it was mostly held at Warwick Racecourse. In 1904 and 1905 it was staged at Cheltenham over a new course established at Prestbury Park in 1902, having previously taken place at Cheltenham in 1861. From 1906 to 1910 it was again held at Warwick but further additions and major improvements made at Cheltenham by Messrs. Pratt and Company, including a new stand (the fourth one), miles of drain to prevent unsuitable racing ground, tar paving in the enclosures and the paddock extended to 35 saddling boxes, proved enough to make the National Hunt Committee decide on that the 1911 meeting was to return at Prestbury Park, Cheltenham where it remained to the present day. The earliest traceable reference to a "Festival" is in the Warwick Advertiser of 1907.

The Stayers' Hurdle, which first ran in 1912, is the oldest race from the Cheltenham festival that is currently a championship race. The Gold Cup, established in 1924, was originally a supporting race for the County Hurdle. This was the main event of the first day but that quickly changed, and in the following seasons it became a championship race. For many years it was still used by the trainers as a preparation race for the Grand National. The Champion Hurdle first ran in 1927 and the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 1959; they were both championship races from the time they were introduced, unlike the Stayers' Hurdle and Gold Cup.

Races[]

Cross-country chase, 2010

Until 2005 the festival had traditionally been held over the course of three days, but this changed with the introduction of a fourth day, meaning there would be one championship race on each day, climaxing with the Gold Cup on the Friday. To ensure each day would still have six races, five new races were introduced. Four further races have since been added, bringing the total to 28 races overall, with grade one events including the Champion Bumper, Triumph Hurdle, Ryanair Chase, Supreme Novices' Hurdle, Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle, Arkle Challenge Trophy, RSA Chase, Champion Hurdle, World Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase and the feature race, the Gold Cup. The festival also includes one of the two biggest Hunter Chases of the season, the Foxhunters', which is run on the Friday over the same course as the Gold Cup.

Unlike Royal Ascot and many other top flat racing events in Great Britain and Ireland, the Cheltenham Festival does not have a history of attracting many international contenders, though French-trained horses have done well. Baracouda was perhaps the best known, after landing the Stayers' Hurdle twice.

Notable events[]

1987–2019[]

Winners' enclosure in 2014

On 17 March 1987, 21-year-old Gee Armytage became the first female jockey to win a race at the festival. She won the Kim Muir Challenge Cup, back then held on Tuesdays and backed it with another victory the next day in the Mildmay of Flete Challenge Cup on a horse aptly named Gee-A.

In 2001 the Festival was cancelled due to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain. The meeting had initially been postponed to April, but when a case of the disease was confirmed locally, putting the racecourse within an exclusion zone, all racing had to be called off.

In 2008, the second day of the festival was cancelled due to heavy storms. The races scheduled for that day were instead run on the third and final days. In 2019 a record opening day crowd of 67,934 people attended.

2020 coronavirus pandemic[]

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and in line with government advice the festival went ahead from 10–13 March 2020. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a pandemic on 11 March. On 16 March, three days after the festival, the British government advised against large gatherings and on 23 March ordered a lockdown. The festival attracted 251,684 visitors that year, including a final-day crowd of 68,859, fewer than 2,000 down on the previous year's record.

The Times reported fears in early April that the festival had "helped spread the disease widely across the country". One visitor who developed COVID-19 later complained about having been "packed like sardines". Hundreds of festival visitors said they had developed symptoms, according to the newspaper. An analysis in April by Edge Health (which analyses NHS data) stated, according to the Daily Telegraph, that the Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which covers Cheltenham, had recorded "125 deaths, roughly double that in two nearby trusts at Bristol (58 each), and those covering Swindon (67) and Bath (46)". Gloucestershire council responded that "many factors" could have caused this. According to the Sunday Times, the analysis linked the Cheltenham Festival to 37 deaths "at nearby hospitals between 25 and 35 days later".

Horse-welfare concerns[]

For several years there have been concerns about the number of horse injuries and fatalities. In 2006, 11 horses died. In response the racecourse decreased the number of runners in certain races and re-sited one of the more difficult fences.

On the opening day of the 2012 festival, three horses were euthanised after suffering bone fractures or breaks, including two during the Cross-Country Chase, becoming the second and third equine fatalities in that race since 2000. Another two horses died during the festival. Some critics said that races should not have gone ahead because of the firmness of the ground following exceptionally dry weather. The RSPCA suggested that guidelines be reviewed, while the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) stated that "with over 90,000 runners a year [in British horse racing], some accidents and sadly some injuries are inevitable".

At the 2018 festival there were six horse deaths, leading to a BHA review into equine safety. The review was published in December 2018 and listed 17 recommendations for future Cheltenham fixtures and jump racing in general, including reduced field size numbers at Cheltenham and a pre-race veterinary check for all runners at the festival. At the 2019 festival there were three horse deaths, leading to another BHA review.

2019 races[]

The number and type of races at the Cheltenham Festival has changed dramatically over the years of its existence. In particular, it has grown from a two-day meeting to a four-day meeting. In 2019, there were 28 races as follows:

Day Race Obstacles Distance Class Sponsor
Tuesday Supreme Novices' Hurdle Hurdles 2 mi 12 furlong (3.3 km) Grade 1 SkyBet
Tuesday Arkle Challenge Trophy Fences 2 mi (3.2 km) Grade 1 Racing Post
Tuesday Festival Trophy Handicap Chase Fences 3 mi 12 furlong (4.9 km) Grade 3 Ultima Business Solutions
Tuesday Champion Hurdle Hurdles 2 mi 12 furlong (3.3 km) Grade 1 Unibet
Tuesday David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle Hurdles 2 mi 4 furlongs (4 km) Grade 1 Close Brothers Group
Tuesday Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase Fences 2 mi 4 12 furlongs (4.1 km) Listed Northern Trust
Tuesday National Hunt Challenge Cup Fences 4 mi (6.4 km) Grade 2
Wednesday Baring Bingham Novices' Hurdle Hurdles 2 mi 5 furlongs (4.2 km) Grade 1 Ballymore
Wednesday RSA Chase Fences 3 mi 12 furlong (4.9 km) Grade 1 RSA Insurance Group
Wednesday Queen Mother Champion Chase Fences 2 mi (3.2 km) Grade 1 Betway
Wednesday Coral Cup Hurdles 2 mi 5 furlongs (4.2 km) Grade 3 Coral
Wednesday Cross Country Chase Cross Country 2 mi 7 furlongs (4.6 km) Ungraded Glenfarclas
Wednesday Fred Winter Juvenile Novices' Handicap Hurdle Hurdles 2 mi 12 furlong (3.3 km) Grade 3 Boodles
Wednesday Champion Bumper NHF 2 mi 12 furlong (3.3 km) Grade 1 Weatherbys
Thursday Golden Miller Novices' Chase Fences 2 mi 4 furlongs (4 km) Grade 1 Marsh
Thursday Pertemps Final Hurdles 3 mi (4.8 km) Listed Pertemps
Thursday Festival Trophy Fences 2 mi 5 furlongs (4.2 km) Grade 1 Ryanair
Thursday Stayers' Hurdle Hurdles 3 mi (4.8 km) Grade 1 Paddy Power
Thursday Mildmay of Flete Challenge Cup Fences 2 mi 5 furlongs (4.2 km) Grade 3 Brown Advisory / Merriebelle Stable
Thursday Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Fences 3 mi 1 12 furlongs (5.1 km) Ungraded
Thursday Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle Hurdle 2 mi 1 furlong (3.4 km) Grade 2 Daylesford
Friday Triumph Hurdle Hurdles 2 mi 1 furlong (3.4 km) Grade 1 JCB
Friday County Handicap Hurdle Hurdles 2 mi 1 furlong (3.4 km) Grade 3 Randox Health
Friday Spa Novices' Hurdle Hurdles 3 mi (4.8 km) Grade 1 Albert Bartlett
Friday Cheltenham Gold Cup Fences 3 mi 2 12 furlongs (5.3 km) Grade 1 Magners
Friday Foxhunter Chase Fences 2 mi 2 12 furlongs (3.7 km) Ungraded St James's Place
Friday Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase Fences 2 mi 12 furlong (3.3 km) Grade 3
Friday Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle Hurdles 2 mi 4 12 furlongs (4.1 km) Ungraded

Top jockeys[]

The top jockey for the festival is the jockey who wins the most races over the four days. The winners since 1980, with wins in brackets, are:

Leading trainers[]

The leading trainer for the festival is the trainer who trains the most winners in the races over the four days. The winners since 1997, with wins in brackets, are:

See also[]

References[]

  1. "Going is good for Cheltenham". BBC Sport. 17 March 1998. Retrieved 10 March 2009.
  2. "Cheltenham festival gets underway this afternoon". The Belfast Telegraph. 10 March 2009. Retrieved 10 March 2009.
  3. "1912 Improvemnts and additions at Cheltenham". Gloucester Citizen. 9 December 1912. Retrieved 14 November 2015.(Subscription required.)
  4. "1911 National Hunt Steeplechase meeting at Prestbury Park". Cheltenham Chronicle. 11 March 1911. Retrieved 15 November 2015.(Subscription required.)
  5. "1913 National Hunt Meeting – a record attendance". Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer. 13 March 1913. Retrieved 14 November 2015.(Subscription required.)
  6. Stevens, Peter, History of the National Hunt Chase 1860–2010. ISBN 978-0-9567250-0-4
  7. "A head victory for Red Splash". Western Morning News. 13 March 1924. Retrieved 14 November 2015.(Subscription required.)
  8. "County Hurdle goes to Hednesford". Daily Mail. 12 March 1924. Retrieved 14 November 2015.(Subscription required.)
  9. "Geee upsets odds – and men – at the Festival". The Glasgow Herald. 19 March 1987. Retrieved 4 November 2015.
  10. "Cheltenham Festival called off". BBC Sport. 1 April 2001. Retrieved 10 March 2009.
  11. "Cheltenham Festival". BBC Sport. 12 March 2008. Retrieved 10 March 2009.
  12. "Day Two of Cheltenham Festival will go ahead despite strong winds and heavy rain". Irish Independent. 13 March 2019. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  13. ^ Humphries, Will (3 April 2020). "Fears that Cheltenham Festival may have spread coronavirus throughout country". The Times. Archived from the original on 3 April 2020. Retrieved 7 April 2020.
  14. "WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19—11 March 2020". World Health Organization. 11 March 2020. Archived from the original on 11 March 2020.
  15. "COVID-19 guidance for mass gatherings". gov.uk, 16 March 2020,
  16. Stewart, Heather; Mason, Rowena; Dodd, Vikram (23 March 2020): Boris Johnson orders UK lockdown to be enforced by police. The Guardian.
  17. "Shadow sports minister says there are 'serious questions' over why Cheltenham went ahead". BBC Sport, 4 April 2020.
  18. Cook, Chris (13 March 2020). "Cheltenham Festival bubble brings respite despite disbelief elsewhere". The Guardian.
  19. Conn, David (3 June 2020). "'We were packed like sardines': evidence grows of mass-event dangers early in pandemic". The Guardian.
  20. Forte, Joseph (19 March 2020). "Statement released after Cheltenham Festival staff and racegoers develop coronavirus symptoms". Stroud News & Journal.
  21. Nuki, Paul (28 April 2020). "Revealed: The three UK sporting events that may have led to a coronavirus death spike". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 29 April 2020.
  22. Calvert, Jonathan; Arbuthnott, George; Leake, Jonathan; Gadher, Dipesh (23 May 2020). "22 days of dither and delay on coronavirus that cost thousands of British lives". The Sunday Times. Archived from the original on 24 May 2020. Retrieved 26 May 2020.
  23. GMT (14 March 2012). "Cheltenham Festival: Two more horses die on second day". BBC. Retrieved 15 August 2012.
  24. Faulkner, Katherine (16 March 2012). "RSPCA fury at carnage of Cheltenham horses as five die in bloodiest opening to festival for six years". Daily Mail. London.
  25. Barber, Bill (12 December 2018). "BHA unveils 17 recommendations from welfare review of Cheltenham Festival". Racing Post.
  26. "Cheltenham Festival 2019: Sir Erec suffers fatal injury in the Triumph Hurdle". BBC News. 15 March 2019.
  27. "Cheltenham Festival horse Sir Erec's death to be investigated by BHA". Gloucestershire Live. 15 March 2019.
  28. "2015 Top Jockey". Irish Racing. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  29. "Top Jockeys 2014-1997". Cheltenham. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  30. "Cheltenham Festival Top Trainers 2004–2013". Eclipse. Archived from the original on 24 February 2015. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
  31. "Cheltenham Festival Top Trainer 2014-1997". Cheltenham Festival. Archived from the original on 21 February 2015. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
  32. "2015 Leading Trainer". Irish Racing. Retrieved 13 March 2015.

External links[]