Cheltenham Festival Race Cards
Cheltenham Racecourse’s most prestigious meeting is the Cheltenham Festival, held in March, which features several Grade 1 races including the Cheltenham Gold Cup , Champion Hurdle , Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Stayers' Hurdle .
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Cheltenham Course - Old and New
The Cheltenham Festival is split in two: days one and two will be run on the Old Course, days three and four on the New Course. The two courses are both left-handed and essentially stiff in nature, but there are subtle differences that can prove crucial.
The New Course, which hosts the longer Stayers' Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup , puts extra emphasis on a horse’s stamina, which can lead to everything changing as the field climbs the fabled Cheltenham hill.
There is also a cross-country course which is laid out inside the main racecourse and is used for cross-country steeplechases.
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Tuesday - Champion Day
The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle starts the Cheltenham Festival and sees runners sent off with the famous ‘Cheltenham roar’. The Supreme has an impressive roll of honour, including the likes of Vautour and Douvan, but one of the most notable winners in recent years was the Nicky Henderson -trained Altior, who denied Willie Mullins and Rich Ricci a four-timer in the race in 2016.
The Arkle Challenge Trophy is the race for the top two-mile novice chasers. The Arkle has been won in the past by the likes of Moscow Flyer, Azertyuiop, Sizing Europe and Sprinter Sacre, all of whom went on to land the Champion Chase at subsequent Festivals. Willie Mullins has dominated the race in recent years, including victories for Un de Sceaux, Douvan, Footpad and Duc des Genievres.
The third race on the card is the Festival Handicap Chase which witnessed one of the best rides in Cheltenham Festival history when Wichita Lineman was carried home by A.P McCoy in 2009, and Wichita Lineman’s owner J.P. McManus will likely target one or two at the race again.
The Champion Hurdle is the feature race on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival. It was won in impressive fashion by Buveur d’Air in 2018, 12 months after his first win in the race, but he fell in the most recent renewal won emphatically by Espoir d’Allen.
The Mares’ Hurdle is one of the newest additions to the Cheltenham Festival, run for the first time in 2008, and has been utterly dominated by Willie Mullins in that time, winning the race eight times in a row between 2009 and 2016, as well as in 2018.
The National Hunt Chase is one of three races at the Cheltenham Festival restricted to amateur riders, and, at four miles, it is the longest race of the meeting. Jonjo O’Neill is the winning-most trainer having saddled the victor on six occasions, including with Minella Rocco , but it’s another race that Irish trainers have had plenty of success in recent times.
The Novices’ Handicap Chase concludes the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, and the race, first run in 2005, is often a fascinating betting heat. It is often a compressed handicap, bringing the most progressive novices’ together, and has a history of representing strong form.
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Wednesday – Ladies Day
The Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle – formally known as the Baring Bingham Novices’ Hurdle – will open day two of the Cheltenham Festival. It has been won by the likes of Faugheen , Hardy Eustace and the legendary Istabraq in the past, all of whom went on to win the Champion Hurdle at some point in their careers. The 2018 renewal was won in impressive fashion by Samcro .
The RSA Chase , for the top staying novice chasers, was often at odds with its place as a Cheltenham Gold Cup trial, before Bobs Worth in 2013 and then Lord Windermere in 2014 completed the double. The 2015 RSA Chase was won by Don Poli, though he could only manage third in the 2016 Gold Cup.
The Coral Cup is one of the most famous and competitive handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival and this year’s renewal looks set to continue that trend. The 2019 renewal was won by William Henry, who flashed home under Nico de Boinville to deny the Willie Mullins-trained Wicklow Brave.
The Queen Mother Champion Chase is the feature of Day Two of the Cheltenham Festival and has played host to some dramatic races. Sprinter Sacre recorded an emotional victory in 2016 when regaining his 2013 title, after some well-documented physical issues, beating 2015 Arkle winner Un de Sceaux into second. Altior underlined his position at the top of the two-mile chasing division when storming up the hill to land both the 2018 and 2019 renewals.
The Cross-Country Chase has produced more than its share of Festival legends, including Garde Champetre and Balthazar King, the latter taking his second Cross-Country Chase in 2014 before going on to finish second to Pineau de Re in the same spring’s Grand National. Trainer Enda Bolger saddled the Cross Country winner four times from the first five runnings, but recent renewals have been dominated by Tiger Roll.
The Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle is seen as something of a consolation race for the Triumph Hurdle, but is furiously competitive in its own right.
Willie Mullins has saddled the Champion Bumper winner on numerous occasions, with the mare Relegate providing him with a ninth winner in 2018, though he had to settle for second a year later as Blue Sari could only manage second behind Envoi Allen. Champion Bumper contenders can often be seen revisiting the Festival over obstacles for many years to come.
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Thursday – St Patrick’s Thursday
Although only a decade old, the JLT Novices’ Chase (Golden Miller) has already produced high-class winners such as Sir des Champs, Vautour and Yorkhill. Irish horses have dominated the race, with only Taquin du Seuil and Defi du Seuil breaking their stranglehold in 2014 and 2019 respectively.
The Pertemps Final is another typically competitive handicap race at the Cheltenham Festival and is run over the same course and distance as the World Hurdle. Patrick Kelly and Davy Russell won the 2016 and 2017 renewals with Mall Dini and Presenting Percy, respectively, while Russell completed his own hat-trick in the race when guiding Delta Work to victory in 2018. Delta Work’s stablemate Sire du Berlais won the 2019 renewal.
The roll call of Ryanair Chase winners since it was given Grade 1 status in 2008 places it alongside the Queen Mother Champion Chase and Cheltenham Gold Cup. The 2017 Ryanair Chase winner Un de Sceaux followed in the footsteps of Cue Card and Vautour, but had to settle for second a year later when chasing home Balko des Flos 12 in 2018. The 2019 renewal was won in gutsy fashion by Frodon.
The Stayers’ Hurdle – formerly known as the World Hurdle - has been the feature of Day Three at the Cheltenham Festival since 2005 and produces multiple winners like no other race at the Cheltenham Festival. Baracouda (two), Inglis Drever (three) and Big Buck’s (four) have all won multiple runnings of the race this century. The 2019 winner Paisley Park will be hoping to follow suit in the near future.
The Festival Plate feels like the ‘final’ in a series of races that goes through the BetVictor Gold Cup and Caspian Caviar Gold Cup. Irish-trained horses had dominated in recent years before the bold front-running performance of Siruh du Lac secured a win for Britain in 2019.
One of the races at the Cheltenham Festival restricted to amateur jockeys, the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir has been the Festival’s main Grand National trial in recent years. Cloudy Lane, Junior, Ballabriggs and Sunnyhillboy have all been fancied at Aintree the year after winning the Kim Muir. Any Second Now won the 2019 renewal.
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Friday – Gold Cup Day
The Triumph Hurdle kicks off the final day of the Cheltenham Festival. A race restricted to four-year-olds, it has been won by the likes of Katchit, Zarkandar, Our Conor and Defi du Seuil this century. Nicky Henderson is the leading trainer in the race with seven wins, the most recent of which came with Pentland Hills in 2019.
The County Hurdle , one of the most competitive handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival and of the season, often bringing plenty of well-handicapped sorts together, and is a notoriously difficult betting heat. The Willie Mullins-trained Arctic Fire proved his class when winning off top weight in 2017, while Mohaayed sprang a shock result when winning at odds of 33/1 a year later. His stablemate Ch’tibello was a much shorter price but no less impressive when winning the 2019 renewal.
The Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle , known formally as the Spa, was won in 2011 by subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth. Run over a distance of three miles, it is the premier staying event for novice hurdlers at the Cheltenham Festival, but was another race that saw a surprise winner in 2018, with Kilbricken Storm staying on best up the hill to oblige, also at odds of 33/1. He was outshone a year later, though, by the 50/1 chance Minella Indo.
The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the highlight of the Cheltenham Festival and the most prestigious race of the entire Jumps season. Past greats such as Golden Miller, Arkle and Desert Orchid, and modern heroes like Best Mate and Kauto Star, have all tasted victory in this race. Sizing John showed himself a top-class staying chaser when winning the 2017 Gold Cup in what was a good renewal, but Might Bite and Native River served up a real treat the following season, with the last-named proving too strong. A year later, Anibale Fly – who had been a third in 2018 – went one place better when chasing home Al Boum Photo, who provided Willie Mullins with his first winner in the race. powerfully throughout but just couldn’t match his rival’s stamina reserves.
The Foxhunter Chase , contested over the same course and distance as the Cheltenham Gold Cup, is limited to amateur riders. Nina Carberry tasted victory for the second year in succession aboard On The Fringe in 2016, with Olympic gold medal-winning cyclist Victoria Pendleton a well-documented fifth on Pacha du Polder. That horse went on to win the 2018 renewal, with his jockey Harriet Tucker sustaining a dislocated shoulder during the race but still able to guide her willing partner to a neck victory. The 2019 renewal was won in more clinical style by the well-backed Hazel Hill.
The Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle , for conditional jockeys, is run in the name of the 15-time champion trainer who saddled no fewer than 34 Cheltenham Festival winners. His son David Pipe is yet to win the race, however, with both the 2017 and 2018 renewals going to Gordon Elliott . The Irish trainer had to settle for second in 2019, though, as the Joseph O’Brien-trained Early Doors beat Elliott’s Dallas des Pictons.
Run in the name of Johnny Henderson (Nicky’s father) since 2005, the Grand Annual is the final event of the Cheltenham Festival and has been won by Nicky Henderson in 2006 and 2012. Paul Nicholls is the leading trainer in the race, though, with four wins, his latest coming in 2018 with Le Prezien . The 12-year-old Croco Bay rolled back the years to spring a 66/1 surprise in the 2019 renewal.
As well as the Cheltenham Festival, Cheltenham Racecourse stages a number of other fixtures during the course of the National Hunt (also known as the Jumps) season.
The Showcase Meeting takes place in late-Oct. The exciting two-day meeting sees a host of new racing recruits join the ranks - from trainers and jockeys to future equine stars and sets the tone for what's to come, leading all the way to The Festival in March.
The November Meeting, as its name suggests, takes place in mid-November, although it was called the Open Meeting until recently. That name was changed due to some confusion between the Open Golf Championship. The November Meeting’s big race is the BetVictor Gold Cup, and provides one of the most exciting racedays of the season.
The International Hurdle is one of the big races at the December meeting which uses the race’s name, while the International Meeting also offers the cross-country specialists a chance to shine in the Crystal Cup, a race that concludes a series of unique races across Europe which encapsulates and celebrates the rich heritage of the sport. The meeting also includes the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup Handicap Chase.
The action on New Year's Day hosts seven quality races, including two Grade 2s with trainers, jockeys and racegoers all hoping to get their year off to a flyer, while Festival Trials Day at the end of January helps punters and trainer finalise their choices for the big one at the Festival. The racing highlight of Festival Trials Day is the Cotswold Steeple Chase, often considered a trial for the Gold Cup in March.
Following the thrill of the Cheltenham Festival, the following month’s two-day April Meeting provides a final chance for racegoers to see their favourite horses and jockeys before the summer break. The feature event is the Grade Two Silver Trophy Chase.