The Cheltenham Racecourse

In one sentence…

The most prestigious racecourse and ‘HQ’ for jumps horse racing in the UK, attracting sell-out crowds to the world-famous Cheltenham Festival staged annually over four days in March.


What’s on at Cheltenham

The course stages 16 days of racing during the year – headlined by the Cheltenham Festival.  They also have a meeting on New Year’s Day and have one evening fixture in late April.

Future 2023/24 meetings at the racecourse are scheduled for:

  • The Cheltenham Festival (14,15,16,17 March)
  • The April Meeting (19, 20 April)
  • Hunter Chase Race Night (5 May – evening)
  • The Showcase Meeting (27, 28 October)
  • November Meeting (17, 18, 19 November)
  • The International Meeting (15, 16 December)
  • New Year’s Day Meeting (1 January 2024)
  • Festival Trials Day (27 January)

Where is Cheltenham Racecourse?

Cheltenham Racecourse, Evesham Road, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL50 4SH. The racecourse is situated in heart of the picturesque Cotswolds in Gloucestershire and is around one mile from the town centre.  The course is also known as Prestbury Park.

Map of cheltenham

Getting to Cheltenham

If driving, allow plenty of time as the roads can get very congested, especially during the Cheltenham Festival meeting.  Parking is available at the course but is best to be pre-booked otherwise it can be a longer walk to the entrance.=

The nearest railway station is Cheltenham Spa – which takes around 10 minutes in a taxi or you can catch one of the courtesy shuttle buses provided by the track. If you fancy getting there a bit quicker – the centre of the racecourse also doubles up as an airfield during The Festival week with 400 helicopter flights accommodated!


The Track

Cheltenham stage jumps racing over both hurdles and larger fences. There are actually three separate courses which are used depending on the race type and it’s not unusual for there to be different going conditions on the three different circuits.

There’s the Old Course, New Course and Cross Country Course and the management of the racing ground falls under the role of the clerk of the course Jon Pullin.

Unlike Premier League football grounds, there is no undersoil heating at a racecourse so if the weather is bad always check in advance whether the meeting is still on or whether any inspections have been announced.  The course has a good record against the weather elements however a Saturday card in December 2022 was abandoned because of overnight frost.

The course is a tough test for both horse and jockey. It’s undulating and features the famous Cheltenham Hill where many fortunes have fluctuated on the stiff climb to the winning line which actually starts half a mile from the post.

The fences in the chase races are stiff and poor jumpers can often be found out. The racing is generally ultra-competitive and contested by large field sizes. Many horses trained in Ireland take part and there was also a French-trained winner in 2023.

The Cross Country course is in the centre of the course and 32 fences (including ones called the Cheese Wedges!) are jumping in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase on the Wednesday of the Cheltenham Festival. It’s a race for specialists and previous winners tend to do well again.  Given the marathon trip of three miles and six furlongs and the number of obstacles, it’s no surprise that many runners who take part here also go on to run in the Grand National at Aintree the following month.


Who to watch at Cheltenham Racecourse

The top trainers and jockeys from the United Kingdom and Ireland dominate as the racing at Cheltenham is the best in the country and brings together the best of the best.

Over the last three years the top Irish trainer Willie Mullins leads the way with 25 winners and top UK trainers Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson also both figure prominently.

Jockeys with a great record at Cheltenham include Harry Skelton, Sam Twiston-Davies and Paul Townend but in National Hunt Flat races (also known as bumpers) look out for Paddy Brennan who tops the table. The most successful jockey in recent years was Ruby Walsh who has since retired and is now a TV pundit.

Horses that have a previous good experience at Cheltenham are also at an advantage. It can be a unique challenge, especially at The Festival meeting where horses are asked to perform on the biggest stage of all.  Some struggle to handle the combination of crowd noise, big fields plus the highly competitive level of racing.

One headline horse to look out for in 2023 is the Irish-trained mare Honeysuckle. She has won the last two Champion Hurdles – part of her incredible 16-race unbeaten sequence and is expected to have her final race in the 2023 Mare’s Hurdle at The Festival in March.


The Cheltenham Racegoer

All the Cheltenham meetings provide an amazing day at the races but there’s nothing quite like the Cheltenham Festival in March where the crowds swell to around 60,000 each day.  The quietest meeting is probably the evening card in May.

The view from the stands is exceptional and it’s easy to see why Cheltenham is often described as a natural amphitheatre. It’s set against the beautiful backdrop of Cleeve Hill.

One of the most important things to remember is to bring cash if you are planning some bets on the course and cards for everything else. Cheltenham Racecourse is now cashless, so all catering and bars will only accept cards and there are also no cashpoint machines on the course.

There are three main areas of the racecourse and whilst admission prices vary they all offer a great view of the racing with plenty of fast food outlets and bars within easy reach. And there is plenty consumed at Cheltenham. At The Festival alone 45,000 bread rolls are eaten, 5 tons of cheese are demolished and 8,000 gallons of tea and coffee are served!

The three enclosures (in descending price order) are the Club, Tattersalls and Best Mate.

Tickets and parking can be pre-booked for all meetings via the official racecourse website

In 2023 Cheltenham Racecourse moved to relax their dress code in a bid to make horse racing more ‘accessible and inclusive’.

Racegoers can now wear what they feel most comfortable and confident in, with no restrictions on which enclosures they can access based on what they are wearing.

The exceptions to the new rules are offensive clothing or fancy dress and replica sports shirts, which are not permitted.


After the Races

There are plenty of eating and drinking options in Cheltenham town centre.  Always useful to book ahead though, especially during Cheltenham Festival week.

Good bar options include The Botanist, The Alchemist and Bentleys Bar with recommended quieter options further out of town including Calcott Manor & Spa (Tetbury) and Burleigh Court (Minchinhampton) – they both offer accommodation with good food/drink options.


Cheltenham in the Media

All Cheltenham’s races are covered by the subscription racing television service Racing TV however many of their races (including the Cheltenham Festival) are also televised free to air by ITV Racing.  The major races are also broadcast live by Radio 5 Live.

In 2010 a charity single was released simply called ‘Cheltenham’. It was a cover of Petula Clark’s 1964 hit Downtown. The sales went to four racing charities and a cast of 40 famous racing celebrities took part including: A P McCoy, Paul Nicholls, Noel Meade, Edward O’Grady, Barry Geraghty and Davy Russell.


The Big Races at Cheltenham

The feature races at the Cheltenham Festival are the biggest races of the year at the racecourse:

  • Unibet Champion Hurdle (Cheltenham Festival, Tuesday)
  • Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (Cheltenham Festival, Wednesday)
  • Ryanair Chase (Cheltenham Festival, Thursday)
  • Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup (Cheltenham Festival, Friday)

Away from The Festival Meeting, the next biggest race staged at the course is the Paddy Power Gold Cup at the November Meeting.


The History of Racing at Cheltenham

The first organised race meeting at Cheltenham dates back to 1815.  The first Cheltenham Gold Cup was run in 1924 and won by Red Splash. The first Cheltenham Festival was staged in 1911.


Famous Winners

Winners at Cheltenham represent a Who’s Who of British horse racing.  The Gold Cup alone has seen household names win the race including Kauto Star, Best Mate, Arkle, Golden Miller and Denman.

Five horses have won the Champion Hurdle three times, the most recent was the Aidan O’Brien trained Istabraq who won the race in 1998, 1999 and 2000 but missed his chance to win a record fourth win when the Cheltenham Festival was cancelled in 2001 due to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease.  Aside from the two World Wars, this is the only other time the Cheltenham Festival has been cancelled.

Quevega holds the record for the most consecutive number of wins at Cheltenham. She won the Mares’ Hurdle for six consecutive years between 2009 and 2014 – a record that surely will be hard to beat.

In 1983 trainer Michael Dickinson saddled the first five homes in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Bregawn, Captain John, Wayward Lad, Silver Buck, and Ashley House.

The late Her Majesty The Queen was a frequent visitor to Cheltenham and had her first success as an owner there when Sunshade won at the April Meeting in 2019.