Cheltenham Gold Cup

The Cheltenham Festival 

 

Where do you even start? In football terms Cheltenham Racecourse is Wembley, the Festival meeting is the FA Cup AND Champions League combined and for horse racing fans it’s simply the Olympics – except it’s every year. 

For golf fans think of it as the Ryder Cup – just replace USA and Europe for GB v Ireland as the best horses from both sides of the Irish Sea battle it out over four days (Tuesday-Friday) in March. 

Like the Grand National, but bigger!

 

The Races at Cheltenham Festival

Cheltenham Racecourse, set in the beautiful Cotswolds in Gloucestershire, hosts 28 jumps races over a variety of distances embracing hurdles, chase fences and even a unique Cross Country course. Just for the good measure, there’s also one race run on the flat – known as a Bumper race for younger horses.

Each of the Festival’s four days has a feature race and each day is marketed under different names: Champion Day (Tuesday, feature race Unibet Champion Hurdle), Festival Wednesday (feature race Betway Champion Chase), St Patrick’s Thursday (feature race Ryanair Chase), Gold Cup Day (Friday, feature race Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup). 

Whilst all four feature races are massive events in their own right it is generally accepted that the Gold Cup is the pinnacle of the week with its roll of honour including some of the best-known horses in steeplechasing history since it was first run in its current format in 1924. Golden Miller set the record of five wins in the Gold Cup – a feat highly unlikely to be equalled let alone bettered.

For pure atmosphere, though nothing beats the opening race of the first day, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. When the starter raises his flag to send the runners on their way the crowd unleash a crescendo of a cheer – full of hope and excitement for the week ahead.

It also signals the start of the Prestbury Cup and the challenge between GB and Ireland. It’s a battle that Irish-trained winners have dominated in recent years notably a 23-5 drubbing in 2021. The last GB win came in 2015 (14 v 13) although honours were tied in 2019 with 14 winners apiece.

Punters can bet on the outcome of The Prestbury Cup but expect very short odds on Ireland! Finding the top jockey and trainer of the week is often a little more competitive but again Irish names dominate. In particular, the legendary trainer Willie Mullins and his stable jockey Paul Townend.

Mullins was crowned top trainer at the Cheltenham Festival in 2022 for a ninth time boosted by an incredible five winners on the final day. His winners on the week included Energumene in the Champion Chase.

Jump jockey racing at Cheltenham races

When can you bet on Cheltenham Races?

The ante-post markets for Cheltenham are often active for 12 months before the race, so if you fancy a horse you can take a price early and often secure better odds than on the race day.  The downside is obviously a lot can happen in a year and your selection might not even make it to the race.  In this case you would lose your bet unless the market you are placing your bet on is ‘NON-RUNNER NO BET’ in which case you will get your stake back if picking a non-runner.

On the day of the race there is a wide variety of different ways to bet at the Cheltenham Festival.

The simplest bet is a straightforward Win bet – you’ll collect if you find the winner, but other options include Each Way where you get a return if your horse wins or finishes in the places. The number of places varies according to the number of runners and the race type so be sure to check this information which is clearly displayed on the betting pages.

If you are feeling more ambitious then other options include doubles and trebles where you combine two or three horses to get better odds and forecast bets where you need to predict the first two to pass the post.

Look out too for Cheltenham Festival special bets and promotions. Specials can include how far certain horses win by and whether a jockey will ride a winner on the day.

Horses Racing in Cheltenham 2023

Some of the most strongly fancied runners for the 2023 Cheltenham Festival include: Facile Vega (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Tuesday), Constitution Hill (Champion Hurdle, Tuesday), Edwardstone (Champion Chase, Wednesday), Delta Work (Cross Country Chase, Wednesday), Allaho (Ryanair Chase, Thursday), Teahupoo (Stayers Hurdle, Thursday), Lossiemouth (Triumph Hurdle, Friday) and Galopin Des Champs (Gold Cup, Friday).

Watching Cheltenham festival

How to watch Cheltenham Race Festival 

Those not on course can follow the action from the Cheltenham Festival on both ITV Racing and Racing TV with simulcast pictures beamed around the world – even to America where they normally just like to watch flat racing! The Cheltenham Festival really is now a global event.

Watching Cheltenham live 

If you’re planning on going, tickets for the Cheltenham Festival are snapped up well in advance with demand increasing year on year. So much so that in 2023 the course moved to limit the on-course attendance to 68,500 to improve ‘comfort’ for racegoers.

Ticket prices range from £50 and £103 on the first three days and even more for Gold Cup Friday.  Despite being heavily policed and racegoers strongly advised not to buy from ticket touts they still operate in the area and you run the risk of being refused entry on the gate as technology makes it harder for tickets to be resold. There’s also a huge cottage industry that revolves around the Cheltenham Festival. The countdown begins virtually straight after the final race each year and you have to be quick off the mark to secure a hotel room – certainly within walking distance of the course.

No surprise that the local hotels, restaurants and bars have latched on to how popular the Festival is and have hiked prices accordingly.

The course itself came in for plenty of criticism for charging £7.50 for a pint of Guinness but that’s nothing if you want to include hospitality with your admission ticket. The ‘Core On Course’ package will set you back a whopping £1,750 per person with a Dom Perignon reception and a six-course tasting menu all part of the package!

Getting to Cheltenham Races

Getting to Cheltenham Races

In general,  the closer you are to the course the more you can expect to pay – but if you have access to transport the best out-of-town options are Stroud (14 miles away) and plenty of fans commute in from as far away as Birmingham (50 miles). 

If you’re feeling like doing it differently there’s even a steam train service direct to the racecourse operated by GWR (Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway) with services departing from nearby Winchcombe. Park and ride with a difference!

The best advice for racegoers arriving by car is to leave early – many of the roads near Cheltenham are rural and narrow so it doesn’t take a lot for a bottleneck to build up.  Also, tune into Cheltenham Radio (via the talkSPORT app) where you’ll get the very latest traffic news each day.

Having a hearty Gloucestershire breakfast is also one of the best tips for the week! It can be a long day in the fresh air and the queues for catering outlets inside the course can be long and prices high.  

If you’re after just a quick snack all tastes are catered for with fish and chips, hog roasts, burgers, pizza and sandwiches as well as hot and cold drinks plus a range of snacks and sweet treats on offer.

The gates open at 10.30 am on each day of the Cheltenham Festival and there are seven races each day starting at 1.30 pm with the final race at 5.30 pm. 

Also, allow some time to check out the Shopping Village on course where there are over 70 shops selling a variety of products – many from local independent Cotswolds businesses. And of course, even more reason to shop if you back a winner!

After racing allow plenty of time to depart the racecourse – quite a few racegoers are willing to sacrifice the last race each day in a bid to beat the traffic queues but the true racing fans like to watch all the action.

Cheltenham town centre gets pretty rammed in the evening so book ahead if you are planning to eat there. Popular central bar choices include The Botanist, The Alchemist and Bentleys Bar but if you prefer quieter options slightly further out both the Calcott Manor & Spa (Tetbury), and Burleigh Court (Minchinhampton) come strongly recommended for a drink/meal/accommodation.

And if you are REALLY stuck for accommodation ….. ‘NEW for 2023’ the racecourse announced that they will be housing 300 racegoers in shipping containers in a bid to combat rising prices!  This is a similar plan to the Qatar FIFA World Cup where alternative ‘village’ style housing was offered.

Despite the continued and unsatiable success of the Cheltenham Festival the racecourse have resisted the temptation to extend it to five days. They announced in 2022 that it would remain as a four-day meeting. Many horse racing journalists and fans questioned whether a five-day meeting would dilute the quality of the overall meeting and the course cited an extra day could take its toll on the quality of the racing surface – particularly if the going was on the testing side through rain.

In short if it’s not broke, don’t fix it and the Cheltenham Festival is a long way from being broken.