The Cheltenham Festival is here… but what is all the fuss about? Sportsmail’s guide for novices to the highly-anticipated four-day racing showpiece
- Cheltenham Festival – the pinnacle of National Hunt racing – begins on Tuesday
- Trainers, owners, jockeys and horses have been gearing up for it all season
- But what can racing fans expect to see? And why is the meeting so special?
The wait for this year’s Cheltenham Festival – the pinnacle of National Hunt racing – is almost over.
The Gloucestershire track underwent its final preparations 24 hours before the curtain rises on the highly-anticipated show at 1.30pm on Tuesday.
Trainers, owners, jockeys and horses as well as racing fans have been gearing up for the meeting all season, but what is all the fuss about?
Here, Sportsmail gives a lowdown on the four-day event for those taking an interest in the Festival for the first time.
The wait for the Cheltenham Festival – the pinnacle of National Hunt racing – is almost over
How many races are run at the Cheltenham Festival?
The Cheltenham Festival runs from Tuesday to Friday this week and there are seven races each day.
There are 40 minutes between the start of each race and in total the course holds 28 races.
Why is the meeting special?
As well as the bumper schedule, the Festival sees the best horses from Britain and Ireland go head-to-head.
The finish at Prestbury Park also sets up for some thrilling contests.
After the final flight horses have to climb seven metres, which is the equivalent to 47 pints of Guinness stacked on top of one another, to the winning post.
Research by betting expert found that 69 per cent of leaders at the final obstacle go on to win the race despite the tough run-in.
This week’s showpiece festival sees the best horses from Britain and Ireland go head-to-head
What are the big races?
There is a feature race which takes place at 3.30pm each day. The Champion Hurdle is the feature on Tuesday, the Queen Mother Champion Chase is the main course on Wednesday, the Stayers’ Hurdle takes precedence on Thursday and Friday hosts the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
What to look out for on the track…
TOP TRAINER ODDS
Gordon Elliot – 6/4
Willie Mullins – 3/1
Nicky Henderson – 3/1
Paul Nicholls – 16/1
Joseph O’Brien – 20/1
Any other – 33/1
*Odds via Oddschecker
The rivalry between the British and the Irish. Last year Ireland came out on top with 17 winners in total. Trainer Gordon Elliott, based in County Meath, won the prize for top trainer while Irish rider Davy Russell was the leading jockey.
Keep an eye on the conditions of the ground. Rain is forecast for the first day of the Festival. The going is currently described as good to soft, soft in places, but adverse weather could see that soften further and create more testing conditions.
Buveur D’Air defended his Champion Hurdle crown last campaign and this time is bidding to become the sixth horse to win the race three times.
There is a feature race which takes place at 3.30pm each day of the Cheltenham Festival
Friday plays host to the historic Gold Cup – won last year by Richard Johnson on Native River
TOP JOCKEY ODDS
Ruby Walsh – 7/2
Barry Geraghty – 7/2
Davy Russell – 11/2
Jack Kennedy – 6/1
Nico de Boinville – 12/1
Paul Townend – 12/1
Mark Walsh – 16/1
*Odds via Oddschecker
There could be emotional scenes following the second race on Tuesday, the Racing Post Arkle Chase, if Kayley Woollacott’s Lalor is victorious. She took over the yard after husband Richard committed suicide last year.
Wednesday could be a momentous day on the track with Altior and Tiger Roll. If the former wins the Queen Mother Champion Chase he will extend his winning run to a record-equalling 18 races. If Elliott’s Tiger Roll wins the Cross Country Chase the 2018 Grand National winner will join a group of four-time Festival winners.
History could be made on Thursday if Bryony Frost and Frodon come home in first place in the Ryanair Chase as the jockey will become the first female rider to win a Grade One race over fences at the Cheltenham Festival.
Paisley Park could provide a memorable moment for owner Andrew Gemmell, who has been blind since birth, if he lands the Stayers’ Hurdle.
The crowds pack the terraces around the course as horses make their way round
Native River looks to defend his Gold Cup title on Friday and former flat jockey Joseph O’Brien, son of top Flat trainer Aidan, has his sights set on his first Festival victory with Sir Erec in the Triumph Hurdle.
What to look out for in the crowd…
Ladies dressed to impress in hats and fascinators, Irish-themed fancy dress outfits on St Patrick’s Thursday and plenty of champagne and Guinness flowing.
The stars of the show perform out on the course but the meeting also attracts various celebrities each year.
Katie Price, Rod Stewart, Zara Tindall, Chris Evans, Carol Vorderman and Georgia Toffolo were among the famous faces who turned out for the Festival last season.