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Cheltenham Racing Festival

The Cheltenham Festival  decides the Champions of the Jumps season hence it’s prestige in the National Hunt Racing calendar. With four days of racing in March every year, it has become the mecca for Jump racing enthusiasts.

It is held at Cheltenham’s  Prestbury Park racecourse which has three courses. The  ‘Old Course’ ( first two days), the ‘New Course’ (days three and four) and the Cross country course which is used for the Cross Country Handicap Chase on  the opening day of the meeting. Both Old and New courses include the infamous "Cheltenham Hill" which tests stamina after the last fence and frequently influences the outcome of races.

The Festival has 27 races, all hotly contested with the best horses from stables in the UK and Ireland who target specific various races. With 500 horses aiming for £3.4m prize money the competition is fierce.

The four "Championship races" are the Champion Hurdle day one, Queen Mother Champion Chase day two, the World Hurdle day three and the Cheltenham Gold Cup on the final day.

The Cheltenham Gold Cup is a chase raced over 3m2f on the ‘New Course’. Famous past winners include Golden Miller, Arkle, Best Mate and Kauto Star. The Champion Hurdle is run over 2 miles. The famous mare, Dawn Run, remains the only horse to have won both the Champion Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup. Other great winners of the Champion Hurdle include Sea Pigeon, See You Then and Istabraq.

The Queen Mother Champion Chase over two miles decides the champion over the minimum distance over fences. The World Hurdle is run over three miles and determines the best staying hurdler around. Big Bucks, trained by champion trainer, Paul Nicholls, will be attempting to break the record held by Inglis Drever of three wins in the race in 2012 when he goes for win number four.

The Ryanair Chase accommodates runners below Gold Cup status. The Royal Sun Alliance Chase is for Novice chasers and is a key race for identifying future Gold Cup hopefuls.

Other leading Novice races at the meeting include the Supreme Novice Hurdle which is run over the minimum distance of 2 miles, the Arkle Challenge Trophy a Novices Chase run over 2 miles, and the Triumph Hurdle a two mile hurdle exclusively for four year olds. Established in 1860, Cheltenham Festival today attracts 220,000 across the four days. Bookmakers have always been an integral part at the Festival offering an ongoing battle with the punters. 

Competition between Irish and British owners is fierce with thousands of Irish punters descending on Cheltenham  to cheer on the Irish horses & take a glass of two!

The rivalry started in the 1960s when the great Arkle with Irish trainer Tom Dreaper contested the Gold Cup against Mill House the British trained champion. Arkle won by five lengths leaving Mill House trailing in his wake. Arkle went on to win Gold Cup for the next two years , emulating Cottage Rake feat of three Gold Cup wins in 1948-50, by the legendary Irish trainer Vincent O’Brien. Arkle remains the highest ever rated National Hunt horse.The English took their revenge  some 40 years later when Best Mate,  Henrietta Knight trained, completed a hat trick of wins 2002-2004.

The Cheltenham Festival is a unique event, considered by many to be the greatest Racing Festival. It is the jewel in National Hunt Racing's crown giving flat racing a run for their money. From a racing, social and betting perspective, nothing matches Cheltenham as the focal point of the season. As they say, "all roads lead to Cheltenham". The Festival is unmatched in the Racing World.

The  next Cheltenham Festival takes place between 13th -16th March 2012.