It may still only be February, but the pinnacle of the National Hunt season is almost upon us and with it comes the brimming excitement of the chance to follow your favourite stable, horse, jockey, or trainer. Cheltenham really is unique with the excitement it brings and we want to bring you our inside knowledge for the 2018 Festival and the best offers around.
Our great Sam Twiston Davies special-offer enables new customers to back him to ride at least one Festival winner, at the massive price of 8/1! (Maximum bet £5.00, T&C’s apply)
The Festival has attracted millions of visitors over the years and established itself as the true racing lovers’ favourite week of the year. In fact, its popularity has grown so much, that some even consider the Festival week as their main holiday. Irish based airline, Ryanair has even been known to put on 30 extra flights for the period to cope with demand from Irish fans. From professional footballers to Royals, something about the 4 day meet seems to ignite a fire in the belly of racing lovers all around the globe.
The Structure of Festival Week
Whilst not technically a full week, there are four full days of racing to enjoy, each with a field of top class horses and set over a mixture of fences and hurdles. Races usually commence and each day having its own feature race.
Tuesday – Champion Day
The Day where you will hear the enormous roar of approximately 65,000 racing enthusiasts burst with excitement at 13:30 as the first race commences. Not considered one of the most glamorous of days out of the four, The Champion Day kicks off the week with bang and never disappoints. The Feature race of Champion Day is the historic Champion hurdle.
13:30 – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (2m 1/2f)
14:05 – Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Steeple Chase (2m)
14:40 – Baylis & Harding Affordable Luxury Handicap Chase (3m 1/2f)
15:20 – Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (2m 1/2f)
16:00 – Mares’ Hurdle (for the David Nicholson Trophy) (2m 4f)
16:40 – National Hunt Chase (4m)
17:15 – Novices’ Handicap Chase (2m 4 1/2 f)
Wednesday – Ladies Day
The day to dress your best and to impress, Ladies Day is when the big names from the world of sport, entertainment, and of course the Royal family, descend on Prestbury park to enjoy the day’s racing. The Royals have a deep connection and history with the Cheltenham Races and none more so than the Queen Mother during her life. In fact, it was in honour of her 80th Birthday and her enthusiasm for jump racing that gave us the current name of the day’s feature race – The Queen Mother Champion chase.
13:30 – Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (2m 5f)
14:05 – RSA Steeple Chase (3m 1/2f)
14:40 – Coral Cup (2m 5f)
15:20 – BetVictor Queen Mother Champion Steeple Chase (2m)
16:00 – Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase (3m 7f)
16:40 – Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (2m 1/2f)
17:15 – Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Open NH Flat Race) (2m 1/2f)
Thursday – St Patrick’s Day
Whilst not falling the exact date of St Patrick’s Day each year, this is the day that the Festival dons the shamrocks and turns or Green White and Orange in honour of the Irish fans who descend on Cheltenham each year. Arguably the best day for the perfect blend of racing activity and nightlife afterwards, the traditional Irish music is in full swing and the Guinness flows like a river. The feature race of St Patrick’s Thursday is the Stayers’ World Hurdle.
13:30 – JLT Novices’ Steeple Chase (2m 5f)
14:05 – Pertemps Final (Handicap Hurdle) (3m)
14:40 – Ryanair Chase (2m 5f)
15:20 – Ladbrokes World Hurdle (3m)
16:00 – Byrne Group Plate Handicap Steeple Chase (2m 5f)
16:40 – Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Steeple Chase (3m 1 1/2f)
17:15 – St. Patrick’s Derby (Charity Race) (1m 5f)
Friday – The Gold Cup
Without doubt the most popular day of the whole week and boy does the week go out with a bang. The crowds gather as far as the eye can see and the constant murmur and roar builds the air of excitement throughout the day. It may be a day for queues at the bars and food courts, but this does nothing to dampen the moods. Our advice is to make sure you do your research for this one and put your bets on early to avoid the queues and obviously, today’s feature race is the Cheltenham Gold Cup
13:30 – JCB Triumph Hurdle (2m 1f)
14:05 – Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle (2m 1f)
14:40 – Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (3m)
15:20 – Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup Steeple Chase (3m 2 1/2f)
16:00 – Foxhunter Steeple Chase (3m 2 1/2f)
16:40 – Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (2m 4 1/2f)
17:15 – Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Steeplechase (2m 1/2f)
Triumphs, Upsets and Classics
Throughout the years, The Cheltenham Festival has provided us with some of the finest encounters the sports has ever seen. Although normally considered second to the Grand National in coverage and prestige, the level of competition and calibre of horses at Cheltenham is far from the Bridesmaid of the National Hunt season. We’ve highlighted some of the most notable moments over the recent years:
2001: The year that wasn’t
As the country was getting to grips with the foot and mouth crisis that swept the nation, eager race goers were ultimately left disappointed when the 2001 festival had to be called off. Originally scheduled a month later than normal to allow for extra time, officials had no other choice other than to completely call the entire Festival off as a new case was confirmed in a local area. This confirmed that Prestbury Park, the name of Cheltenham Racecourse, was forced to abandon the 2001 festival for good.
Olympic Cyclist turns to the fences
Under intense scrutiny and what can only be described as a media circus, 2016 was the year that Victoria Pendleton came to Cheltenham, not as a spectator, but as a jockey. The Olympic Cyclist who retired after the London 2012 Olympic Games had indicated her intent to try it as a jockey, with all eyes on the 2016 Foxhunter’s Chase at Cheltenham. Many in the industry were deeply concerned at this and thought of it as a bit of a stunt that had the potential to go horribly wrong. And what happened…? She shocked everyone, with an incredibly assured performance, even staying in contention right until the end, but eventually finishing in 5th.
Big Buck’s, King of the Hurdles
In the latter stages of the noughties and into the teenies, a formidable hurdler emerged who was to prove unbeatable over the Cheltenham World Hurdle course for 4 years running. French trained, Big Buck’s was a real crowd pleaser and although he gave his fans, trainers and owners a few heart stopping moments, he proved his class, winning every World Hurdle from 2009 through to 2012. As dependable as they come, Big Buck’s was never a horse that you were going to win big on, with some of the shortest odds you’d see, but that didn’t stop fans lumping the money for a small but satisfying returns.
Kauto Star v Denman
The late noughties also saw a rivalry emerge that was set to define the decade at the Gold Cup. In 2007, the Nicholls trained horse, Kauto Star, won the Gold Cup and instantly became a fan favourite. Because of his performances, people thought that the likes of Arkle and Best Mate had a challenger on their hands.
However, the 2007/8 season belonged to Kauto’s stablemate, the giant Denman, who went into the Gold Cup unbeaten despite not facing Kauto in any races. Because of this, Katuo went into the race as the sentimental favourite based on the previous year’s experience and what a race it was. Toe-to-toe for much of the course until the giant lungs of Denman saw him gallop up the famous Cheltenham hill to victory, despite a very spirited effort from Kauto in the final furlong.
With one Gold Cup to their name each, the 2009 Gold Cup was always going to be a tasty affair, but Denman had to have treatment early in the season for an irregular heartbeat, which interrupted his pre-festival training, somewhat. Despite his efforts to come back from his earlier issue, he was no match for Kauto Star come Gold Cup day, despite finishing second. Kauto sailed to the finish line to become the first ever horse to regain the prestigious trophy.
In 2010, both horses were ready to tussle it out once more in what was meant to be another classic showdown. However, Imperial Commander from Nicky Henderson’s stable, made the most of Kauto Star’s fall for a perfectly timed surge to beat a very tired Denman.
The rivalry gripped racing fans for over 4 years, with the pair sharing the placed positions in the 2011 as Long Run took the glory on a sunny March day. Denman was retired in 2011, bringing to an end the best rivalry of the modern era.
Best Mate does the Treble:
Never has a horse been loved at Cheltenham before or as much since, like Best Mate. Perhaps something about his name or the way he placed himself perfectly in every Gold Cup victory, Best Mate was one of a kind. Never one to lead all the way from the front, it was his staying prowess that made him such a great horse. He stalk each victim one by one and jump flawlessly leaving horse after horse in his wake as he approached the Cheltenham hill. In the March of 2004 Best Mate cemented himself amongst the likes of Arkle as one of the most respected and loved horses ever, by winning his third Gold Cup in a row. The Irish bred horse was trained by Oxford-based, Henrietta Knight, whom the horse seemed to have an unshakable bond with. Such was the impact of Best Mate, that the new grandstand development was named in his honour in 2004, alongside a bronze statue in pride of place.
The odds are starting to come in for the whole week, so be sure to check back at our dedicated pages, so you can keep up to date with all the changes as the build up to the first race draws in:
Betting on Cheltenham
New to betting?
If you’re not a seasoned punter and would prefer to spread the risk a bit more, then you always have the option to go each way. You may not get the same return as a win, but you always stand a great chance of retaining your investment, which you can hang on to or re-invest in another race. Always make sure you check what odds you get on a place as this varies from bookie to bookie.
Busy, busy Cheltenham
If you’re lucky enough to go to the course itself, then you are going to experience some serious competition for the betting booths, so there are some things you can do to make sure that you don’t miss out on a flutter on your favourite horse.
Do your homework beforehand: Knowing how busy Cheltenham can get, you are advised to research the races you have your eye on in advance. Then when you get the opportunity, you can make your bet as soon as you get the opportunity when you see the best price for you. Another characteristic of Cheltenham is wet weather, so your racing Post might not last the entire day.
Download Apps: As the atmosphere builds, so do the crowds, meaning that the betting stands are bound to be bursting with avid fans, so to make sure you don’t miss out on a price change or have a change in heart, we recommend you download the RaceBets app on your phone to avoid any disappointment.
Be sure to check out our exclusive offers page as the festival nears for the very best offers on your favourite horses and races.
Whilst the runners and riders are scheduled, these can change quite regularly in the lead up to Festival week. Horses can get injured in their training gallops and some jockeys are yet to be decided.
Jockeys & Trainers
Whilst most people like to follow their favourite horses, the Cheltenham Festival is such a wide and varied event, that there are a number of different ways to have a flutter throughout the week.
What quite often happens, is that a stable is building up to hit form just at the right time for the Cheltenham Festival. With a number of well-respected, big names training the best horses at the festival, you could always pick your horses based on their trainers. In recent years, we have seen the dominance of Willie Mullins, winning 5 times out of the last 10 and a best year in 2015 with 8 winners. Can the Irishman do it again or will Gordon Elliott continue on last year’s success? All of the trainers this year have been having decent seasons with some good horses, so it will make for a very interesting festival week:
2017 Gordon Elliott (6)
2016 Willie Mullins (7)
2015 Willie Mullins (8)
2014 Willie Mullins (4)
2013 Willie Mullins (5)
2012 Nicky Henderson (7)
2011 Willie Mullins (4)
2010 Nicky Henderson (3)
2009 Paul Nicholls (5)
2008 Paul Nicholls (3)
One of the big prizes that can sometimes get a bit overlooked is that of the top jockey for the week at Cheltenham. The jockeys put in a monumental shift over the Festival week, often saddling up to 4 horses so the jockey who rides the most winners receives the prestigious award of top jockey for the week. In the history of this award, nobody has managed to top Ruby Walsh’s dominance of the course, with his best performances coming in 2009 and 2016, 7 winners in both years. In fact, Ruby Walsh’s dominance of the Cheltenham course is evident when looking at the past 10 years, with 2012 the only year in the past 10 that Ruby hasn’t topped the table, as you can see below:
2017 – Ruby Walsh (4)
2016 – Ruby Walsh (7)
2015 – Ruby Walsh (4)
2014 – Ruby Walsh (3)
2013 – Ruby Walsh (4)
2012 – Barry Geraghty (5)
2011 – Ruby Walsh (5)
2010 – Ruby Walsh (3)
2009 – Ruby Walsh (7)
2008 – Ruby Walsh (3)
This year, Ruby is in a race against time for fitness, but if he recovers in time, he will no doubt be a hot favourite to scoop the prize once more.
Useful Cheltenham Information
Well that covers our 2018 Festival week guide, but you can’t go wrong with checking out the Cheltenham jockey club website where you’ll find great information if you’re planning to visit the course itself, or you want the very latest information on the going at the course to make sure you make your picks with all information at hand.