The meeting that almost the entire National Hunt season is based around takes place in mid-March.
The Cheltenham Festival isn’t nicknamed the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ for no reason and most of the best jumps horses in training across the widest array of races will be competing over the four days at Prestbury Park in March.
Much of the build-up surrounds how open-looking many of the races are so there is great value to be had for punters at the Festival.
Below we will highlight our selections for each of the twenty-eight races on show, as well as providing a comprehensive guide to the meeting and its history.
Champion Day: Tuesday
|1:20||Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Hurdle||Grade 1||2m½f|
|1:55||Arkle Novices’ Chase||Grade 1||2m|
|2:30||Ultima Handicap Chase||Grade 3||3m1f|
|3:05||Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy||Grade 1||2m|
|3:40||Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle||Grade 1||2m3f|
|4:15||Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle||Grade 3||2m|
|4:50||National Hunt Challenge Cup Novices’ Chase||Grade 2||3m5f|
It’s the start of a Cheltenham Festival that will be like no other. Yes, we have the same high-class races featuring the very best jumps horses but none of the hundreds of thousands of fans who usually head to Prestbury Park for the first day of racing. There is more than enough to enjoy from a safe distance though with the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the Arkle and the Champion Hurdle being the highlights from day one at Cheltenham.
1:15 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Hurdle
Cheltenham, Grade 2, 2m½f
Just eight horses have stood their ground for the first race of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival. That is fewer rivals than the bookies maybe anticipated for the favourite, Appreciate It, which is why his odds have been cut to a best price of 5/4.
It is tough to argue against Appreciate It’s billing as the favourite. He is the highest-rated horse in the field, has two Grade 1 wins over hurdles to his name and has run well before at the Cheltenham Festival, having finished second in last year’s Champion Bumper.
The big worry for Willie Mullins and anybody who has already backed Appreciate It ante-post, is that the ground continues to dry out and pace, rather than stamina, becomes the most important attribute. In that case, it would be much easier to make a case for Ballyadam reversing the form with the favourite. His challenge to Appreciate It faded away after the final furlong when they met at the Dublin Racing Festival but that run was on heavy ground and a sounder surface could see Ballyadam win at a generous-looking price of 11/2.
Ballyadam to win at 11/2
1:55 Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase
Cheltenham, Grade 1, 2m
The Arkle was shaping up to be one of the best head-to-head battles of the Cheltenham Festival until the very disappointing news that a minor setback has forced Energumene out of the running. That clears the way for Shiskin to really build on the promise that he’s already shown and prove he is a championship horse.
Nicky Henderson has had some wonderful winners of the Arkle in recent years including Altior, Simonsig and Sprinter Sacre. Those three are among the six most recent odds-on favourites for the Arkle. All six rewarded favourite backers and it would be a major surprise were Shishkin not to do likewise.
As with any big Grade 1 race at Cheltenham, the rest of the field is made up of some very good horses. Allmankind will set the pace for the Skelton brothers and Captain Guinness could be well priced at 9/1 as he fell last time out just when he was about to be sent for his challenge to Energumene. The each way value, however, lies with Franco De Port at 10/1. Willie Mullins has been very happy with the work of this six year old this season and he could well challenge the favourite even if the ground is likely to be a little too firm for him to utilise his stamina reserves.
Franco De Port each way at 10/1
2:30 Ultima Handicap Chase
Cheltenham, Grade 3, 3m1f
The first big handicap of the week at Cheltenham looks every bit as competitive as you would want it to be. There are some very good, solid horses towards the top of the betting including the 7/2 favourite, Happygolucky, and Aye Right for Harriet Graham who is rated as a 11/2 shot. Favourites have a poor record in the Ultima Handicap though and you would ideally want to be on a well-handicapped horse at bigger odds who can return nicely from an each way bet.
Among the options that tick that box the 20/1 about Vintage Clouds looks particularly appealing. Sue Smith’s 11 year old has a strong record in this race having made the places in both 2018 and 2019. Those who are concerned that his best days are now behind him should be encouraged that connections felt it worth sending him for a second bout of wind surgery in November. His first run since then showed there are signs of the old Vintage Clouds in there and if we get the same sort of performance that saw him place in the Ultima and both the Scottish and Welsh Grand Nationals he could reward each way backers once more.
Vintage Clouds each way at 20/1
3:05 Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy
Cheltenham, Grade 1, 2m½f
On first viewing, the Champion Hurdle looks as though it will provide the head-to-head value that is missing from the Arkle. Honeysuckle (9/4) and Epatante (10/3), the two mares in the race, have been vying for favouritism for some time but this red hot edition of the Champion Hurdle is much more than a two-horse race.
Goshen had his price slashed to 4/1 after winning the Kingwell Hurdle as easy as he liked in February. A former 101-rated flat horse, Goshen takes rarely seen Royal Ascot form to Cheltenham and the quicker ground surely plays to his strengths. Then there’s Sharjah who came second to Epatante in this race last year and surely has a chance of placing again at 12/1. Abacadabras (8/1) also has good Cheltenham form and cannot be written off.
The key to this race could be Goshen’s preference for front running. For all that he has to give seven pounds in weight to Honeysuckle and Epatante, their jockeys – Rachel Blackmore and Aidan Coleman respectively – will be wary about giving Goshen too much of a lead. Sticking too closely to the pace may just be a bit much for those two given Goshen’s high cruising speed and he is able to finish strongly over 2m even after setting a fast pace so there is every chance of redemption for Gary and Jamie Moore after last year’s Triumph Hurdle heartbreak.
Goshen to win at 4/1
3:40 Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle
Cheltenham, Grade 1, 2m4f
Willie Mullins has an incredibly strong team coming over to Cheltenham this year, even by his relentlessly high standards. Concertista isn’t the first horse that comes to mind when you think of Mullins’ chances at Prestbury Park but he is very sweet about the seven year old’s chances of victory in the Mares’ Hurdle.
Mullins knows better than anybody what it takes to win this race. Afterall, he’s won nine of the 13 editions of the Mares’ Hurdle and Concertista won the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle for him last year. It’s only an inch that means she isn’t chasing a third straight Cheltenham win as she went down by the narrowest of margins in that race in 2019. That festival form is a major plus for the favourite who is priced at odds of 11/10 at the time of writing.
Roksana, who goes for this instead of the Stayers’ Hurdle, is the main danger at 3/1 while Dame De Compagnie has a real chance at 13/2. We do look to have the right favourite in Concertista though and she should do the business if there are no mistakes.
Concertista to win at 11/10
4:15 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
Cheltenham, Grade 3, 2m½f
The Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle used to be viewed almost as a Cheltenham opportunity for horses who weren’t good enough for the Triumph Hurdle. That perception is changing somewhat thanks to a run of high-quality winners and it could pay to take a slightly different approach to this compared to many of the other Cheltenham handicaps and focus on the higher-rated horses.
Youmdor is the second highest-rated horse in the Boodles but is a 20/1 shot with the bookies. That price reflects his horrible run last time out at Leopardstown but Willie Mullins has suggested that paying too much attention to that run might be a mistake as, in hindsight, he ran Youmdor too quickly at the Dublin Racing Festival. With some to school over hurdles and recover from recent outings we should see a much better Youmdor and a place is by no means out of the question.
Youmdor each way at 20/1
4:50 Sam Vestey National Hunt Challenge Cup Novices’ Chase
Cheltenham, Grade 2, 3m6f
The final race of the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival has been farmed by some big yards and produced some very good winners in years gone by. Two time Grand National winner Tiger Roll is the most recognisable name among the last 10 winners and connections of all 13 horses in the field for the 2021 National Hunt Challenge Cup will be dreaming of going on to have success at Aintree in the years to come.
Galvin, a very impressive winner of his first four starts over fences is the warm 2/1 favourite followed by the more experienced Next Destination at 7/2. The latter was a top-class staying hurdler for Willie Mullins and after being away from the course for over two years he has made up for lost time with wins in two Grade 2 novice chases for Paul Nicholls.
Next Destination has the quality to get his younger rival beaten. Indeed, the biggest threat to the mount of Harry Cobden could come in the shape of Lord Royal. He looks to have overcome any dent in confidence that followed his fall at Thurles and this out and out stayer should be well-suited to the marathon 3m6f trip so each way support is in order at odds of 7/1.
Lord Royal each way at 7/1
Ladies Day: Wednesday
|1:20||Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle||Grade 1||2m5f|
|1:55||Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase||Grade 1||3m½f|
|2:30||Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle||Grade 3||2m5f|
|3:05||Queen Mother Champion Chase||Grade 1||2m|
|3:40||Glenfarclas Chase||Class 2||3m6f|
|4:15||Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase||Grade 3||2m|
|4:50||Weatherbys Champion Bumper||Grade 1||2m½f|
The second day of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival looks much the same as the first day with some small but select fields for the big championship races and wide open, hugely competitive handicaps playing more than a supporting roll on the card. Willie Mullins has a particularly strong hand to play on Wednesday with big favourites Monkfish and Chacun Pour Soi in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase and Queen Mother Champion Chase respectively.
1:20 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
Cheltenham, Grade 1, 2m5f
Novice hurdlers have a few options for the Cheltenham Festival but none are quite as taxing as the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. This 2m5f contest is an incredibly difficult one to win as it demands both speed and heart. Many of those who have come through the Ballymore have gone on to very big things and connections of the top three in the betting – Bob Olinger, Gaillard Du Mesnil and Bravemansgame – will all be hopeful of a big run on Wednesday and an even bigger future in the years to come.
The chances of the top three are all the better given that, with seven runners, the field for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle is smaller than any of the last 10 renewals. Bob Olinger’s jockey, Rachael Blackmore, will be hoping that the small field allows her to run her race on the 7/4 favourite and make the most of his impressive pace. Simonsig and Faugheen both graduated from this race before winning at the top level over two miles where they could use their turn of foot and Bob Olinger may well find his career goes on a similar path starting with victory in Wednesday’s opener.
Those who want to take the top three on or are looking for an each way bet should consider Bear Gyhlls at 9/1. He is a perfect three from three over hurdles and the progressive six year old should be able to take this big step up in class in his stride.
Bob Olinger to win at 7/4
1:55 Brown Advisory Novices' Chase
Cheltenham, Grade 1, 3m½f
Paul Townend has some wonderful rides for Willie Mullins over the four days at Cheltenham but Monkfish is the one that might give him sleepless nights in the lead up to the festival such is the expectation that the seven year old will win the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.
Short odds favourites go down at Cheltenham every year and while Monkfish will be oblivious to all the talk and his price of 1/2, Townend won’t. His job is to get his horse out in front from the start and allow him to dictate terms to his five rivals. Having so few opponents will of course be a big help to Monkfish as it reduces the chances of a tactical race interrupting his rhythm. The seven year old has done everything right so far in his novice chasing season and it is very difficult to imagine that things won’t go similarly to plan at Cheltenham.
The field size of six means that the bookies are paying on just the top two for each way bets but there is a chance to earn a nice return should Fiddlerontheroof grab second spot at 28/1. He has done nothing but improve since a hugely disappointing run in last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and ran especially well in his first start over three miles last time out so could be seriously underestimated at the prices.
Fiddlerontheroof each way at 28/1
2:30 Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle
Cheltenham, Grade 3, 2m5f
Grand Roi has been at the head of the betting for the Coral Cup for some time now. The five year old has rock-solid claims having continued to improve since being sold and heading from Nicky Henderson’s yard over to Gordon Elliott in Ireland. Obviously, his final preparations have been overseen by Denise Foster but nobody is seriously expecting that to hamper the horses from Cullentra House so Grand Roi does look to be a good favourite.
Dame De Compagnie showed that strong favourites can win the Coral Cup with a very good performance last year but his victory snapped a long run without a winning favourite. The 2021 edition is as competitive as ever and with a full complement of 26 runners it is sure to be a hurly-burly affair leading to some bad luck stories in running.
Grand Roi could easily be hampered so it could pay to have an each way saver on a horse from further down the betting with Guard Your Dreams appealing at odds of 12/1. He won on his handicap debut off a mark of 128 and stayed on well having looked as though his race was run last time out. Connections have been looking forward to trying him out over more of a staying trip as Grand Roi’s breeding suggests he could flourish over 2m5f.
Guard Your Dreams each way at 12/1
3:05 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase
Cheltenham, Grade 1, 2m
Should things not go to plan for Paul Townend on Monkfish in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at least he won’t have to wait long to put things right. Townend rides another odds-on Willie Mullins favourite in the Queen Mother Champion Chase in the shape of Chacun Pour Soi who is available at a best price of 10/11.
The favourite’s price hasn’t changed much at all in the days leading up to the Cheltenham Festival even with the news that two-time Champion Chase winner Altior has suffered a setback and will miss the festival for the second year in a row. That further reduces the level of competition facing Chacun Pour Soi who will surely get the better of Politologue (last year’s rather fortunate winner of this race) and Nube Negra who is exciting but seen to best effect over softer ground than he’ll get on Wednesday.
If there is a horse who can at least worry the favourite at a bigger price perhaps it’s Sceau Royal. The popular nine year old was a very good winner of the Game Spirit Chase on good to soft ground at Newbury last time out and can be a player in the hunt for the places with conditions set to suit him down to a tee.
Chacun Pour Soi to win at 10/11
3:40 Glenfarclas Chase
Cheltenham, Class 2, 3m6f
The Glenfarclas Chase isn’t the most high profile race of the Cheltenham Festival but it does feature the most famous National Hunt horse of all, Tiger Roll. Sadly, Gigginstown have announced that he will not be heading to Aintree to try and win his third Grand National. The reason given was that the British handicapper has given him an “unfair weight” but there is just a nagging suspicion that connections feel his powers are starting to wane.
Tiger Roll will certainly need to be much, much better than on his previous outings this season. His reappearance on the flat was always just a way to help get him back to fitness but his subsequent performances including a cross country chase at Cheltenham were a million miles from his battling best which saw him win the Glenfarclas Chase before both of his Grand National wins in 2018 and 2019.
The postponement of racing put paid to his first attempt to complete a Grand National hat-trick last year but by that time he had already had his colours lowered at Cheltenham and it’s the horse who beat him in last year’s Glenfarclas Chase, Easysland, who is the even-money favourite this time around. The French raider isn’t foot perfect over his fences but he possesses an incredible engine and at seven he has a whole lot more to give so Easysland should retain his title.
Easysland to win at Evens
4:15 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase
Cheltenham, Grade 3, 2m
We have a hot edition of the Grand Annual Challenge Cup in prospect with a typically strong selection of Irish horses gathered around the top of the betting. Like the Coral Cup earlier, winning favourites are not exactly common in this 2m handicap chase but well handicapped, high class horses have done the business in recent years including Chosen Mate and Alderwood.
Embittered and Entoucas are certainly high class performers and at 11th and 13th in the weights respectively it does seem as though the handicapper has treated them pretty well. That’s why they have come in for so much support in the betting. It would be no surprise to see either of them win but preference goes to Embittered who is not only in excellent form but ran very well in the County Handicap Hurdle at last year’s Cheltenham Festival.
Embittered to win at 11/2
4:50 Weatherbys Champion Bumper
Cheltenham, Grade 1, 2m½f
There are many strong favourites from Ireland throughout the four days of Cheltenham but could Kilcruit be the one who deserves to be even shorter in the betting? Willie Mullins has been delighted with the progress that his six year old has made this season and he arrives at Cheltenham with the highest official rating of any of the last 10 winners of this race.
The Champion Bumper is a notoriously difficult race to win and just running well in it is the mark of a good horse (Appreciate It gets a lot of credit for his second-place finish to Ferny Hollow last year for example). Kilcruit could well prove to be the best horse in the race over the coming years and yet struggle to get the job done. For that reason, look for some security with an each way bet on Ramillies at odds of 16/1. He’s another one trained by Willie Mullins, who was surprised with his performance levels last time when finishing a tired fifth to Kilcruit. If that form proves to be a blip he has every chance of grabbing a place.
Ramillies each way at 16/1
St Patrick’s Thursday: Thursday
|1:20||Marsh Novices’ Chase||Grade 1||2m4f|
|1:55||Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle||Grade 3||3m|
|2:30||Ryanair Chase||Grade 1||2m4½f|
|3:05||Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle||Grade 1||3m|
|3:40||Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase||Grade 3||2m4½f|
|4:15||Parnell Properties Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle||Grade 2||2m1f|
|4:50||Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup||Class 2||3m2f|
The third day of the Cheltenham Festival boasts two feature races. Both the Ryanair Chase and Stayers’ Hurdle, the latter being the official championship contest, could be open to an upset in contrast to many of the big races of the week. There is good value to be found throughout the card but it is the one big odds on favourite, Envoi Allen, who could take the back page headlines if he is able to confirm his promise in the Marsh Novices’ Chase. As usual, we’ve got tips and analysis for all the races so let’s find some winners!
1:20 Marsh Novices’ Chase
Cheltenham, Grade 1, 2m4f
Backing Irish favourites has been a fairly sensible and rewarding option for punters thus far at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival and it certainly looks a wise move in the Marsh Novices’ Chase. We’ve seen some wonderful novice chasers already this week and Envoi Allen looks a good thing, even at a best price of just 8/13.
Punters are clearly not put off by the fact that the seven-year-old is making his debut for Henry De Bromhead having been taken from Gordon Elliott’s yard. The horse is being looked after by his usual groom, Seainin Mahon, and will be given the same feed and treatment to make sure that nothing feels out of order for him. In truth, Envoi Allen is so much better than his opposition for the Marsh Novices’ Chase that he would probably win even if his preparation was entirely different.
Shan Blue is the second favourite at 6/1. He is arguably the most accurate jumper of a fence of any novice in training but he lacks a gear or two compared to Envoi Allen and is better suited to a flat track. The each way angle could well be Fusil Raffles at the longer price of 16/1. Nicky Henderson is confident that we’ll see the best of Fusil Raffles over 2½ miles on good ground and he’s given the six-year-old a break because he goes well fresh, so expect a big effort at a big price.
Envoi Allen to win at 8/13
1:55 Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle
Cheltenham, Grade 3, 3m
The Pertemps Final is up there with the most competitive handicaps of the week at Cheltenham. Winning favourites are relatively rare but such is the quality of the horses who have qualified for a run in this 3m hurdle that it usually pays to go for the class angle in the race. Sire Du Berlais, winner of the last two renewals is certainly a classy operator over hurdles, as were Delta Work, Presenting Percy and Mall Dini, the previous winners.
The first place to turn when looking for the class angle for this year’s renewal is Imperial Alcazar who is the narrow 5/1 favourite from Champagne Platinum and The Bosses Oscar. Fergal O’Brien’s seven-year-old is towards the top of the weights but an 8lb rise for his very good win at Warwick last time out shouldn’t prove too penal.
Each way backers should consider Spiritofthegames who is a 20/1 shot for Dan and Harry Skelton. The nine-year-old has been chasing for much of the season but he looked good over hurdles last time out and has only been raised 2lb for that second place finish, so there could well be more to come.
Alcazar to win at 5/1
2:30 Ryanair Chase
Cheltenham, Grade1, 2m4½f
On first viewing, the market for the Ryanair Chase is a pleasant change in this year’s Cheltenham Festival. Unlike the vast majority of the big Grade 1s that came before it, there is no red-hot favourite for the middle distance chase contest. Look a little deeper though and you realise that this is something of a minefield for punters.
Rarely would you see so many horses who failed to complete their last race be towards the top of the betting for a race of this magnitude. Min (5/1) and Samcro (12/1) were both pulled up on their most recent run, Imperial Aura (13/2) and Saint Calvados (10/1) both unseated their rider, while Melon (7/1) finished fifth of five in the Irish Gold Cup. At least the bookies’ favourite, Allaho, comes into the race on the back of an impressive win when always doing enough to hold the talented Elimay at bay in a Grade 2 chase at Thurles. As such, Willie Mullins’ French seven year old is sure to interest many, although he has drifted a little in the betting in the last day or so.
Given the somewhat scratchy form on show and the lack of a very strong favourite, the Ryanair Chase does look ripe for an upset. That leads us to a bet on Mister Fisher at 8/1, not odds that indicate a shock but it would certainly surprise many if he won. He is one of those who won his most recent race, which actually came at Cheltenham. Indeed, his last three starts all came at this course, including in the Marsh Novices’ Chase last year in which he got a poor ride from Nico De Boinville according to the jockey himself. It won’t take much improvement for him to win an open edition of the Ryanair Chase and at the prices he is the one for us.
Mister Fisher each way at 8/1
3:05 Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle
Cheltenham, Grade 1, 3m
Among the late withdrawals for the Cheltenham Festival, the news that Thyme Hill would not be able to run in the Stayers’ Hurdle was up there with the most disappointing. His absence means no conclusion to the trilogy between Thyme Hill and Paisley Park but how much has it boosted the latter’s chances of retaining his Stayers’ Hurdle crown?
Emma Lavelle’s nine-year-old is the 2/1 favourite and is exactly the sort of horse you’d want for this race but there are worries that he may just have had to put in too many big staying performances and that his best days are behind him, even at the relatively young age of nine. Connections certainly think he has at least one more big race in him but we suspect there is better value elsewhere.
While Paisley Park would be a very popular and deserving winner, it could be worth having a saver on the up and coming Flooring Porter for Gavin Cromwell at 7/1. His rise up the ranks continued with victory in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle and although the ground was soft that day he ran from the front, tactics which have already proven themselves to work at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.
Flooring Porter each way at 7/1
3:40 Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase
Cheltenham, Grade 3, 2m4½f
Denise Foster must have been apprehensive ahead of her first Cheltenham Festival in charge of the horses from Cullentra House. She is, of course, a highly professional and capable trainer and has had Gordon Elliott on speed dial but this is a whole different pressure for her as she looks after Elliott’s horses for six months following his suspension from the sport.
Foster will have breathed a sigh of relief when Black Tears got her first win of the meeting and she can have further success in the Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase courtesy of Farclas. The seven-year-old has winning form at the Cheltenham Festival thanks to his win in the 2018 Triumph Hurdle and has done very well this season in some incredibly competitive handicaps in Ireland. Farclas is sure to run his race and he should be bang in contention come the closing stages when it will be a case of whether he can dig deep enough to win at 13/2. We think he can and he’s the one for us here.
Farclas each way at 13/2
4:15 Parnell Properties Mares' Novices' Hurdle
Cheltenham, Grade 2, 2m1f
Willie Mullins has won all five previous renewals of the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle and he has four options for this year’s edition. None of them are inside the top two of the betting though, with the market instead fancying Royal Kahala for Peter Fahey and Roseys Hollow for Jonathan Sweeney.
Roseys Hollow got the better of the favourite when they met in February and should be able to frank that form. However, it’s Hook Up for Mullins who looks the best bet at the very tempting price of 6/1. Despite making some jumping mistakes she outran her odds considerably in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle where she finished fourth behind Appreciate It, Ballyadam and Blue Lord. Mullins has declared himself delighted with that run and with some time to work on her hurdling Hook Up looks a real danger to the favourites and has a real chance of handing her irish trainer an incredible 10th victory in this race.
Hook Up each way at 6/1
4:50 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase
Cheltenham, Class 2, 3m2f
Day three at the Cheltenham Festival ends with a wide open renewal of the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase. Although none of the last eight editions of this Class 2 handicap went the way of the favourite, the eight who did win weren’t exactly impossible to spot as they all carried at least 11st.
Connections of Double Shuffle will hope that class can tell again and the top weighted horse does have a better chance than his odds of 20/1 suggest, especially with the ground drying out. His last win came off a mark of just 5lb lower than this and he ran well enough off 145 last time out in another competitive handicap. There’s no doubt Double Shuffle will need a huge effort but he’s capable of exactly that to run into a place and perhaps challenge for the win.
Double Shuffle each way at 20/1
Gold Cup Day: Friday
|1:20||JCB Triumph Hurdle||Grade 1||2m1f|
|1:55||McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle||Grade 3||2m1f|
|2:30||Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle||Grade 1||3m|
|3:05||WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup||Grade 1||3m2½f|
|3:40||Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase||Grade 3||2m4½f|
|4:15||Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase||Grade 2||2m4½f|
|4:50||Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle||Class 2||2m4½f|
It’s the final day of the Cheltenham Festival and that can only mean one thing: the Gold Cup. The biggest race of the National Hunt season looks to be wide open with a varied and classy field all vying to stop Al Boum Photo’s attempt to complete a Gold Cup hat-trick. As ever, almost any one of the supporting races on the card would be the highlight of most other days of racing so we have some excellent entertainment in store to bring the curtain down on the 2021 Cheltenham Festival.
1:20 JCB Triumph Hurdle
Cheltenham, Grade 1, 2m1f
The Triumph Hurdle is yet another Grade 1 at this year’s Cheltenham Festival which sees a small but select field go to post. There are good cases to be made about the chances of Zanahiyr (6/4), Tritonic (5/2) and Quilixios (4/1) who are the top three in the betting.
There isn’t much, if anything, between those top three and it could be hard to split them. All three come from very good flat families and Zanahiyr and Tritonic did some very good work on the level before showing their ability over hurdles. Quilixios has only ever been seen over hurdles but has also shown the ability to quicken impressively.
The quality of the big three in the market cannot be underestimated but it could pay to take them on with an each way bet on Adagio who has a better chance than his odds of 9/1 suggest. He is a course and distance winner and has proven himself to be ground dependent so a place could be in the offing for the mount of the team of David Pipe and Tom Scudamore who have had some very good successes already this season.
Adagio each way at 9/1
1:55 McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle
Cheltenham, Grade 3, 2m1f
Irish-trained horses have had the run of things at Cheltenham this week and there is another very strong contingent from over the Irish Sea in this red hot edition of the McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle.
This is arguably the most competitive of a string of excellent handicaps during Cheltenham week. As good as Third Time Lucki may be (and he does have an excellent career over hurdles ahead of him) you would have to be very brave to take odds of 13/2 about any horse in the race given the number of potential winners in the field.
We’ve seen some big price winners of the handicaps already at Cheltenham and in our search for more each way returns it could pay to consider backing the Irish duo of Saint D’oroux and Darasso who are both available at chunky prices if 33/1. The former finished a very good third in the Boodles Handicap last year while the latter is a two-time Graded winner who may still have something in hand with the handicapper despite being fifth in the weights.
Saint D’oroux each way at 33/1, Darasso each way at 33/1
2:30 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
Cheltenham, Grade 1, 3m
The Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle may be open only to novice hurdlers, most of whom are still learning their trade over obstacles, but it is a race that demands a real amount of hardiness and battling spirit as a big field does battle over three miles.
Of all the novice hurdles at Cheltenham, this is the race for potential staying stars of the future. Some previous staying form is also important in the present as only two of the last 12 winners had failed to win a race over 2m7f or further previously.
Neither of the top two in the betting – Stattler and Fakiera – have won over three miles over hurdles and although their chances are clearly respected it could pay to take them on with Barbados Buck’s for Paul Nicholls. He hasn’t got the Graded form of some of his rivals but he is from the same family as four-time Stayers’ Hurdle winner Big Buck’s and has improved considerably since running over three miles. We expect a strong staying performance from Barbados Buck’s at odds of 6/1.
Barbados Buck’s to win at 6/1
3:05 WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup
Cheltenham, Grade 1, 3m2½f
The Gold Cup is the feature race of the entire Cheltenham Festival and we have a fascinating renewal ahead of us on Friday. First, you have bookies’ favourite Al Boum Photo. You might expect a horse chasing a hat-trick of Gold Cup wins to be shorter than 11/4 in the betting but Willie Mullins’ nine year old arrives at Cheltenham on the back of just one warm-up run once again. Some suggest that racecourse gallops and the standard of training he gets at Closutton make up for the lack of competitive action whereas others worry that he will turn up undercooked.
The main challengers to Al Boum Photo largely come in two camps. First, you have your high-class individuals who will look to utilise their turn of foot in the closing stages to win such as A Plus Tard, Champ and Royal Pagaille. Then you have the stayers such as Frodon, Santini and Native River.
Faster conditions should favour the first group but it makes sense to have an option from either end of the scale to cover for different tactics unfolding. From the high-speed finishers, back Champ at 9/2. He produced one of the moments of last year’s Cheltenham to win the RSA Chase from nowhere and was sharpened up for this test with a very pleasing run over two miles at Newbury. From the stayers, consider 2018 Gold Cup winner Native River at 14/1 who was back to his very best when winning the Cotswold Chase at Sandown in February.
Champ to win at 9/2, Native River each way at 14/1
3:40 St. James's Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase
Cheltenham, Class 2, 3m2½f
The St. James's Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase is usually one of the highlights of the year for amateur jockeys as it gives them the chance to run around the same course and distance as the Gold Cup. Travel restrictions on amateur sportspeople mean it’s very different for the 2021 renewal which, like the rest of Cheltenham, features professionals only.
Boib An Co has formed a good bond with David Maxwell and it is a shame that partnership cannot continue at Cheltenham but he won with Sean Bowen on board last time out and this high-class hunter chaser can do likewise at 9/2.
Boib An Co to win at 9/2
4:15 Mrs Paddy Power Mares' Chase
Cheltenham, Grade 2, 2m4½f
The Mrs Paddy Power Mares' Chase is a new addition to the Cheltenham Festival. Willie Mullins has a phenomenal record in other mares’ races which have been added in recent years and he looks to have a very good chance of winning the inaugural edition of this race with Elimay.
The seven year old has taken her form to a whole new level from her sixth-place finish in the 2019 Mares’ Hurdle and has looked tough as old boots since going chasing. Her four starts over fences have yielded three wins with the only defeat coming to Allaho who was sent off as the favourite for the Ryanair Chase. Her ability to run well on different types of ground bodes well and she looks the right favourite against her own sex at 11/8.
Elimay to win at 11/8
4:50 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle
Cheltenham, Class 2, 2m4½f
One of the best stories of the whole of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival could come in the very last race. Dan Skelton has had some incredible success this season but if Langer Dan were able to win the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle it would surely top the lot.
The five year old made a mockery of his official rating of 130 to win the Imperial Cup in tremendous style on Saturday. He then had a huge stroke of fortune to get into the field for the Martin Pipe which, if he wins, will secure connections a £50,000 bonus. Going in again over an increased trip so soon after his last run will not be easy for Langer Dan but he is right at the bottom of the weights and has a real chance at 7/1.
Langer Dan to win at 7/1
About the Meeting
The Cheltenham Festival is simply the biggest National Hunt racing meeting in the world. For four days the best horses over hurdles and fences gather at Prestbury Park for a collection of exciting races that includes a staggering 14 Grade 1s.
Known simply as the Festival, the meeting always takes place in March, from Tuesday to Friday, and often includes St Patrick’s Day. For that reason, among others, it’s hugely popular with Irish racing fans and the battle between British- and Irish-trained horses is a key storyline throughout the Cheltenham Festival.
Prestigious as they are, not all Grade 1 races are created equally. Amongst the 14 top level races at the Cheltenham Festival it’s the four championship races that stand alone. These are the feature races of each day at the Festival and some of the biggest races of the National Hunt season.
The Champion Hurdle is the feature race of the first day of the Cheltenham Festival. It’s the biggest hurdle race of the season and forms the third leg of the Triple Crown of Hurdling alongside the Fighting Fifth Hurdle and the Christmas Hurdle.
Run over 2 miles and ½ furlong on the Cheltenham Old Course, this is a race that focuses heavily on the ability to finish strongly. It’s also often a very tactical race with jockeys doing all they can to ensure they are in the perfect position after the final of the eight hurdles to kick for home.
As you’d expect for the biggest hurdling race, the Champion Hurdle has been won by many of the best known hurdlers of all time since its inauguration in 1927. Hatton’s Grace became the first horse to win the Champion Hurdle three times in 1951 whilst Istabraq (1998, 1999, 2000) is the most recent to achieve the hat-trick. More recent years have seen the likes of Buveur d’Air, Faugheen and Hurricane Fly claim the winner’s share of a prize fund that reached £400,000 in 2018.
Queen Mother Champion Chase
When you think of steeplechase racing, lung-busting contests like the Grand National and Cheltenham Gold Cup immediately come to mind. Chases come in many different forms though and the Queen Mother Champion Chase is the championship race for minimum distance chasers. A much-loved contest, the thrilling speed of the horses tackling truly testing obstacles is a sight to behold.
Taking place over just under 2 miles (1m 7f 199y to be precise) on the Cheltenham Old Course, the Champion Chase is among the most fascinating spectacles of the Festival. The way the race unfolds means it could almost be where the phrase ‘jockeying for position’ comes from, as this is all about being in the right position for the closing straight up the Cheltenham hill.
Since being first run in 1959, the Champion Chase has been won by horses who made all and by those who burst through the pack late on. Badsworth Boy is the only horse to win the Queen Mother Chase three times but it is a race in which multiple winners and winners aged eight or over are common, so the “three-peat” may well be achieved in the coming years.
Just as steeplechases are not all simply tests of stamina, hurdling is not all about speed. The Stayers’ Hurdle is the championship race for the specialist long distance hurdling division. It’s run over 3 miles on the New Course at Cheltenham on St Patrick’s Thursday and includes a dozen hurdles to really test both horses and jockeys.
The first running of the Stayers’ Hurdle was all the way back in 1912. The winner, Aftermath, secured £100 for his connections. 100 years later and the prize fund had ballooned to more than a quarter of a million pounds. It’s the combination of that lucrative prize and the prestige that comes with winning the Stayers’ Hurdle that ensures high quality fields turn up year after year.
Big Buck’s dominated the Stayers’ Hurdle (known then as the World Hurdle) with four wins on the trot between 2009 and 2012. Since then it’s been much more open with winners priced between evens and 12/1, so this is a race full of opportunity for punters.
Cheltenham Gold Cup
The Cheltenham Gold Cup is not just Friday’s feature race, it’s the feature of the entire Cheltenham Festival. Whilst some will claim to prefer other races, for the average punter and casual racing fan, it’s all about the Gold Cup.
Simply put, National Hunt races do not come more prestigious than this one. They don’t come much more lucrative either as this is the most valuable chase save for a select few handicaps.
The Cheltenham Gold Cup takes place over 3 miles 2½ furlongs. Combine that with the 22 fences that must be negotiated and you have a tough test of stamina but the best Gold Cup horses are so much more than just stayers. The likes of Kauto Star, Best Mate and L’Escargot had almost the perfect combination of speed, stamina and jumping ability, which is exactly how it should be for this race.
In 1959 the New Course at Cheltenham became the host for the Gold Cup. In years gone by we have seen a 100/1 winner in the shape of Norton’s Coin and a 1/10 winner in the legendary Arkle, who dominated this race in the 1960s. More recently, fans’ favourite Kauto Star became the first horse to regain the Gold Cup in 2009, having previously triumphed in 2007.
Other Big Grade 1s
In addition to the four championship races there are several other big Grade 1 races to enjoy during the Cheltenham Festival. The following are the pick of these big contests.
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
The famous Cheltenham Roar that greets the start of the Supreme Novice’s Hurdle is one of the best known sounds in sport. It highlights the levels of excitement about the start of the Cheltenham Festival but this is more than just a warm up act. The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is a Grade 1 race open to novice hurdlers aged four and older.
The race takes place over 2 miles ½ furlong and sees up to 20 horses competing for a prize fund that reached a new high of £125,000 for the 2018 renewal. Douvan’s win in 2015 saw Ruby Walsh become the first jockey to ride five winners of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Willie Mullins the first trainer to reach the same number.
Arkle Challenge Trophy
The Arkle Challenge Trophy is the second Grade 1 of the Cheltenham Festival. It’s a steeplechase run over a distance of just shy of two miles, which is a specialist distance in chasing. The Arkle is also a novices chase and was introduced in 1969, with its name paying tribute to the three time winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The Arkle is often used as a stepping stone for minimum distance chasers to go on and contend the Champion Chase, so it’s well worth noting the winner of the race for future reference.
Only fillies and mares aged four and older are permitted to race in the Mares’ Hurdle. This race was for a long time known as the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle after the successful jockey and trainer and the trophy still bears his name. Run over 2 miles 4 furlongs, this is the final Grade 1 of the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.
Willie Mullins is the dominant trainer of the Mares’ Hurdle. He won nine of the first nine editions of the race with six of those wins coming from super mare, Quevaga. Mullins and Quevaga played a vital role in the growing popularity of the Mares’ Hurdle, which was promoted to Grade 1 level in 2015.
The RSA Chase is a Grade 1 steeplechase for novices and is run over a shade over 3 miles. The earlier editions of the race contained two divisions but it was soon amalgamated into one race.
Although the novices competing in the RSA Chase still have plenty of room for improvement, it’s a race that has provided plenty of leading contender for more big contests including the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National. That tells you a lot about the importance of stamina, whilst a certain amount of experience is also important as the vast majority of winners were older than the minimum age of five.
Registered as the Festival Trophy, the Ryanair Chase is a Grade 1 open to horses aged five or older. There are 17 fences to be jumped during the 2 mile 5 furlong trip in what has become an increasingly prestigious race.
The Ryanair Chase is one of the races that was added to the Cheltenham Festival when it became a four day meeting in 2005. For many racing pundits, the Ryanair is the most prestigious non-championship race of the Festival. In its relatively short history, Albertas Run is the only horse to win more than once (as of 2018), whilst it’s Ruby Walsh who leads the jockey stats with four wins.
JCB Triumph Hurdle
The JCB Triumph Hurdle is open only to four-year-old novice hurdlers. It is run over 2 miles 1 furlong but has produced winners of big races at longer distances including 2014 winner, Tiger Roll, who won the 2018 Grand National.
The most common next step for winners of the Triumph Hurdle, however, is the Champion Hurdle. Four horses have completed the double but whatever route future winners take they tend to be horses worth following.
Best of the Rest
As you can tell from the list of races above, there is tremendous variety in the races that comprise the Cheltenham Festival. In addition to those Grade 1s there are a host of other Grade level races and competitive handicaps to excite punters during the four days. Here’s our pick of the best of the rest.
National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup
The National Hunt Chase is a special race at Cheltenham Festival as it is open only to amateur riders. The Grade 2 contest is for novice chasers and takes in 24 fences during a monster trip of 4 miles. No race has been run more times at the Festival than the National Hunt Chase which was first held in 1860.
The Novices’ Hurdle has been known by a few names since being introduced in 1971 but it has continued to rise in stature and has been won by some hugely promising horses in recent years including Samcro, Faugheen and The New One. Although it’s open to horses aged four and older, it’s rare to find a winner aged anything other than five or six.
JLT Novices’ Chase
Five-year-olds and older are eligible to compete in the JLT Novices’ Chase which is a Grade 1 run over 2 miles 4 furlongs. The winner must navigate 17 fences which is far from easy given the novice status of all the competitors. The big Irish yards have had a great time in the JLT Novices’ Chase and Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott look set to contest it for a long time to come.
Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
There are 12 fences to be jumped during the 3 miles of the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. This Grade 1 contest regularly includes the best up and coming hurdlers in National Hunt racing. While some stay over the smaller obstacles, others kick on to big things over fences including Bobs Worth, who won in 2011 before winning the RSA Chase in 2012 and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2013.
The crowds at Prestbury Park are still digesting the Gold Cup by the time the Foxhunter Chase gets underway over exactly the same course and distance. Known as the ‘amateur Gold Cup’ because only amateur riders can compete, the Foxhunter Chase is a real speciality race which punters must keep in mind when making their bets.
The Cheltenham Festival was first held in 1860 but in those early days races were not actually held in Cheltenham. Then known as the Grand National Hunt Meeting, the Festival moved around a few different racecourses including Prestbury Park before a committee decided to settle on its current home in 1911. The National Hunt Chase is the oldest race still run in the Cheltenham Festival while the Stayers’ Hurdle is the oldest of the four championship races.
It wasn’t until 2005 that the Cheltenham Festival became a four day meeting. That saw the introduction of a number of new races and provided a certain amount of symmetry with one championship race held on each day.
There have been clamours to extend the Festival to five days but they’ve so far been resisted with the emphasis remaining on ensuring the current races are as well subscribed as possible. We may see a fifth day added, so lucrative is the Festival, but regardless, we look forward to Cheltenham having a future as long and illustrious as its past.
A Complete History of the Cheltenham Festival
Such is the popularity of the Cheltenham Festival today, it is thought the four day meeting is worth £100m to the Gloucestershire economy. It is National Hunt racing on a truly epic scale featuring, some of the most prized races on the circuit.
Now a little over a 100 years old, how did the Festival become such an enormous hit? As we’ve come to learn, its history is as every bit as exciting and interesting as the racing it hosts.
1860 – Cheltenham Festival Origins
Although the Cheltenham Festival as we know it didn’t begin until later on, its roots date back to the creation of the National Hunt Chase. The event was part of the ‘Grand National Hunt Meeting’, initially hosted by Market Harborough but later moved from racecourse to racecourse. Cheltenham staged the event once in 1861 but it wasn’t until 1904 when it returned, two years after a new course was established as Prestbury Park.
1911 – Cheltenham Takes Control
After a series of racecourse improvements, the National Hunt Committee decided that the two-day Grand National Hunt Meeting should move to Cheltenham, from Warwick, on a permanent basis. The inaugural edition wasn’t one to remember sadly with torrential downpours rather spoiling the atmosphere and making it incredibly tough for the horses involved.
While 1911 stands as the undisputed birth year of the Festival, there are two races on its current card with histories stretching further back. The St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase, sometimes known as the amateur Gold Cup due to it being run over the same distance, began in 1904.
Even older is the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase, which is in fact the oldest National Hunt chase still in existence having been inaugurated back in 1834 when named simply the Grand Annual. It had several homes in the 19th century but has lived at Cheltenham ever since 1913.
1912 – Stayers’ Hurdle Founded
A year after Cheltenham secured the rights to hold the Festival they introduced the Stayers’ Hurdle, then known as the Stayers Selling Hurdle. Part of the rules stipulated that the winning horse would be sold for £50 after the race; imagine the bargains available if that still existed! The Stayers’ Hurdle stands as the oldest Festival race still in existence that is currently a championship event.
1920 – County Handicap Hurdle Underway
One of the oldest races to feature at the Cheltenham Festival, the County Handicap Hurdle, enjoyed its first running in 1920, won by a horse named Trespasser. The 4/7 favourite saw off seven challengers that day, a tiny field compared to today’s standards. Traditionally it had been the curtain closer of the entire meeting but in 2009 it became the penultimate race on the final day.
1924 – Gold Cup Begins
Although a race by the name of the Cheltenham Gold Cup first took place in 1819, this was a flat contest, unrelated to jump racing’s Blue Riband. The Gold Cup as we know it first featured in 1924, taking place on the Old Course while largely being overshadowed the National Hunt Chase. Its prize money of £685 at the time was less than the £1,000 offered in the County Handicap Hurdle but how times have changed.
1927 – The Champion Hurdle is Born
Rolled out to Cheltenham crowd for the very first time was the Champion Hurdle, offering £365 to the winning horse, Blaris. Only four horses contested the inaugural running, although this was one more than featured in the 1932 edition of the minimum distance hurdle.
1928 – Stayers Hurdle Dropped
Organisers at Cheltenham take the decision to drop the Stayers’ Hurdle from the Festival for the first time. It returned in 1930 but found itself outed again between 1939 and 1945.
1931 – Frost Gets in the Way
March isn’t a month known for being frosty but unseasonably cold conditions froze the ground at Cheltenham in 1931. Unsafe for racing, the Festival was called off for the first time.
1936 – Miller Truly Golden
Golden Miller completes a truly unbelievable sequence of five straight Gold Cup victories. The Irish-bred horse initially won as a five year old and proceeded to win the next four renewals, all as the strong favourite. As if five Gold Cup wins wasn’t enough, Golden Miller is also the only horse to win the Cheltenham Festival’s prized race and the Grand National in the same year (1934).
1937 – Flooding an Issue
If Golden Miller’s connection had been weighing up a sixth Gold Cup title then they were out of luck. Although the horse only retired in 1939, flooding meant there was no running of the Gold Cup in 1937. Wet weather didn’t cancel the entire meeting though with other races such as the Champion Hurdle still going ahead in the mud.
1943 – War Sacrifices
During the early years of World War II the Festival largely carried on as normal but as things progressed hosting racing action proved impossible. In 1943 there was no option but to cancel the meeting, the first time non-weather factors had been responsible. The same occurred again in 1944 before action resumed the following year.
1946 – Two New Races Created
Shortly after the end of the war, Cheltenham added another race to its repertoire, the Broadway Novices’ Chase. The three mile contest underwent several name changes during the 1960s but we’ve long known it now as the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase. From fairly humble origins the steeplechase for horses aged five years and older has become one of the highlights on day two of the Festival.
The other new recruit was the Kim Muir Amateur Riders’ Steeplechase, introduced by Mrs Evan Williams as a way of honouring her brother, a Calvary officer, who died during World War II. Later, in 1991, on the year of his death, the highly successfully trainer Fulke Walwyn was added to the race title.
1947 – Champion Hurdle Golden Era Begins
The Champion Hurdle may be one of the great National Hunt races but even it has its highs and lows. Shortly after World War II came to an end, fans witnessed one of the highs as three horses, National Spirit, Hatton’s Grace and Sir Ken, won eight consecutive renewals between them. Considered to be among the most talented hurdlers the sport has seen, it was pure chance they all featured across a small space of time.
1947 – Many Other Races Postponed
National Spirit only had chance to win the 1947 edition of the Champion Hurdle thanks to the hard work of the organisers. Twice the race had been postponed due to snow but the third time proved the charm. Unfortunately for many other races, there simply wasn’t space to fit them in elsewhere so the bulk of Festival races have no records for this year.
1951 – Mildmay of Flete Handicap Chase Established
Cheltenham creates a new steeplechase in order to honour the 2nd Baron Mildmay of Flete who tragically died months earlier. The celebrated amateur jockey rode three Festival winners during his time and the inaugural running of the race named after him couldn’t have been any more exciting. Waterlogging delayed it by a month but it was fully worth the wait as Canford and Slender crossed the line at the same time, producing a rare dead heat.
1954 – Local Success
The Gold Cup witnessed its first locally trained winner in the form of Four Ten. Trainer John Roberts was base in the now demolished, but then very nearby Prestbury Court.
1954 – Piggott on Show
Lester Piggott’s fame came strictly over the flat but the racing legend did have a try over the obstacles earlier on in his career. This year the 11-time champion Flat jockey made his Festival debut, winning the now-defunct Birdlip Selling Hurdle on 2nd March. It’s the only Festival race Piggott ever won although he did also win the Triumph Hurdle before it moved to Cheltenham.
1957 – Herbert Denied Spotlight
As Linwell stormed home in the Gold Cup, few would have been celebrating more than Ivor Herbet. The well-known racing journalist was the trainer of the bay gelding but a conflict of interest barred him from obtaining a trainer’s licence. Charlie Mallon, head of his stable staff, therefore officially took the role as trainer and it is his name that features in the record books.
1959 – Along Comes the Champion Chase
Recognising the need for a high class minimum distance steeplechase, the then National Hunt Two-Mile Champion Chase enjoyed its inaugural appearance in 1959. The original title hardly rolled off the tongue but it stopped being an issue in 1980 when the race changed to its present title of the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
1964 – Famous Gold Cup Battle
The excitement levels were at fever pitch heading into this Gold Cup renewal as Mill House, representing England, took on pride of Ireland, Arkle. The two seven year olds couldn’t have been in any better shape and what a battle they produced on the New Course. Miles clear of the trailing pack, the pair entered the home stretch neck and neck before Arkle managed to pull away as they approached the line.
1966 – Arkle Completes Stunning Treble
He may not have reached the five Gold Cup wins managed by Golden Miller but Arkle’s trio was far more emphatic. His five length victory in 1964 later proved to be a close call as in 1965 and 1966 the stunning nag won by 20 and 30 lengths respectively. The latter you’ll not be surprised to learn is the largest winning distance ever recorded in the Grade 1 event. No wonder the bookies had him down at odds of 1/10!
1968 – Triumph Hurdle Joins the Festival
Founded in 1939, the Triumph Hurdle took its time before being included on the Festival schedule. Hurst Park in Surrey initially hosted the event but following its closure in 1962 the minimum distance event needed a new home. Cheltenham took up the reigns in 1965, scheduling it during its April meeting before bringing it a month forward in 1968.
1969 – Cotswold Chase Dropped
As a way of paying tribute to three-time Gold Cup winning Arkle, the Arkle Challenge Trophy replaced the Cotswold Chase. Initially it began featuring on the second day of the Festival but found itself moved to the opening day 10 years later.
1971 – Baring Bingham Novices’ Hurdle Begins
The name Baring Bingham may not be overly familiar to most but it was he who purchased Prestbury Park in 1898 and organised the earlier editions of the Grand National Hunt Meeting. Created in his honour was this two mile five furlong race hurdle race won by the Ruby Walsh-Willie Mullins combination on four occasions.
1972 – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Merges
For decades the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, which in more recent times has been the opening race of the entire Festival, was split into two or even three divisions. This came to an end in 1972 though as the Gloucestershire Hurdle as it was then known became a simple one race affair.
1974 – George Duller Handicap Hurdle Drops Out
The Festival waves goodbye to the George Duller Handicap Hurdle and says hello to the Coral Golden Hurdle Final. For much of its early history the race went by this name but in 1992 it changed to the more familiar Pertemps Final. The contest is the culmination of eight qualifying races taking place across the country earlier in the season and in 2018 it went from a Listed to a Grade 3 event.
1978 – Snow Disruption
Winter continued a little longer this year as it covered Cheltenham racecourse with plenty of snow. The adverse weather didn’t complete ruin the meet but not all races managed to feature. One of these to miss out was the Gold Cup but fortunately a date was found in April to run the showpiece event.
1980 – A Year of Banned Substances
Tied Cottage storms home in the Gold Cup, reaching the line eight lengths clear of Master Smudge in second. The 12 year old led from start to finish but after the race, officials found traces of the prohibited substance theobromine in a urine sample. Accidental contamination of food stuffs was blamed but as unintentional as it was, disqualification had to follow.
There was disqualification in the Champion Chase too, this time Chinrullah the victim after securing an unbelievable 25 length victory. After the Mick O’Toole trained horse took the unfortunate crown as the only horse to suffer two disqualifications at the Festival as he also featured in the Gold Cup the following day. Like with Tied Cottage, theobromine was the issue.
1981 – Age No Barrier for Wumpkins
When winning the Pertemps Final as an 11 year old in 1979, few were expecting more success in the race for Willie Wumpkins. Not only did he win again the following year though, he completed the event’s only hat-trick in 1981 at the ripe age of 13, much to the delight of the crowd. Incredibly this final victory came eight years after the fan favourite first tasted Cheltenham Festival success, making for a true comeback tale.
1983 – Badsworth Boy Claims a Hat-Trick
A third consecutive win for Badsworth Boy makes him the first horse to win the Champion Chase on more than two occasions. The son of Bold Ruler was trained by a combination of Michael, Tony and Monica Dickinson. Michael had been officially noted as the trainer for the first two wins while Monica took the plaudits for the third.
Although Michael wasn’t credited with Champion Chase success this year, he did find his way into the history books very shortly after via another means. The Yorkshireman completed the extraordinary feat of training the first five finishers of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The Dickinson Famous Five, as it was called at the time, were as follows: 1st: Bregawn, 2nd: Captain John, 3rd: Wayward Lad, 4th: Silver Buck, and 5th: Ashley House.
1987 – Armytage First Female Success
At just 21 years old, Gee Armytage became the first female jockey to ride a winner at the Cheltenham Festival. She did so in the Kim Muir Challenge Cup on an 11 year old horse called The Ellier. Not willing to stop there, the daughter of successful trainer Roddy Armytage then scored another winner the following day on the aptly named Gee-A.
1990 – Huge Gold Cup Upset
Fully expecting Desert Orchid to retain his Gold Cup crown, punters heaped money on Dessie who set off at an odds-on price. Seeing him finish behind 8/1 shot Toby Tobias was surprising enough but nobody in their wildest dreams thought he would wind up behind the shock winner Norton’s Coin. Despite a complete lack of form, the obscurely bred gelding won at a huge 100/1 price, the longest in Gold Cup history.
1992 – Festival Bumper Added
Unable to think of a more inspired name, the Festival Bumper emerged as the latest race to take place at Cheltenham’s historic meeting. Now known as the Champion Bumper, it became the first, and remains the only, flat race to take place during the entire Festival. The name change in 1997 represents its status as the most prestigious bumper race taking place on the National Hunt calendar.
The first horse to feature on the winners’ list of the Champion Bumper, Montelado, returned the following year to win the Supreme Novice Hurdle. The 1997 champion, Florida Pearl, became the next to win over the obstacles on his Festival return when scoring gold in the RSA Chase.
1993 – Coral Cup Established
Coral becomes the latest sponsor looking to get in on the Festival act. The popular bookie sponsored a new handicap, initially run over a distance of two miles and five furlongs. Olympian, who had won the Imperial Cup the previous weekend at Sandown, claimed glory in the inaugural renewal. For this double he scooped his connections a bonus prize of £50,000 courtesy of Coral.
1994 – Avro Anson Denied
A brilliant battle in the Stayers’ Hurdle saw Avro Anson edge out Martin Pipe’s joint favourite Balasani. The result was switched however when the stewards penalised the initial winner for causing interference.
2000 – Istabraq Shows His Prowess
Although not quite able to match Golden Miller’s run of five Festival victories, Istabraq did make it four on the turn of the new millennium. The Aidan O’Brien trained hurdler initially won the Baring Bingham Novices’ Hurdle before securing triple success in the elite Champion Hurdle.
2001 – Foot-and-Mouth Crisis
An outbreak of food-and-mouth disease in 2001 not only caused a crisis in the British agriculture and tourism sectors but it had a huge impact on horse racing too. Organisers had hoped to reschedule the Cheltenham Festival to later in the spring but a confirmed case of the disease located just five miles from Prestbury Park sunk the plans. Unable to host the Festival due to the racecourse being in the exclusion zone, Cheltenham had to refund almost 150,000 badges in what was a devastating blow.
To some extent, contingency plans spared the Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase and Stayers’ Hurdle. Sandown hosted these races under a different guise during April’s Whitbread Gold Cup meeting. The four events carried Grade One status and featured over similar distances as normal but they can’t truly count as genuine renewals of the big Cheltenham races.
2005 – The Festival Grows
To the delight of the many people who subscribe to the ‘I wish it could be Cheltenham everyday’ ethos, an extra day was added to the Festival. Traditionally the action spanned three days but the inclusion of day four allowed a championship race to feature on every day of the meeting.
The extra day of racing created a need for an additional four races to ensure each day had an even six in total. The new recruits were the Festival Trophy (Ryanair Chase), Spa Novices’ Hurdle, Centenary Novices’ Handicap Chase, Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Handicap Hurdle and the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase. Those of you paying attention will see that five races are mentioned above, that’s because the Cathcart Challenge Cup, a previous Festival feature, was scrapped.
2007 – Kauto Star Wins Big
A Betfair initiative rolled out in 2005 offered a bonus of £1m to any horse able to win the Betfair Chase, the King George VI and the Gold Cup, also known as the Stayers Chase Triple Crown. Kauto Star had already won the first two prior to lining up for the 2007 edition of the Gold Cup and he duly complete the clean sweep, pocketing his connections a huge jackpot in the process. By the end of his career Clive Smith’s horse netted £3.7m in earnings.
2008 – Another Race Added in a Stormy Edition
Just three years after increasing the number of races by four, Cheltenham adds another event, the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle. Named after the hugely successful jockey and trainer, it is available to all fillies and mares over the age of three. It would become the first of four races joining the Festival over the next eight years. Its first running coincided with some truly awful conditions at Cheltenham however, so bad in fact that day two of the meeting had to be cancelled.
High winds were to blame for the disruption on the morning of the Festival’s second day. Gusts on the course has been so strong that an unspecified structure had blown down. With a selection of temporary buildings present by the track, the risk of something else falling was simply too great and the day’s action was abandoned. Fortunately things calmed down on Thursday and Friday and the cancelled races simply took place on these days.
2009 – Martin Pipe Honoured
Martin Pipe joins Fulke Walwyn, Vincent O’Brien, Fred Winter and David Nicholson as the next person who has a race named after him at the Festival. Appropriately, a handicap was chosen for what many viewed as a long-overdue honour. A humbled Pipe, who retired in 2006, predicted at the time that his son David would no doubt maintain a keen interest in the race but as of 2019 he’s yet to win it.
2011 – Golder Miller Novices’ Chase Added
With organisers at Cheltenham keen on increasing another day to seven races, they added the Golden Miller Novices’ Chase. The name may not ring a bell but that’s because it’s always ran under a sponsored title, initially called the Jewson Novices’ Handicap Chase and then the JLT Novices’ Chase. It slotted in on day three of the Festival and in 2014 enjoyed promotion to Grade 1.
2012 – Big Buck’s Makes it Four
For the fourth time, Big Buck’s gets himself first past the post in the Stayers’ Hurdle, breaking his own record as the race’s most successful horse. Ruby Walsh had to push him hard in the final stages but the French-foaled horse had enough to see off Voler La Vedette. Already a true legend of the sport, Big Buck’s attempted to make it five in 2013 but could only managed a fourth place finish.
2014 – Quevega Proves Unbeatable
Usually one festival win is impressive enough but a solitary taste of success was not enough for the French-bred Quevega. The Willie Mullins trained mare somehow made it six wins in a row in the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle, or rather the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle as it is called for sponsorship reasons. By securing her sixth win she ended up breaking the record for the most wins at the Festival set by Golden Miller, who triumphed in the Gold Cup on five consecutive occasions in the 1930s.
2016 – One Final Race Added
Bringing the total number of races up to 28 at the Festival, making it seven races on each day, is the Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. Nicky Henderson was quick to praise the addition calling it an “enormous boost to the National Hunt breeding fraternity”. On its inaugural running the two mile, one furlong hurdle offered £75,000 in prize money.
2018 – Mullins Continues to Bump
After a four year drought, Willie Mullins gets back on top in the Champion Bumper by claiming his ninth win in the prestigious flat race. With this latest win, courtesy of the five year old Envoi Allen, Irish trainer became responsible for more than a third of all winners in the race.
2019 – Record Breaking Attendance
Despite the presence of stormy weather threatening to delay the start of the Festival, droves of spectators came in their numbers to view the action live. Undeterred by the poor weather, a record breaking crowd of 67,934 attended the opening day of the Festival.