Cheltenham Festival races explained

by JACK ROSE  The Cheltenham Festival is a major meeting in the National Hunt racing calendar, second only in prize money to the Grand National. It takes place in March and is usually on at the same time as St Patrick’s Day, with many Irish horses taking part in the event and this can create a brilliant atmosphere!

Have you ever looked at the Grade One races at the festival and wondered where they came from and what they stand for?

The Champion Bumper

The event was established in 1992 and at first it was called the Festival Bumper. All sorts of different names followed along with the sponsorship until 1997 it was named Champion Bumper by its current sponsor, Weatherby’s, and has remained the same since. The Champion Bumper is the most prestigious flat race in the National Hunt calendar. It usually features horses which go on to be leading performers over obstacles like Florida Pearl or Dunguib.

Triumph Hurdle

The Triumph Hurdle was established in 1939 and was originally held at Hurst Park in Surrey. Even when it transferred to Cheltenham it was part of a meeting in April and wasn’t held during ‘The Festival’ until 1968. Winners of the Triumph Hurdle usually go on to contest subsequent renewals of the Champion Hurdle. Four horses have won both events – Clair Soleil, Persian War, Kribensis and Katchit.

Ryanair Chase

The Ryanair Chase was one of a few new races added when Cheltenham was extended to 4 days in 2005. Prior to that there was a similar race called the Cathcart Challenge Cup, although this didn’t allow anything other than first and second-season chasers. It was originally called the Festival Trophy when it was first run in 2005 and was a grade 2 race. It’s been sponsored by Ryanair since 2006 and has been a Grade 1 level race since 2008.

Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is a National Hunt hurdle race. The Festival opener is usually greeted by the ‘Cheltenham Roar’ by punters. It’s been going since 1946 and has had numerous sponsors and the current sponsor is Sky Bet. The leading jockey since 1972 is Ruby Walsh with 5 wins – Douvan (2015), Vautour (2014), Champagne Fever (2013), Al Ferof (2011) & Noland (2006).

Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle

The Baring Bingham Novices’ Hurdle, also known as the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle, is a National Hunt Hurdle race. Having been established in 1971 it was originally named the Aldsworth Hurdle. The reason the unsponsored name of the race is Baring Bingham Novices’ Hurdle is in honour of Baring Bingham, the organiser of the first Cheltenham Festival in 1902.

Arkle Challenge Trophy

The Arkle Challenge Trophy is a National Hunt Steeplechase which is open to horses aged five years or older. It is the leading 2m chase for novices in the National Hunt calendar. Originally it was run on the second day, moving to the opening day in 1980. The Arkle was brought in as a replacement for the Cotswold Chase in 1969. It’s named in honour of Arkle, the three-time winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in the mid-sixties.

RSA Chase

Originally named the Broadway Novices’ Chase it’s a National Hunt chase open to runners aged at least five years old. Several winners of this chase have gone on to contend the most prestigious chase, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The most recent horse to achieve this feat was Lord Windermere, winning the Gold Cup in 2014.

Champion Hurdle

The Champion Hurdle is a National Hunt hurdle race open to horses aged four years and above. The Champion Hurdle is the most prestigious hurdling event in the National Hunt calendar, being won by some of the most highly thought of hurdlers in history. The first Champion Hurdle was run in 1927 and won prize money of £365, compared to the winner pocketing £248,302 in 2016.

Stayers’ Hurdle

The Stayers Hurdle is open to horses four years and above. It was first run at Prestbury Park in 1912 and is now the feature race on the third day of the Festival. Ruby Walsh is the leading jockey since 1972 having ridden Big Buck’s to victory on four occasions – 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Queen Mother Champion Chase

The Queen Mother Champion Chase was originally called the National Hunt Two-Mile Champion Chase until 1980 when in honour of the Queen Mother’s 80th birthday it was renamed in recognition of her support of jump racing. It’s a National Hunt steeplechase open to horses five years and up and is the feature race on the second day of the Festival. First place takes in excess of £200,000.

Gold Cup

The Cheltenham Gold Cup is a National Hunt Steeplechase and is the most valuable non-handicap chase in Britain. The first race named the Cheltenham Gold Cup was run as early as 1819, but this was only a flat race only being run over the jumps from 1924. Coneygree was the first horse to win the race as a novice in over 40 years in 2015, the latest winner being Don Cossack in 2016. Djakadam has come second for the last two years. Prize money for the 2017 race is expected to top £600,000 with first place expected to take in excess of £330,000.


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