|Monday 27th January 2020|
A Guide to Cheltenham Festival's Centrepiece Races
This year’s Cheltenham Festival is on the horizon and in just over a month, we will hear that famous Roar echo around Prestbury Park and beyond. There’s nothing quite like the atmosphere and anticipation that the meeting brings and of course, most bettors and fans will be looking forward to the world-renowned Gold Cup. This Blue Riband event takes place on the final day of the festival, but each day there’s a feature race which generates the most prize money and excitement.
The most recent horse racing results are often considered when choosing race favourites and already punters are checking form guides to see who’s worth a shout. Let’s take a look at these highlights of the Cheltenham Festival and this year’s favourites.
Day 1: Champion Hurdle
Billed as Champion Day, the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival is packed full of quality with four Grade 1 races. The highlight is the Champion Hurdle, run on the Old Course over a distance of just over two miles. It’s open to horses aged four or older and, as its name suggests, is run over hurdles. It’s the final leg of the Triple Crown of Hurdling (which also includes The Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle and The Christmas Hurdle at Kempton).
The first Champion Hurdle was run in 1927 with the inaugural winner being Blaris. In recent years, Buveur d'Air won back-to-back races in 2017 and 2018, making Nicky Henderson the leading trainer of the Champion Hurdle. However, last year’s winner was Espoir d’Allen.
2020 favourites: Epatante; Honeysuckle; Pentland Hills and Saldier.
Prize money: £450,000.
Day 2: Queen Mother Champion Chase
The second day is Ladies Day and it’s another day chock-full of high-class action with four Grade 1 races, which blend speed with stamina. The highlight event is the Queen Mother Champion Chase, a race of under two miles, open to horses aged five or older.
The event was established in 1959, when it was known as the National Hunt Two-Mile Champion Chase and the winner was Quita Que. The race was given its present title in 1980, to commemorate the Queen Mother’s 80th birthday and to recognise her support for jump racing. Altior will be looking to land a hat-trick of wins having won the 2018 and 2019 races – making trainer Nicky Henderson the leading active trainer in the Champion Chase.
2020 favourites: Defi Du Seuil; Altior; Chacun Pour Soi.
Prize money: £400,000.
Day 3: Stayers’ Hurdle
Day three of the Cheltenham Festival coincides with St. Patrick’s Day, so there’s often a party atmosphere around the concourse – particularly special about day three is that there are two stand-out races, the Ryanair Chase and Stayers’ Hurdle.
The latter is run on the New Course, over a distance of just under three miles. The Stayers’ Hurdle is a Grade 1 race, open to horses aged four years or older. Aftermath was the first winner in 1912 and the most successful horse is Big Buck’s who won four races between 2009 and 2012. Consequently, Ruby Walsh is the most successful jockey and Paul Nicholls is the leading trainer in the race. Last year’s winner was Paisley Park.
2020 favourites: Paisley Park; Benie Des Dieux; If The Cap Fits.
Prize money: £325,000.
Day 4: Gold Cup
The final day needs no introduction. Gold Cup Day is home to the race of the same name and one of the most sought-after titles in horse racing. The Gold Cup is open to horses aged five and older, and is run on the New Course over a distance of two miles and two-and-a-half furlongs. It’s known as the Blue Riband event of jump racing and it’s where legends are made – the roll of honour features such names as Arkle, Golden Miller, Kauto Star and Best Mate.
The first ever Gold cup was run in 1819, but it was a flat race, with Spectre the winner. It was run as a jump race in 1924, with Pathe News victorious, but even then, it was run on the Old Course and it wasn’t until 1959 that the famous race was contested on the New Course. Al Boum Photo was last year’s winner, landing Willie Mullins his first Gold Cup victory – and he’s the favourite ahead of this year’s race.
2020 favourites: Al Boum Photo; Kemboy; Lostintranslation.
Prize money: £625,000.