The Cheltenham Festival is the most prestigious meeting in the National Hunt season and it always provides a great deal of drama and excitement. All the biggest names in the business will be there, from champion jockeys and superstar trainers to wealthy owners and hopeful punters. The standard is extremely high in every single race, and clinching a victory at Cheltenham is a truly impressive feat. Here is everything you need to know about the biggest meeting of the year:
When does the Cheltenham Festival take place?
The 2020 Cheltenham Festival begins on Tuesday, March 10, and ends on Friday, March 13. There are seven races per day to look forward to, with the first taking place at 1.30pm and the final race going off at 5.30pm.
Why is it so special?
The Cheltenham Festival is the preeminent meeting in the National Hunt calendar and it attracts all the leading lights from across the UK, Ireland and further afield. There is a total prize pool of £4.6 million up for grabs and the prestige gained from landing a Cheltenham winner is immense, ensuring a ferocious level of competition in every single race.
The atmosphere inside Prestbury Park is also electric. More than 250,000 visitors will don their finest garbs and pack into the famous racecourse during the four-day bonanza. The Cheltenham roar can be heard for miles around as the assembled guests cheer on their heroes down the home straight.
There is also great food, plenty of delicious drinks and world-class entertainment, creating a great all-round event. It is also really popular with Irish visitors, and the annual Prestbury Cup competition – a battle between Irish and British trainers to secure the most victories – adds another layer of intrigue.
What are the biggest races?
There are just 40 Grade 1 races in the entire National Hunt calendar, and 14 of them take place in the space of four days at Cheltenham in March. They are all extremely important contests, but there is a featured showpiece event on each day of the festival.
The big event on the Tuesday is the Champion Hurdle, the most prestigious hurdling event in the National Hunt calendar. It takes place over 2 miles and 87 yards, and the victor is known as the best hurdler in the business.
The second day features the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the leading minimum-distance chase of the season. This year Altior will bid to win the famous race for the third time in a row. He breezed to victory in 2019, but he has since endured a topsy-turvy season and ambitious rivals fancy their chances of dethroning him.
Altior is the narrow favourite in the Cheltenham Festival odds found here, but he faces a stern battle against luminaries such as Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi.
Day three is Ladies’ Day and there are a number of big races to look forward to, including the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase. However, the main event is the Stayers’ Hurdle, the festival’s oldest race, dating back to 1912.
The Cheltenham Festival saves the best until last. On Friday, March 13, millions will tune in to watch the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the world’s most prestigious National Hunt race. It is run over 3 miles 2 furlongs and 70 yards, and it has resulted in some epic battles over the years. Arkle, Golden Miller, Best Mate and Kauto Star are among the big names that made their reputations in the Gold Cup, which is known as the blue riband event of jumps racing.
Who are the big names to look out for?
Willie Mullins is the most successful trainer in Cheltenham Festival history and he will bring a formidable collection of runners to the meeting. English maestro Nicky Henderson has is just one behind Mullins in the all-time stakes, and he could regain the lead this year.
Also look out for Gordon Elliott, who has formed an extremely successful partnership with Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary in recent years. It will soon begin to wind down, but Elliott will also have a strong hand in many big races and he will seek to reclaim the leading trainer title from Mullins this year.
Which horses are tipped for success?
Tiger Roll will be one of the biggest draws at this year’s Cheltenham Festival. He is bidding for a third straight Cross-Country Chase victory, and he will then head to Aintree the following month to attempt to become the first horse to ever winning the Grand National three times in a row.
The impressive Benie Des Dieux is the big favourite in the Mares’ Hurdle and deservedly so, while Envoi Allen should storm to victory in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle after delivering some eye-catching performances this season.
Paisley Park will aim to win the Stayers’ Hurdle for the second year in a row, and it is hard to see anyone preventing him from pulling it off. Defending champion Al Boum Photo is the favourite for Gold Cup glory, but Lostintranslation and Santini look like formidable contenders.