The Cheltenham Festival: Four Things That Make It So Special

Features | 11th March 2022

The Cheltenham Festival has become known as the Olympics of jump racing.

Luckily, for the hundreds of thousands of fans who flock to the Cotswolds every March, they don’t have to wait four years for the next four‐day carnival.

It is the most fantastic celebration of the sport that has some jump racing lovers counting down the days to the next Festival as soon as the sun sets on Gold Cup day.

Here we look at why Cheltenham week is so special for so many people.

Best of the best

Jumping legends are created at Cheltenham.

Every owner, trainer and jockey dreams of lifting one of the sport’s greatest trophies.

The Champion Hurdle, the Champion Chase, the Gold Cup – they are all iconic races steeped in jump racing history.

Those coveted prizes have helped crown the greatest horses. So many of the very best have etched their names into racing folklore at the home of National Hunt racing.

From Arkle to Istabraq, Desert Orchid to Kauto Star and Best Mate to Sprinter Sacre – Cheltenham has been the scene of the most memorable performances.

The four‐day meeting now hosts 28 races. No less than 14 of them are Grade 1 prizes attracting the best the sport has to offer. It is a peerless Festival in so many ways.

Irish Invasion

To many Irish people, the Cheltenham Festival is more popular than Guinness or hurling. Thousands of racing fans cross the Irish Sea on their annual pilgrimage every year.

Some of the greatest Cheltenham champions have also been trained in Ireland.

The best‐loved Irish horses often spark the most frenzied celebrations. The scenes after the victories of Dawn Run, Danoli and Moscow Flyer had to be seen to be believed.

There was a time when Irish winners were no more than sprinkled across the four days. Now it’s more of a flurry of domination.

Irish trainers won an astonishing 23 of the 28 races last year. The balance is unlikely to be redressed too much this year with enough horses to fill a fleet of ferries making the journey.

With Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott and Henry de Bromhead all likely to have dozens of runners this year, the British trainers will have their work cut out once again.

Prestige and Tradition

The Festival’s roots date back as far as the mid‐1800s. The event became established at its present site on the outskirts of Cheltenham – often referred to as Prestbury Park – more than 100 years ago. Although the Festival evolved over time, those original traditions still run deep at jump racing’s greatest meeting.

The oldest races still in existence – the Grand Annual and the National Hunt Chase – have their origins more than 150 years ago.

Some of the trophies handed out to the winning owners are among the most historic in jumps racing.

The prestige that comes with lifting them after a big‐race victory is what draws the best to Cheltenham every year.

Many Royals are also regular visitors to the Festival. The Queen Mother rarely missed a year and her statue now stands in the winners’ enclosure.

The Queen has been pictured at the Festival on numerous occasions as well as Prince William and Kate.

Princess Anne hardly ever misses a meeting and her daughter Zara has inherited her love of Cheltenham.

It’s an occasion like no other. Where coach party day‐trippers mix with Royalty and they’re all there to witness the finest sport jump racing has to offer.

Roaring Good Time

The Festival atmosphere is like nothing else in sport.

Jump racing fans become addicted to the electricity in the air before, during and after the races.

The anticipation leading up to the first race of the Festival on Tuesday, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, reaches a crescendo with the now famous ‘Cheltenham roar’.

From then on the atmosphere crackles. Champions are cheered up the famous hill and back into the winners’ enclosure.

The bars hum with discussions of upcoming races and the chat lasts long into the evenings with debates about the merits of past heroes.

There is so much to see and do between races but the atmosphere is never better than when races are decided by the flared nostrils of the brave horses.