The biggest week in the National Hunt calendar is nearly upon us and bookies, punters and racing fans alike are all starting to lick their lips in anticipation of the attention of the world being upon Prestbury Park for the Cheltenham Festival. If you’re not sure what all the fuss is about however, we’re going to try to whet your appetite by giving you the inside track on the meeting known as the ‘Olympics of National Hunt racing’.
The origins of National Hunt racing’s most prestigious festival can be traced all the way back to 1860, when a race known as the National Hunt Chase was first held as a showpiece event of the racing season. By 1911, when the event was permanently moved to Prestbury Park in Cheltenham, the National Hunt Chase had become surrounded by not only a major card of support races but a whole festival of racing.
The present day showpiece race of Cheltenham, the Gold Cup, was first established some 13 years later in 1924 but has a storied and astonishing history of its own. The ultimate test of a National Hunt racehorse, the Gold Cup is seen as the pinnacle of jumps racing and the roll of honour of former winners ably demonstrates the fact. Equine legends such as Golden Miller, Arkle, L’escargot and Desert Orchid can all boast Gold Cup victories, and modern day heroes such as Best Mate and Kauto Star have also written their own chapters in the history of the race.
With that weight of history behind it then, it is no surprise that the Cheltenham Festival has grown to be a goliath of a sporting event, with around 250,000 spectators expected through the turnstiles in 2016 and a level of quality unmatched in all of racing.
This year’s Cheltenham Festival will see a total of 28 races held over four days, with a full 14 of those being Grade Ones and a whole host of the world’s top equine talent making the trip to the course. Amongst the over 500 horses expected to compete at the festival, superstars such as the Willie Mullins trained trio of Annie Power, Douvan and Min, as well as established favourites like Sprinter Sacre and the New One will all perform in front of huge crowds.
That racing elite will be competing for total prize money in excess of £4 million over the week and will this year be joined by an Olympic champion no less! Multiple Olympic cycling champion Victoria Pendleton has ‘switched saddles’ this year to become an amateur jockey and will line up aboard Pacha du Polder for the Foxhunters Chase, adding even more star quality and sporting intrigue to the festival. Pendleton’s mount is sure to have plenty of support from the punters and the betting side of Cheltenham is a further reason to be excited for the upcoming feast of National Hunt racing.
In 2015, it is estimated that a total of £150 million was bet at the Cheltenham Festival, and global online, shop and course betting makes the week at Prestbury Park a massive one for bookies and punters alike.
The range and quality of action to bet on is peerless, and for many punters and racing fans the Cheltenham Festival week is like four Christmas Days held back-to-back. That popularity with punters too, increasingly encourages all manner of bookies to provide outstanding offers, promotions and free bets which just add to the excitement and buzz of the whole event.
If you’re even only a casual fan of racing, a very occasional punter or simply a follower of top quality sport then, the upcoming Cheltenham Festival should still be ringed on your calendar as a week of unparalleled drama and excitement.