Ten Fascinating Facts About the Cheltenham Festival

The Cheltenham Festival is one of the leading events on the sporting calendar

Cheltenham hosts one of the great sporting events.

The Cheltenham Festival is quite rightly dubbed ‘the Olympics of jumps racing’ with no event in the calendar coming close to the pulling power of the Cotswolds extravaganza.

For four days in March, Cheltenham is at the epicentre of the sporting world as the best National Hunt horses in Britain & Ireland (and France) come together to do battle for the sport’s most prestigious prizes.

This year’s Cheltenham Festival runs from Tuesday March 15th – Friday March 18th and, ahead of the showpiece event, here are 10 Fascinating Facts about the Cheltenham Festival.

Prizes and Their Winners

1. Prize money at the Cheltenham Festival tallied more than £1m per-day for the first time in 2019, with the overall purse across four days reaching over £4.5m – the richest of any jumps festival in the world.

2. Ruby Walsh is the all-time most successful rider at the Cheltenham Festival having retired in 2019 with 63 winners on his CV.

The Irishman was crowned leading rider at the meeting a whopping 11 times, starring for both Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins in his storybook career.

Gold Cup wins on Kauto Star (2007 & 2009) and Champion Hurdles on Hurricane Fly (2011 & 2013) rate highly, but Walsh admits Annie Power’s redemptive success in the 2016 Champion Hurdle was one of his most satisfying Cotswolds successes ever.

3. Willie Mullins has trained more Cheltenham Festival winners than anyone else.

The Irish supremo took his tally to a majestic 78 winners in 2021, with Allaho’s Ryanair Chase and Appreciate It scoring in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle his highlights.

For many years the Gold Cup eluded Mullins, but Al Boum Photo changed that in 2019 and retained the crown in 2020.

The Queen Mother Champion Chase is the only piece of the Cheltenham Championship jigsaw missing from Mullins’ collection now.

4. There are two courses at Cheltenham – The Old Course and The New Course.

The former is used for the first two days of The Festival before switching to the New Course – generally considered to be a more daunting stamina test, though neither are easy.

12,320 yards of running rails surrounding the tracks while 5,000 bundles of birch are used every season on the Cheltenham fences.

Records and Their Setters

5. The first female jockey to win a Grade 1 race during The Festival was Katie Walsh in 2018, winning the Champion Bumper on the Willie Mullins-trained mare Relegate.

Bryony Frost (Frodon, Ryanair Chase, 2019) matched that feat, while Racheal Blackmore joined them the same year winning Albert Bartlett on Minella Indo.

In 2021, Blackmore re-wrote the history books with six Festival winners – including the Champion Hurdle on outstanding mare Honeysuckle – as she was crowned leading rider at the Cheltenham Festival.

6. Quevega’s six wins in the Mares’ Hurdle from 2009-2014 ensure she is the horse with the most Festival wins, eclipsing Golden Miller’s tally of five – all in the Gold Cup – which was achieved from 1932-1936.

Honourable mention too for Big Buck’s, the winner of four Stayers’ Hurdles from 2009-2012.

7. Kauto Star is the only horse ever to regain the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He won in 2007, before finishing second to his Paul Nicholls-trained stablemate Denman in a bruising ’08 renewal.

Their iconic rivalry transcended racing and in 2009 ‘King Kauto’ took his crown back, with Denman this time the bridesmaid.

People and Produce

8. With an average attendance (non-pandemic times) of over 65,000 per day, the Cheltenham Festival draws more than a quarter of a million people to the Gloucestershire town each spring.

That means 134,600 people using the Cheltenham Spa train station over the four days, 80,000 using the shuttle bus service between Cheltenham Racecourse and the town centre, 36,500 vehicles parked over the four days and more than 100 helicopters on site per day.

There are 50 coaches in use per day for staff alone, while an extra 30 flights are scheduled from Dublin into Birmingham during The Festival to cover the visiting Irish racegoers.

9. With that volume of visitors – food and drink is a vital commodity. According to organisers the Jockey Club the Cheltenham catering team go through the following at an average Festival:

•           45,000 bread rolls

•           8,000+ gallons of tea and coffee served

•           350 chefs on site

•           9 tons of potatoes consumed

•           5 tons of smoked and fresh salmon consumed

•           3,800 catering team operating the event each day

•           500 students from over 14 colleges work at The Festival

•           8 furlongs (a mile!) of temporary bar counters

•           24 marquees including the longest triple-deck structure in Europe, with over 2.5 miles of internal walls

10. Watching the best jumps horses strut their stuff can be thirsty work and punters at Cheltenham are always keen to stay hydrated.

The Guinness Village has become of the most popular hospitality offerings at the racecourse and – over the duration of four days – 265,000 pints of Guinness will be served!

Get prepared for this years meeting with our Cheltenham Festival Tips.

Enda is a journalist who specialises in horse racing, especially the action in the UK and Ireland, and has shared his racing betting tips on a number of well-known publications and websites over the last 10 years.
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