The Cheltenham Festival, a little bit of history
The origins of the Cheltenham Festival can be traced all the way back to 1860, when the racecourse at Market Harborough in Leicestershire first held the National Hunt Chase. This race moved to Cheltenham racecourse the year after, but then moved around different venues including Warwick Racecourse until 1911 when the National Hunt Committee decided that Prestbury Park, Cheltenham would become the race's permanent home.
Further Championship class races were subsequently added to the National Hunt Chase to create successive days of top-class National Hunt racing. The Stayers Hurdle was first run in 1912, followed by the Gold Cup in 1924. The Champion Hurdle was added in 1927, as was the Queen Mother Champion Chase but not until 1959.
Until 2005 the festival was traditionally run over three days, but a fourth day was added to cope with demand for race-goers. The festival has run every year without fail aside from 2001 when it was cancelled due to the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in the UK and Ireland.
In 2017 it's estimated that almost a quarter of a million people will attend the four days of the Cheltenham Festival, with over £250 million being wagered on the Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle and other meetings.
2017 Cheltenham Festival – the main races
Tuesday, March 14th - Champion Day
Supreme Novice's Hurdle, Arkle Challenge Trophy, Ultima Handicap Chase, CHAMPION HURDLE, Mares' Hurdle, National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup, Novices' Handicap Chase.
The Champion Hurdle is the most prestigious race on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival. The race is sponsored by leading bookmaker and online sports book Stan James. It is run on the old course over a distance of two miles and 110 yards during which the horses have to negotiate eight hurdles.
The Champion Hurdle forms the final leg of the 'Triple Crown of Hurdling' which also includes the Fighting Fifth Hurdle (Newcastle) and the Christmas Hurdle (Kempton Park). Only one horse – Kribensis (trained by Sir Michael Stoute) – has managed to win all three legs in the same season (1989-90). Four horses have won two of the three legs.
Several horses have won the Champion Hurdle three times, all three times in succession (Hatton's Grace, 1949-51; Sir Ken, 1952-45; Persian War, 1968-70; See You Then 1985-87 and Istabraq 1998-2000).
Faugheen, trained by Willie Mullins, is the favourite to win the 2017 Champion Hurdle having won the event in 2015, along with the Christmas Hurdle in 2014 and 2015. Faugheen missed the 2016 event through injury but is thought to be the most likely to lead the feel in 2017, with Betfair giving odds of 9/4 (3.25) and Bet365 2/1 (3.00). Other 2017 Cheltenham bets include Yanworth (9/2 (5.50) at William Hill) and Anne Power (4/1 (5.00) at Ladbrokes).
Wednesday, March 15th – Ladies Day
Novices' Hurdle, RSA Chase, Coral Cup, QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE, Cross Country Chase, Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, Champion Bumper.
The Queen Mother Champion Chase is the most recent addition to the championship-class races at the Cheltenham Festival, being introduced in 1959. This event is now sponsored by the leading online sports book Betway and is run over the old course for a distance of around two miles. The race is considered to be the leading minimum distance race in the annual National Hunt calendar.
This race was originally called the Two-Mile Champion Chase but was given its present title in 1980 in recognition of the then Queen Mother's eightieth birthday.
Only one horse has ever won this event three times – Badsworth Boy, trained by Michael Dickinson, in 1983, 1984 and 1985.
The scorching hot favourite to win this year's event is Douvan, the French-bred horse trained by Philippe Peltier and Willie Mullins. Douvan had a fine 2016 season, winning the Arkle Novice Chase (Leopardstown), the Arkle Challenge Trophy (Cheltenham) and the Paddy Power Cashcard Chase (Leopardstown). Most bookmakers price Douvan at odds-on to win the 2017 Queen Mother Champion Chase, with Bet365 offering 4/9 (1.44) and Betfair 4/11 (1.46). Among the chasing pack are Fox Norton (7/1 (8.00) at Ladbrokes) and Altior (8/1 (9.00) at Coral).
Thursday, March 16th – St Patrick's Thursday
JLT Novices' Chase, Pertemps Final, Ryanair Chase, STAYERS' HURDLE, BA&M Stable Plate, Stud Mare Novices' Hurdle, Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase.
The big race on day three of the Cheltenham Festival is the three mile Stayer's Hurdle for four-year-olds and up. This race was run for the first time in 1912, and has been part of the Cheltenham Festival ever since, although it was dropped for two short periods – 1928 and 1929 then during the Second World War. The race has also had several different names, including the Spa Hurdle from 1946 until 1972, and the Ladbrokes World Hurdle from 2005 to 2016.
The most successful horse of all time in the Stayers' Hurdle has been Big Buck's. Considered the greatest staying hurdler in the history of National Hunt Racing, the now-retired Big Buck's won the Stayers' hurdle in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. The horse was trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden to victory each year by Ruby Walsh.
The leading bookmakers consider Unowhatimeanharry to be the outstanding racing talent for this years' Stayers' Hurdle. This eight-year-old bay gelding ended 2016 with a seven race winning streak – a streak probably engineered by the switch to legendary trainer Harry Fry towards the end of 2015. Unowhatimeanharry is 5/2 (3.50) at SkyBet, and 9/4 (3.25) at William Hill. If you'd prefer an outside flutter on this race, then Vroum Vroum Mag is 7/1 (8.00) at Ladbrokes, and Nichols Canyon 12/1 (13.00) at Befair.
Friday, March 17th – Gold Cup Day
Triumph Hurdle, County Handicap Hurdle, Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle, CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP, Foxhunter Chase, Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle, Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase.
The final day of the Cheltenham Festival has the biggest race of the entire event, and – asides perhaps from the Grand National at Aintree – the leading race in the National Hunt Calendar, the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
This leading Grade 1 National Hunt Steeplechase has been a fixture of horse racing since its first run in 1924. For horses aged five years old and up, this three mile, two and a half furlong race has twenty-two fences for the horses to negotiate, and is known as the 'Blue Riband' of jump racing. It has been run every year since 1924 (replacing the previous Cheltenham Gold Cup, a three mile flat race that had been running since 1819) aside from 1931 (frost), 1937 (flooding), 1943 and 1944 (both due to the Second World War).
The most successful horse in this race has been Golden Miller. This legendary racehorse took the Gold Cup title in 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935 and 1936. Golden Miller is also the only horse ever to win both the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National in the same year, a feat achieved in 1934. Cottage Rake (1948-50), Arkle (1964-66) and Best Mate (2002-04) all completed Gold Cup hat-tricks, but none came close to matching Gold Miller's feat.
All UK bookmakers are in agreement that Thistlecrack – the winner of the World Hurdle (now the Stayers' Hurdle) in 2016 – is a shoo-in for the 2017 running of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Voted the 'British National Hunt Horse of the Year' in 2016, Thistlecrack is already odds-on at all major bookmakers, with only SkyBet and Betfair offering odds of Evens (2.00). If you are one of the rare few who thinks that Thistlecrack is over-rated, then you might consider a punt on Native River (6/1 (7.00) at Coral) or Djakadam (10/1 (11.00) at Marathon Bet).
NOTE: All runners and prices quoted as accurate at time of publication but subject to change.
Whether you've just a casual interest in horse racing or you're a National Hunt enthusiast, there's plenty to get excited about at the Cheltenham Festival, and here at LatestBettingSites.co.uk we're primed to bring you all the hottest festival news.
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Make sure you sign up in time for this year's Cheltenham Festival, running from Tuesday, March 14th to Friday, March 17th 2017.