It’s showtime! A quick glance at Cheltenham Festival 2016
And they’re off! It’s the moment racing fans across the country – and Ireland, of course – have been waiting for.
The Cheltenham Festival is back, and nearly a quarter of a million people will flood through the gates as the 4-day event gets under way.
Barring only Ascot, Cheltenham is the big one. Whilst the Grand National is the people’s race, Cheltenham is where the blue ribbon jump races happen – the Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Steeple Chase, World Hurdle, and Cheltenham Gold Cup form the world championships of national hunt racing.
As one of the biggest events in the horse racing calendar, it’ll take centre stage in the sporting world this week. The 230,000 thousand racegoers who are expected to descend on Prestbury Park, the cathedral of National Hunt racing, will watch horses, jockeys and trainers battle it out over 28 races from start to finish, beginning with the Supreme Novice hurdle on Tuesday. If ever there’s an indicator of how big a racing event is, it’s looking at the cold, hard cash – over the four days of racing, it’s thought that up to £50 million will be bet at the race track alone, and over £600 million on the Cheltenham Festival overall. That’s equates to a lot of punters who will either be licking their wounds or celebrating their winnings.
But let’s not forget that whilst the event will be a frenzy of betting, with hundreds of millions set to exchange hands, this year’s Cheltenham also coincides with St. Patrick’s Day. In between bets, the punters will wash down a mountain of food with a heroic amount of booze too, as they watch the best horses in racing surge towards the finish line and a slice of some of the £5 million in prize money that’s on offer.
What’s the magic of Cheltenham
So what’s Cheltenham really about? Sure, there’s the money side of it – there’s plenty of it at stake, and fortunes will be won and lost. But there’s much more to it than this alone.
Rather, it’s the thrill of it all. The experience of being part of it all, and also the betting, which pits you against the bookmaker, and the shared camaraderie that goes with winning or losing. Cheltenham’s about the euphoria that goes with winning. It isn’t just about the money, it’s about proving we were right when everyone else doubted that our horse – even if it was just the one you thought had the best name – had it in him. You knew, and for that you get bragging rights.
What are the major talking points this year?
The Irish invasion will be especially bullish this year, with around 10,000 Irishmen expected to be there to cheer their champions-elect. Make no mistake about it, Willie Mullins holds all the aces – the big hitters in the Mullins’ raiders are set to cost the bookies dearly if his three short-price favourites win on Tuesday. The UK betting sector only narrowly escaped losses of £40 million when Annie Power fell at the final hurdle.
Another big, and undoubtedly controversial talking point is of course Victoria Pendleton’s participation in the Foxhunter Chase, which takes place immediately after the Gold Cup on the final day. The inclusion of the Olympic gold medallist turned amateur jockey has unsurprisingly whipped up plenty of hype and publicity, and yet also more than a little discomfort. There are fears that Pendleton’s run will unjustly draw attention away from the Gold Cup winner’s celebration in the parade ring, and the £45 million redevelopment which it will showcase.
Wherever your feelings lie on the topic, what cannot be doubted is that Pendleton’s decision to go in at the deep end and race in an elite-level chase is a brave move on her part. It’s easy to forget that horse racing can be a dangerous sport for veteran pro’s, especially when fences come into it – to go in as a novice takes cajones.
Cheltenham Festival – a world-class event of betting… and eating, and drinking. A lot
By the time the last punter has been paid out after the final race on Gold Cup day, late on Friday afternoon, racegoers will have quaffed 18,000 bottles of champagne, 125,000 pints of lager, 220,000 pints of Guinness, 30,000 bottles of wine, and 8,000 gallons of tea. And to line the stomach over 9 tonnes of potatoes, 25,000 hot dogs and beef burgers, 3 tonnes of smoked salmon, 2 tonnes of beef, 20,000 portions of chips, and 45,000 sandwiches will be consumed – all of which will be served by over 3,000 on-course catering staff.
- On the subject of stats, here’s a few more before we go:
- The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the most valuable non-handicap chase (where horses leap fences) in Britain
- There is no dress code for Cheltenham Festival, although it’s a tradition to make a real effort on Ladies Day
- Ruby Walsh is the most successive jockey in the history of the Cheltenham Festival. Over his career he won 41 races, including two Gold Cups, three Champion Chases, and a Champions Hurdle.
- The race course at Cheltenham has held the trademark for the word ‘Festival’ since World War II
Cheltenham Festival has only been cancelled once – this occurred in 2001 at the height of the Foot-and-Mouth.
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