Cheltenham Festival Day Three: St. Patrick’s Thursday

thursdayWith some race meetings there would be a chance that the penultimate day would suffer a little from a sense of wanting it to be over in order to get to the main event. There’s no doubt that the fact that the Gold Cup is creeping ever closer could cast a shadow of Day Three of the Cheltenham Festival, but they take care of that by making it as exciting and important a day as the one that follows. The Thursday is known as St. Patrick’s Day, even if the actual day of celebration for the Irish saint is a few days before or after.

As well as having a distinctly Irish theme to the whole thing, there’s also the small matter of some top-class racing to take place. On this page we’ll tell you all about each and every race that you’ll be able to watch, as well as run you through how the day is likely to pan out for you if you’re lucky enough to be there. Whether you’re on Team Ireland or Team Great Britain, you’ll want to make sure that you’re up to speed with everything that takes place on the Greenest day of the Cheltenham week.

St. Patrick’s Thursday Race Card

Having said all of that, the reason everyone gathers on the hallowed turf of Cheltenham Racecourse is to see the horse racing, so it’s only fair we tell you a little bit about when the races are and what each race entails. Timing is something that can be fluid on occasions such as this, but generally speaking here’s everything you need to know about the day from the first race to the last:

Race One - Golden Miller Novices' Chase - 1.30pm

race1This is one of the youngest races of the entire Festival week and was first run back in 2011. When it first started it was a Grade Two race but was upgraded by the British Horseracing Board in 2014. The race has been sponsored throughout its history, though is officially titled the Golden Miller Novices' Chase when you strip any sponsorship away. It is the first race of the Festival to be run on the New Course, as all races on the Thursday and the Friday are. It lasts for two miles and four furlongs and features seventeen fences.

Open to horses aged five and over, the weight restriction is eleven stone three pounds, or eleven stone four pounds for horses over six years of age, with a seven pound allowance for mares. The left-handed race, which is for novices chasers, has been won the most times by Ruby Walsh; he picked up three wins in a row from 2015 to 2017. Those wins were all under the trainer Willie Mullins, who also won in 2012 to ensure he’s the most successful trainer with four victories.

2017 Winners

  • Horse - Yorkhill / Jockey - Ruby Walsh / Trainer - Willie Mullins
  • Overall Prize Money - £130,000 / For The Winner - £68,340

Race Two - Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle - 2.10pm

race2This is a listed race, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that the quality won’t be just as high as all of the others; horses need to qualify to be able to take part in it, after all. Open to horses aged five or older, it is, as the name suggests, a handicap race so the weights are decided by the handicappers. It features twelve jumps over three miles and is a very competitive undertaking - when it comes to betting it’s worth bearing in mind that it’s rarely won by the favourite.

The Handicap Hurdle was first introduced back in 1974 when it replaced a race known as the George Duller Handicap Hurdle. Despite running for all of that time, the sheer competitiveness of it means that there aren’t any runaway leaders when it comes to the success of either the jockeys who have raced in it or the trainers who put all of their efforts into getting the horses ready. The most successful jockey is Jim Wilson, with three wins, and the trainer who has won it the most times is Jonjo O’Neill with four.

2017 Winners

  • Horse - Presenting Percy / Jockey - Davy Russell / Trainer - Pat Kelly
  • Overall Prize Money - £90,000 / For The Winner - £45,560

Race Three - Ryanair Chase - 2.50pm

race3Also known as the Festival Trophy as well as by its sponsored name of the Ryanair Chase, this was one of numerous races added to the Cheltenham Festival calendar back when it moved from a three day event to having four days and is considered to be one of two big races on Day Three. That was in 2005 and at the time this was a Grade 2 race, moving to Grade 1 three years later. The left-handed race is run over two miles and five furlongs, with seventeen fences needing to be overcome before the final straight.

The race is for horses aged five and older, weighing eleven stone nine pounds or eleven stone ten pounds if they’re six or over, with mares getting a seven pound allowance. The Ryanair Chase is seen as a good starting point for horses hoping to compete in the Gold Cup in the future, so keep an eye on the winners. Ruby Walsh has won this race more than any other jockey with four victories, whilst five different trainers have won it twice. These are Willie Mullins, Nicky Henderson, David Pipe, Jonjo O’Neill and Paul Nicholls.

2017 Winners

  • Horse - Un de Sceaux / Jockey - Ruby Walsh / Trainer - Willie Mullins
  • Overall Prize Money - £275,000 / For The Winner - £156,612.50

Race Four - Stayers' Hurdle - 3.30pm

race4The second big race of Day Three, with many believing it to be the day’s feature race and significantly more important than the Ryanair Chase. That’s because this is the leading long-distance race on the National Hunt’s Hunt’s calendar and is open to horses aged four and over. They have to run for three miles and jump twelve hurdles and can weight eleven stone if they’re four or eleven stone ten pounds if they’re five or older, with an allowance of seven pounds for both fillies and mares.

First run back in 1912 as the Stayers Selling Hurdle, the race has had numerous different sponsors ever since it was sponsored by Lloyds Banks in 1972 when its name changed to what it is now. Previously held on a Tuesday or a Wednesday, the Grade 1 race was moved to the Thursday in 1993 and has remained there ever since. Won most often by Ruby Walsh with his five victories, Paul Nicholls’ four wins make him the most successful trainer.

2017 Winners

  • Horse - Nichols Canyon / Jockey - Ruby Walsh / Trainer - Willie Mullins
  • Overall Prize Money - £275,000 / For The Winner - £156,612.50

Race Five - Stable Plate Handicap - 4.10pm

race5This races is also known as the Mildmay of Flete Challenge Cup, named in honour of the 2nd Baron Mildmay of Flete, who rode three different winners at the Cheltenham Festival over the years, this Grade 3 race is run over two miles and five furlongs. The five-year-old and upward horses who run it will need to navigate their way over seventeen fences, complete with handicaps to ensure a level playing field. It was sponsored for the first time in 2006 and has had numerous sponsors since then, so don’t be surprised if it’s on the race card under a different name.

The race was inaugurated in 1951, a year after the death of the 2nd Baron Mildmay of Flete. It was intended to be run in March but the track was waterlogged so it was moved to April instead. In spite of the race’s age few jockeys have managed to win it more than once. In fact, Fred Winter is the moat successful of all the jockeys thanks to his three victories. Interestingly three different trainers have managed to win it four times; namely Bobby Renton, Nicky Henderson and Martin Pipe.

2017 Winners

  • Horse - Road to Respect / Jockey - Bryan Cooper / Trainer - Noel Meade
  • Overall Prize Money - £100,000 / For The Winner - £51,255

Race Six - Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle - 4.50pm

race6The Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle is the youngest race at the Festival, introduced as it was in 2016 in order to ensure there were seven races on all four days. It is open to horses aged four and over with a weight of ten stone nine pounds. Horses aged five or over can be eleven stone two pounds and there are penalties in place for different horses in this Grade Two race.

Run over two miles and one furlong and including eight jumps, it hasn’t been going long enough to establish any kind of notable record. That said, both races to date have been won by Ruby Walsh riding horses that were trained by Willie Mullins, so that’s always worth bearing in mind when it comes to looking at the field and deciding who to bet on.

2017 Winners

  • Horse - Let's Dance / Jockey - Ruby Walsh / Trainer - Willie Mullins
  • Overall Prize Money - £75,000 / For The Winner - £42,713

Race Seven - Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup - 5.30pm

race7St. Patrick’s Day is brought to a close by the Kim Muir Challenge Cup. It was introduced to Cheltenham in 1946 by a lady named Mrs. Evan Williams and dedicated to the memory of her brother, Kim Muir, who lost his life in the Second World War. Back then it was known as the Kim Muir Amateur Riders' Steeplechase, and though the name might have changed the theme of the race hasn’t. It is open to amateur riders on horses aged five years of age and older. The name of Fulke Walwyn was added to the race’s title back in 1991 in order to honour the trainer of the same name, who won forty races at the Festival and 211 at Cheltenham in general.

Owing to the race’s amateur and ungraded nature, this is seen as an excellent way for younger jockeys to get a taste of Cheltenham life. It is a handicap race, so there’s no weight limit and the horses are laid with different weights by the handicappers in order to ensure that everyone goes off fairly. It’s three miles and one and a half furlongs in length, so you can see where the 'challenge' part of the title comes from. The horses must jump nineteen fences and Jamie Codd is the most successful jockey at getting them to do it to date with is four wins. Fred Rimell is the most successful trainer, having seen his horse be victorious on four occasions.

2017 Winners

  • Horse - Domesday Book / Jockey - Gina Andrews / Trainer - Stuart Edmunds
  • Overall Prize Money - £65,000 / For The Winner - £35,976

What To Expect On The Day

festival 12

There is something of an Irish invasion every year during the Cheltenham Festival, arguably starting back in 1948 when Cottage Rake became the first horse trained in Ireland to win the Gold Cup. The fact that he repeated the trick in 1949 and 1950, becoming only the second horse since the Festival began to win that most famous of trophies for three years in a row, meant that the Irish love affair with the meeting was cemented in history. Of course the Festival organisers aren’t idiots, so they’ve worked hard to make sure they take advantage of the Irish invasion as much as possible.

That’s why you’ll find plenty of Guinness on sale on Day Three of the Festival, with adverts for that most Irish of drinks all over the place. You’ll also have a more than a few opportunities to listen to some Irish music or watch some Irish dancing or other form of entertainment throughout the day. If you think St. Patrick’s Day near you is an occasion to relish then it’s as nothing compared to what you’ll experience if you spend the on Cheltenham Racecourse. If an Irish horse wins a race then expect it to go off big style, with the celebrations taking things up a notch or two. In short, this is a day of drinking, fun and friendly competitiveness between the Irish and everyone else.

Bearing all of that in mind, you won’t need to be told to enjoy yourself. Still, it’s good to know the Dos and Don’ts on any big day and you’ll be delighted to know that there aren’t many Don’ts - within reason, obviously. As with the rest of the Festival, you can’t wear fancy dress in the Club Enclosure but it’s fine elsewhere on the course as long as it’s not offensive. Expect plenty of green to be on display and more than the average number of shamrocks. The entire Festival is well-loved for two main reasons: The first-class horse racing and the brilliant social side of events. If any day encompasses the social enjoyment of being in Cheltenham every March then it’s St. Patrick’s Day.

Final Thoughts

st patricks

St. Patrick’s Day is as much about the social aspect of the occasion as it is the racing, but don’t think that that means that the races matter less. This is a day filled with entertainment, Guinness, shamrocks and top-class racing. After all, it was in the Stayers' Hurdle that Big Buck’s and Ruby Walsh made history for trainer Paul Nicholls by winning the event four times on the trot between 2009 and 2012, cementing his place as the most successful staying hurdler ever.