Racing lovers will no doubt be aware that Cheltenham Racecourse boasts three different courses. When the Cheltenham Festival gets underway, it does so on the Old Course for the first couple of days, with proceedings switching to the New Course on Day Three of the meeting. There is also a Cross Country Course, which is used for the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase during the Festival.
Obviously one of the main questions that punters will want to know is what, exactly, the difference are between the three course types. How much is the course that a race takes place on likely to affect the running and the ability of the horses to complete the event, for example? From a spectator’s point of view, there are pluses and minuses to each of the courses, but we’ll explain the major differences here.
The Old Courses Versus The New
The Old Course is the most used track at Cheltenham Racecourse, with the races on the first two days of the Cheltenham Festival, as well as for the November Meeting and the Showcase. That’s not to say that the New Course is barely used, however. As well as the final two days of the Festival, the course is also the one on which the International, the New Year’s Day meeting and Festival Trials Day takes place, plus the April and May meetings.
Both courses have undulations that can cause problems for horses caught unawares, with both also running left-handed. Sound jumping is necessary for the horses to avoid getting caught out by the stiff fences that each course promises. Despite the fact that the last half a mile is uphill regardless of which course a race is taking place on, the lead doesn’t change as often as one might expect.
The key difference is that the Old Course has a slightly sharper feel to it than the New Course. There are just four starting positions on the Old Course, too. There is a fence right in front of the stand that is placed ahead of the journey out into the country, where it’s obviously harder to keep track of the racing for those watching at the racecourse itself. Shorter distance races will often see prominent racers do well.
The hurdles track on the New Course only has two flights during the final six furlongs, meaning that stamina is the most important attribute for a horse. If there is a large field taking part in a race that is more than two miles in distance, you can expect a hold-up horse to come out on top. That’s because keener horses tend to go for home too quickly and begin to tire before that final uphill stretch.
The Old Course
Looking in more detail at the two courses now and starting with the Old Course. Of the two, it is the Old Course that tests a horse’s strength more than anything else. The field will usually stay close to each other through the track’s centre, especially thanks to the narrow turn that comes before the home stretch. It’s also earlier than the same turn on the New Course, boasting two jumps before the downhill section.
The run-in on the Old Course is shorter than that on the New, with just one obstacle for the tired horses to navigate. That’s not to say that the ascent isn’t one that will test the competitors, though. The second-to-last fence on the course was moved ten yards further uphill in 2019, largely because it was known to catch horses unsighted and caused a number of injuries, leading to jockeys to make the request.
Fleet-footed horses are more likely to do well on the Old Course, with fast horses likely to get up to speed pretty quickly as long as the Going is in their favour. Horses that enjoy running from the front early on will do well here, provided they’ve got enough running in their legs to hold off challengers during the run-in. That said, it’s not a course that lends itself to late flourishes from horses coming through the field.
The New Course
It might seem like the two courses are similar to each other because they’re based at the same racecourse, but the truth is that the two tracks boast totally difference characters from each other. Whilst the Old Course is all about speed, the New Course is a strong test of a horse’s stamina, which is what makes it such an exciting one to watch races on. There have been many a famous charge up the final hill.
Both courses tend to start form the same position, but the decent from the hill’s crest is wider on the New Course. That means that the field runs further away from the finishing line, which gives the course the ability to offer different lengths of races. The final bend that leads to the run-in is much more protracted here, requiring immense guts from the horse that wishes to cross the line ahead of the pack.
Those two hurdles in the last six furlongs mean that some flat-out running is needed as the race reaches its climax, which is why it rewards stamina over speed. Stayers are always more likely to do well on the New Course, especially if they’ve got the ability to finish a race strongly. Many of the biggest-field races are hosted on the New Course, giving victories to those horses and jockeys that can time their finish well.
Unlike the Old Course, the New Course is one that often sees races won by a horse that has come charging through the field from the back. Horses that go for home too soon can be punished, so the ones that have conserved their energy can use it to their advantage as the rest of the field tires. If your horse isn’t prominent early on then you don’t need to panic and tear up your betting slip.
The Cross Country Course
As theme suggests, the Cross Country Course is used for longer and more challenging races. The most obvious example of one is the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, which takes place during the Cheltenham Festival and is a horse for only the strongest and most willing competitors. It is also used during the November Meeting and the International, with cross country events taking place in November, December and March.
The Glenfarclas Series is for horses that want to take on those longer events, with the three Cheltenham races also joined by one at Punchestown in Ireland and another at Pau in France. If a horse competes in a nominated race in all three countries then the possible prize money they’ll be competing for during the cross country event of the Festival will be doubled to reward their competitiveness.
The 3 miles and 6 furlongs of the Cross Country Course at Prestbury Park require a unique approach from the horses running on it. It takes place partly on the New Course before having its own mapping, with special obstacles for the horses to get over. It is designed to be far more like the steeple chases of old, where horses would run from church steeple to church steeple, jumping whatever was in their way.
Biggest Cheltenham Races By Course
The three courses have their own big races that they play host to, with some being more obvious than others. We’ve already mentioned the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase in relation to the Cross Country Course, but perhaps the most famous race run at Cheltenham Racecourse during any meeting is the Gold Cup. This is run on the New Course on the final day of the Festival.
Here’s a quick look at some of the different races that take place on each of the courses:
|Old||Festival||Arkle Challenge Trophy||2 Miles|
|Old||Festival||National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup||4 Miles|
|Old||Festival||Supreme Novices’ Hurdle||2 Miles, 110 Yards|
|Old||Festival||Champion Hurdle||2 Miles, 110 Yards|
|Old||Festival||Queen Mother Champion Chase||2 Miles|
|Old||November||November Novices’ Chase||2 Miles|
|Old||November||Greatwood Hurdle||2 Miles, 110 Yards|
|Old||November||Hyde Novices’ Hurdle||2 Miles, 5 Furlongs|
|Old||November||BetVictor Gold Cup||2 Miles, 4 Furlongs, 110 Yards|
|Old||November||Prestbury Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle||2 Miles, 110 Yards|
|New||Festival||Gold Cup||3 Miles, 2 Furlongs, 110 Yards|
|New||Festival||Triumph Hurdle||2 Miles, 1 Furlong|
|New||Festival||Ryanair Chase||2 Miles, 5 Furlongs|
|New||Festival||Stayers’ Hurdle||3 Miles|
|New||Festival||Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup||3 Miles, 1 Furlong, 110 Yards|
|New||April||Silver Trophy Chase||2 Miles, 5 Furlongs|
|New||International||Bristol Novices’ Hurdle||3 Miles|
|New||International||International Hurdle||2 Miles, 1 Furlong|
|New||International||December Gold Cup||2 Miles, 5 Furlongs|
|New||International||Unicoin Group Handicap Chase||3 Miles, 1 Furlong, 110 Yards|
|Cross Country||Festival||Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase||3 Miles, 7 Furlongs|
|Cross Country||November||Cross Country Handicap Chase||3 Miles, 7 Furlongs|
As you can see, the types of race hosted by each course differs within the course itself, let alone from the other courses. The above is also just a sample of the races that take place on each track, with more on offer throughout the year. Hopefully, though, it’s given you a good sense of what to expect when you want a race at Cheltenham Racecourse and discover which course it will be run on.