One of the reasons for the Cheltenham Festival’s endurance as a race meeting is the different types of events on offer over the week. From races aimed at young horses looking to gain some experience through to events for those that are making the transition from hurdles to steeplechases, it is a meeting filled with variety. One such variety on offer comes in the form of long distance races, of which there are a number.
Long distances races are typically for older horses, given the need to display stamina in the face of a slog of an event. Often they’ll feature difficult jumps that will test even the most experience of horses and the jockeys that guide them, throwing up all sorts of different challenges. The Festival itself is one of variety, with each discipline within the meeting have variety of its own to ensure interest is maintained for all.
Longest Distance Festival Races
|Race||Distance (f)||Distance (m)|
|Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase||3m 6f 37y||6070m|
|National Hunt Chase||3m 5f 201y||6018m|
|The Cheltenham Gold Cup||3m 2f 70y||5295m|
|Foxhunter Challenge Cup||3m 2f 70y||5295m|
|Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup||3m 2f||5230m|
|Ultima Handicap Chase||3m 1f||5030m|
|Brown Advisory Novices' Chase||3m 80y||4900m|
|The Stayers' Hurdle||2m 7f 213y||4820m|
|Spa Novices' Hurdle||2m 7f 213y||4820m|
|Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle||2m 7f 213y||4820m|
Quite what makes a race ‘long distance’ will differ from person to person, but it’s fair to say that those based over a distance of around three miles or more fit into that category. On our list is every race run during the Cheltenham Festival that is over two miles and seven furlongs or longer, given the fact that some of them are for novices and therefore a slightly shorter distance for them is still testing.
Cross Country Chase
Sponsored by Glenfarclas at the time of writing, the Cross Country Chase was introduced to the Cheltenham Festival in 2005. Run over three miles, six furlongs and 37 yards, it features 32 obstacles for the horses to get over and is one of the most challenging races of the week. It was run as a handicap event initially, but was changed to become a conditions race in 2016 and has remained one ever since.
There are only three cross country races run at Cheltenham Racecourse, with the others being in November and December, making this one the most prestigious of the bunch. The event has enjoyed numerous different sponsors over the years. One horse has dominated it more than any other, with Tiger Roll winning it in 2018 and 2019; two victories that preceded the horse’s success in the Aintree Grand National. He then won it again, when many thought he was past it, in 2021.
Open to horses aged five and over, the youngest ever victor in the race was Easysland, who won it as a six-year-old in 2020. Nina Carberry’s name on the event’s all-time leading jockey list is notable as it is one of only a couple of races at the meeting that is dominated by a female jockey. The fact that the horses jump ‘obstacles’ rather than fences is telling, given that the race is supposed to mirror a real cross country event.
National Hunt Chase
Run over three miles, five furlongs and 201 yards, the National Hunt Chase is for horses aged five and over. It has taken place more times than any other event at the Cheltenham Festival, having been established in 1860. Its history is a convoluted one, with the event having been held at various different venues around the country during its more formative years. Having been hosted by Cheltenham Racecourse in 1904 and 1905, it moved to Prestbury Park permanently in 1911.
Until the mid-1930s, only the Grand National was seen as being a more important race in the National Hunt calendar. It was the longest race held at the Festival until 2020, at which point it was shortened and the Cross Country Chase took over that honour. This was because only four of 18 participants finished the race in 2019, with three jockeys ending up banned for running on tired horses. The British Horseracing Authority ended up reducing the race’s length and cutting how many jumps it contained.
At present, there are 23 fences to be jumped and the horses must have the following weight information:
- 5-year-olds: 11 stone 5 pounds
- 6-year-olds and over: 11 stone 6 pounds
- Mares receive a 7 pound allowance
In terms of questions asked of the horses and jockeys, the National Hunt Chase is one of the most testing races run during Festival week. It might lack the prestige of other events, but those that are successful in it will often go on to take on even tougher challenges. That was demonstrated by Tiger Roll, who won this in 2017 before going on to take on the Cross Country Chase and, more famously, the Grand National.
The Cheltenham Gold Cup
There are numerous races that bear the moniker of ‘Gold Cup’ in horse racing, but the one that takes place at Cheltenham Racecourse during Festival week is the most prestigious of them all. First run in 1924, it has grown to become one of the most important events in the National Hunt calendar, with names such as Arkle, Golden Miller and Kauto Star cementing their place in the record books by winning it over the years.
Run over three miles, two furlongs and 70 yards, the race features 22 fences and has been run on Cheltenham’s New Course since 1959. It is a race that has long been coveted by the best and the brightest in the horse racing world and for a long time it was one of only a few races that evaded Festival favourite Willie Mullins. It took him until 2019 to get his first Gold Cup victory, which came thanks to Al Boum Photo, and the horse repeated the trick the following year.
The Cheltenham Gold Cup is responsible for some of jump racing’s most thrilling stories, including in 1983 when the first five horses, Bregawn, Captain John, Wayward Lad, Silver Buck and Ashley House, were all trained by the same person: Michael Dickinson. The race is for horses aged five and over, with the following weight information at play:
- 5-year-olds: 11 stone 9 pounds
- 6-year-olds and over: 11 stone 10 pounds
- Mares receive an allowance of 7 pounds
The distance of the race, combined with the fences that must be jumped, combine to make this a real challenge of an event. It’s no wonder that many consider it to be the blue riband race of jump racing. Its prestige helped the Cheltenham Festival to become the meeting that it is today, which is part of the reason why it is so beloved. The success of Golden Miller, who won the race four times in succession between 1932 and 1935 and Cottage Rake’s three wins at the end of the 1940s, helped popularise the meeting with the Irish.
Festival Challenge Cup
Inaugurated in 1904, the Foxhunter Challenge Cup is an ungraded race that takes place over three miles, two furlongs and 70 yards and boasts 22 fences that must be jumped. It’s for horses aged five and over that boast the following weight information:
- 5-year-olds: 11 stone 13 pounds
- 6-year-olds and over: 12 stone 0 pounds
- Mares are given an allowance of 7 pounds
Contested on the New Course and over the same distance as the Gold Cup, the fact that it is limited to amateur jockeys means that it is often referred to as the ‘amateur Gold Cup’. That gives you a sense of how much of a challenge the race, especially for riders that might not have a huge heap of experience. At the time of writing, sponsorship means that the event’s full title is St. James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Steeple Chase.
The name of the race changed in the wake of the 2020 running, with the word ‘fox’ removed. Instead of being the Foxhunter Challenge Cup, it became the Festival Challenge Cup. It is a race that requires horses to have finished first or second on two occasions in hunter chases or won two open point-to-point races in order to qualify to take part in it, with horses also able to have won a point-to-point and come first or second in a hunter chase.
That gives you an impression of what a difficult race it is to win, given the level that is required to even take part in it in the first place. A number of horses have won it more than once, though no jockey since 1946 has matched Colman Sweeney’s record of three wins in the race. It isn’t the longest race run during the Festival, but it is a proper challenge of both horses and their jockeys.
Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup
Established in 1946 as the Kim Muir Amateur Riders’ Steeplechase, the race was introduced to the Cheltenham Festival by Mrs Evan Williams as a tribute to her brother. He was a cavalry officer who had died during the Second World War. The name of highly successful trainer Fulke Walwyn was added to the event in 1991 to honour the man who had trained 211 winners at Cheltenham, 40 of which came in the Festival.
Run over three miles and two furlongs, the event is a handicap offering for horses aged five and over. Taking place on the New Course, there are 21 fences to be negotiated for the horses hoping to win the race. The race is only open to amateur riders, with an exception to that rule made in 2021 when restrictions on grassroots sports meant that professional jockeys had to take part in it.
Festival Trophy Handicap Chase
A Premier Handicap event, the Festival Trophy Handicap Chase is open to horses aged five and over. A handicap event, it is run over three miles and one furlong and there are 20 fences to be jumped during its running. One of the opening day races for the Festival, it was originally known as the National Hunt Handicap Chase but it has taken on several different titles because of the various sponsors it has enjoyed since the 1980s.
Winners of the Festival Trophy Handicap Chase will often go on to be competitive in the Grand National, though usually 12 months later rather than in the same season. The likes of West Tip, Team Spirit, Royal Tan, Rough Quest and Seagram have all won both races, for example. Team Spirit won it in 1963 under the traineeship of Fulke Walwyn, who won the race on another three occasions during his training career.
Broadway Novices’ Chase
Originally known as the Broadway Novices’ Chase, this race has been known by numerous different titles over the years thanks to sponsorship by various companies. It officially became the Broadway Novices’ Chase as its registered title in 2021. If you’re the sort of person that likes a clue about future prospects, many of the winners of this race have gone on to win the Gold Cup, such as Lord Windermere, who won this in 2013 and the Gold Cup the year after.
Some well-known horses have enjoyed success in the race, with names like Arkle, Denman and Bobs Worth littering the winners’ list. No trainer has seen their horses win it more times than Willie Mullins, whilst Pat Taafe remains the race’s most successful jockey. Run over three miles and 80 yards, the weight information is as follows:
- 5-year-olds: 11 stone 2 pounds
- 6-year-olds and over: 11 stone 4 pounds
- Mares are given an allowance of 7 pounds
It’s run left-handed on the Old Course and there are 20 fences to be jumped. Aimed at novice chasers that are five and over, some of the best-known jockeys in the sport have seen their horse across the finish line first. Names such as Ruby Walsh, Tony McCoy and Davy Russell have enjoyed success in the race.
Spa Novices’ Hurdle
A race for novice hurdlers aged four and over, the Spa Novices’ Hurdle takes place over two miles, seven furlongs and 213 yards. The following weight information is in play for the race, which has 12 hurdles to be jumped:
- 4-year-olds: 10 stone 10 pounds
- 5-year-olds and over: 11 stone 5 pounds
- Fillies and mares receive an allowance of 7 pounds
First run in 2005 when the Festival was extended to add a fourth day, the race is often referred to as the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle because of sponsorship. The distance of the race as well as the number of hurdles involve make it a real challenge for inexperience horses, which was a Grade 2 race when it was first introduced but has been a Grade 1 event since 2008.
Bobs Worth won the race in 2011, following that victory up with success in the RSA Chase the year after before winning the Gold Cup in 2013. That made him the first horse since Flyingbolt during the 1960s to win three different races at the Festival. Minella Indo won the event in 2019, handing Rachael Blackmore her first Grade 1 win, two years before she’d become the first female jockey to win the Grand National on the same horse.
Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle
A Premier Handicap race that is open to horses aged five and over, the Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle is run over two miles, seven furlongs and 213 yards. It takes place on the New Course and there are twelve hurdles to be jumped during it. The race was established in 1974 as a replacement for the George Duller Handicap Hurdle. It has enjoyed numerous sponsors over the years, including Pertemps since 2002.
The race has a number of different qualifier events, denoting how difficult it is for a horse to even take part in it, let alone win it. The qualifying races tend to take place in the five months before the event gets underway, with previous seasons seeing those races take place across the United Kingdom as well as in France and Ireland. It was moved from being a Listed race to Grade 3 status in 2018, which was subsequently renamed as Premier Handicap in 2022.
The Stayers’ Hurdle
It would be impossible to draw up a list of long distance races run during the Cheltenham Festival and leave off the Stayers’ Hurdle, given this is the leading long-distance event that takes place across the National Hunt season. The feature race of the Festival’s third day, it was originally introduced in 1912 over three miles, boasting a prize fund of £100 for the winner and £10 for the runner-up.
Initially called the Stayers Selling Hurdle and run as a weight-for-age selling event, it was dropped from the Festival’s line-up on two occasions before returning permanently. Run over two miles, seven furlongs and 213 yards, the race is for horses aged four and over with the following weight information at play:
- 4-year-olds: 11 stone 1 pound
- 5-year-olds and over: 11 stone 10 pounds
- Fillies and mares receive an allowance of 7 pounds
This Grade 1 race has 12 hurdles for the horses to cope with, which is part of what makes it such a tough experience for those involved. Not horse has been able to match the feat of Big Buck’s, who won it four times in succession between 2009 and 2012. Those wins, as well as another with Nichols Canyon, make Ruby Walsh the race’s most successful jockey, whilst Big Buck’s’s trainer, Paul Nicholls, is also unrivalled.