The flat racing season has provided plenty of thrills and spills over the past few months, but when most people think about horse racing they envisage a beautiful steed flying through the air as they take on a challenging fence or tricky hurdle. Sufficed to say, therefore, that the real excitement of the sport gets underway when the National Hunt resumes its business as the year begins to draw to a close and the night gets longer.
If the resumption of the jump racing calendar is what horse racing fans look forward to more than anything else then it goes without saying that the home of jump racing is the place to be. For that reason, we’ve had a look at exactly what’s on the calendar for Cheltenham between now and next summer. We’ll have a look at each of the events that are scheduled in, discuss what they’ll involve and give you a bit of an idea about which ones you might want to get along to, if you can.
One of the newest events to be introduced to Cheltenham, The Showcase is due to take place on the 26th and 27th of October this year. As the nights begin to grow longer, the top trainers are keen to see their charges stretch their legs and get the jump racing season off to a bang.
The Showcase takes place over two days, with the Friday offering an excellent day of racing as well as the SoGlos Showcase Zone. This allows businesses from the Gloucestershire region to show off the finest products that they have to offer, working alongside the bars and restaurants within Cheltenham Racecourse to keep you well fed and watered.
A series of hurdles and chases are raced on both the Friday and the Saturday, meaning that you’ll be presented with an early opportunity to see how the various horses can cope with the demands of a competitive race on the Cheltenham turf. Seen by many as the ‘first step’ on the road to the Cheltenham Festival, you’ll be given a chance to make some notes about the competitors that you’ll be wanting to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
Tickets for both days start at £10 in the Best Mate Enclosure, meaning that you’ll be able to sample the Cheltenham atmosphere regardless of your financial situation.
Whilst The Showcase is very much the first step on the road to the Cheltenham Festival, The November Meeting sees things move up a gear. The event gets underway with Countryside Day on the 16th of November, boasting a country fair-style atmosphere that is popular with both regular racegoers and families alike. The tradition dates backs for more than twenty years, with money raised on the day going to the Countryside Alliance and Racing Welfare.
Activities get started at about 11 am and you can be entertained by the dog and duck show in the Parade Ring as well as the Border Hound Trailing Association demonstrating a marked scent trail with some trail hounds on the main course. The Shopping Village is open for your to look for Christmas gifts, whilst the Guinness Village boasts live music and a cracking atmosphere throughout the day. That’s all complimentary to some excellent racing, with the right race giving you a strong indication of how horses will do in the more competitive fixture that it represents later in the season.
Countryside Day is a chance for all of the family to get out and have fun, but the more serious racing takes place on the Saturday and Sunday of The November Meeting. The Saturday boasts the BetVictor Gold Cup, which can give you a real clue about how horses are going to cope with the racing that’s ahead of them. One of the key races on the Sunday, meanwhile, is the Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle. It’s a day dedicated to the memory of the end of the War, with it being the only Sunday in the year when racing takes place at Cheltenham. There are a number of commemorative events and themed activities throughout the day and the Family Fun Zone is also in operation.
Two more days of racing are penciled in before the end of the year, with The International scheduled to take place on the fourteenth and fifteenth of December. The meeting is designed to bring to the best of Europe to Cheltenham, with the Friday seeing the conclusion of the Crystal Cup. Races that have been occurring across Europe come to a head, with racegoers getting the opportunity to match up top notch racing with exceptional dining and fun shopping.
Day two sees more big races, including the International Hurdle. That is seen as an important race ahead of the The Cheltenham Festival in March and 2017’s winner, My Tent Or Yours, went on to finish second in the Champion Hurdle behind Buveur d’Air. Of course, Christmas is rapidly approaching by the time The International gets underway, so expect the shops to contain plenty of last-minute Christmas gifts and the live music performers to be dusting off their Christmas classics. If you’re so inclined, this would make for an office Christmas party with a difference.
Let’s be honest, not everyone will fancy the sound of the persistent clomping of horses’ hooves on New Year’s Day, but for those that do they’ll be rewarded with some top class racing. The Family Fun Zone is open all day, with kid’s getting the chance of meeting Chase and Marshall from Paw Patrol in 2019.
On the track you’ll be able to see a host of decent races, including two Grade 2 offerings that, along with the other five races of the day, give both jockeys and trainers a chance to see their horses take to the field and stretch their legs.
Scheduled in for the 26th of January in 2019, Festival Trials Day is an opportunity for you to make some notes about the competitors that you’re likely to want to bet on when the Festival itself rolls around in March. The Trial Cotswold Steeple Chase is seen by many as a precursor to the Gold Cup in the Festival proper, with last year’s winner Definitely Red coming sixth when the big one took place.
Whilst all of the usual bars and restaurants are open for your entertainment, this is a day when things are taken a little bit more seriously by the attending crowds.
It takes nothing away from the meetings that we’ve already told you about to declare the Cheltenham Festival to be the biggest and most anticipated event in the National Hunt calendar. It is four days of top class racing, which the entire racing industry has been building up to. We’ve written about the Festival in more detail elsewhere on this site so won’t go into too much detail here, but sufficed to say that if you care about racing then this is the one that you’ll want to be at.
Day One is Champion Day on account of the aforementioned Champion Hurdle being hosted on it, with the meeting itself getting underway courtesy of the famed Cheltenham Roar. Day Two is Ladies Day, seeing countless stunning outfits off the course rivaling the exceptional racing taking place on it. Day Three is one when the Guinness will flow and the competition between British and Irish racing gets turned up a notch thanks to the competitiveness on display on St. Patrick’s Day.
The first three days of the Cheltenham Festival have plenty of first class races taking place on them to keep you entertained, but it’s unquestionably Day Four that grabs the attention of even the most casual of horse racing fans. The Gold Cup is the crown jewel of Cheltenham and the pinnacle of the Festival itself. It is the most sought after prize in racing and an opportunity for you to have a flutter on some of the biggest names in the sport and the charges that they’ve either trained or are racing. All four days offer all of the usual entertainment off the track, including live music, shopping and food and drink to die for.
After the Cheltenham Festival, the eyes of the racing world are drawn to Aintree and the Grand National. It’s perhaps little wonder, therefore, that those in charge at Cheltenham Racecourse have a trick up their sleeve to bring everyone back to Gloucestershire before the month is out. The April Meeting takes place on Wednesday and Thursday, scheduled to be the seventeenth and eighteenth of April in 2019. It’s a chance to see just a little bit more top class racing before the season comes to a close, with the first day offering the Grade 2 Handicap Chase, which is worth £50,000 to the winner.
Midweek racing tends to welcome the more dedicated fans of the sport and in 2018 the organisers at Cheltenham decided to give them something special. The Thursday saw an all-mares’ race card for the first time at a jumps course, meaning that it was a day of top-class racing with something of a twist. As with the rest of the events that are scheduled to take place at Cheltenham Racecourse this season, you’ll be able to combine what you’re watching on the track with some decent entertainment off it.
Previously known as Hunter Chase Evening, Race Night is Cheltenham Racecourse’s final hurrah before the jump racing season comes to a close and flat racing finally takes over the sport’s calendar for the summer. This is the only evening fixture offered by the course throughout the year and is the perfect way to kick-start your May bank holiday weekend, taking place as it does on Friday May the third. You’ll get a chance to watch amateur riders and amateur trainers get their first taste of life at the home of jump racing, so it’s the ideal meeting to attend if you like to make a note of people to look out for in the future.
As well as the racing, there’s also plenty of entertainment taking place off the track over the weekend. In 2018, for example, you would have seen Jo Whiley from Radio 2 and Huw Stephens from Radio 1 take to the stage if you’d popped along to the Centaur when the racing was run. If the likes of the Festival Trials Day is a time for serious racegoers to attend and ruminate over how the rest of the season might play out then Race Night is its more fun, laidback cousin. This is the one to attend if you’re a fan of racing but are more of a budding amateur than an outright connoisseur.
Cheltenham Major Changes: Tote
One thing to keep your eye out for this year is the presence of Britbet at Cheltenham Racecourse for the first time. The company was launched in order to take over from the monopoly on pool betting previously owned by Betfred, which came to an end on the thirteenth of July 2018. They have taken over the running of on-course pool betting at fifty-five courses, one of which was Cheltenham.
The only problem is that the launch of the new company has been beset with issues from the outset. In-fighting between the Jockey Club and Arena Racing Company initially put the project under some doubt, with Arena hoping that they could work closely with the Tote rather than replacing it altogether. Part of the reason for the internal wrangling was that Fred Done, the owner of Betfred and someone that many in the racing world don’t have time for, sold the pool side of the Tote to the Alizeti consortium, which is headed by a racehorse owner and breeder named Alex Frost.
If you’re heading along to Cheltenham then make sure you keep your eyes peeled to see which company is in charge of the pool betting on the course when you’re there. Even if it’s one company at the start of the jump racing season, it’s entirely possible that it will be another one at the end of it.