Cheltenham Racecourse is unquestionably known for one event above all others: The Cheltenham Festival. Taking place over the best part of a week every March, the Festival is the moment that jump racing truly kicks into gear. The racecourse is open all year round, however, with numerous meetings taking place throughout that time.
You can read all about the Festival elsewhere on this site, but before the Festival kicks into gear there’s the small matter of the November Meeting. Traditionally thought of as the start of the jump racing season, the November Meeting was previously known as the Cheltenham Open before changing its name ahead of its running in 2017. On this page we’ll tell you a little bit about its history, as well as its important in the racing calendar itself.
The weekend of the November Meeting gets underway with the Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, a pleasant Class 3 race that acts as a gentle introduction to proceedings. A Class 2 race known as the November Handicap Chase comes up next.
The Racing Welfare Chase is a fun way to see some less experienced horses in action, whilst the Cross Country Handicap Chase is the longest race of the day, run on the cross-country course. There isn’t a feature race on Day One really, though the penultimate one of the day probably comes the closest. The Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle is a Grade 2 race that’s run over two miles and five furlongs, followed a fast Novices’ Hurdle to bring the curtain down on an exciting first day of action.
Pretty much everything on Day Two is built around the race that the day’s named after. Our appetite is whetted by the Grade 2 Triumph Trial Hurdle that gets us started, quickly followed by the Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Chase. That is the longest race of the day. Next up it’s another race named the November Novices’ Chase, a quick 2 mile run that acts as a qualifier for the Arkle at the Festival next year.
Much like its older brother held during the Cheltenham Festival, the feature race of Day Two is the Gold Cup. It’s not quite after the Lord Mayor’s show for the Finance Solutions Handicap Hurdle that follows, but obviously some racegoers will have drifted off to the bar or to collect their winnings at that point. The second race of its kind in a row comes under the title of the Intermediate Handicap Hurdle, with the day coming to a close courtesy of the Mares’ Open National Hunt Flat Race.
The name of the day could do with some work if we’re all being honest. Regardless, it’s a fun day filled with plenty of racing, including a long distance big field Novices’ Chase that gets things started. It’s another long distance handicap chase up in second, over three and a half miles with 22 fences to be jumped, this is followed by the faster grade 2 Cheltenham chase over 2 miles.
The Greatwood Handicap Hurdle is the feature race of the final day, followed by the Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle. The action of the second-most exciting weekend at Cheltenham is drawn to a close by the Open National Hunt Flat Race. Another brilliant weekend’s racing done and dusted until the following November.
Beginning Of The National Hunt Jump Race Season
In order to understand the importance of the November Meeting you first need to understand jump racing itself. The racing calendar is essentially split into two different sections, with jump racing on one side and flat racing on the other. According to The Rules of British Horse Racing, the flat racing season runs from the day of the Lincoln Handicap until the afternoon of the November Handicap, though these dates can always be changed by the British Horseracing Authority. Generally speaking that means from the first of April until about November the eleventh, though these dates are flexible.
The whole thing is complicated slightly by the fact that there is a ‘Winter Flat Season’ and because jump racing takes place throughout most of the year, but typically the flat season is run in the summer months and the jump season is more of a winter thing. The reason this information is important is that the Cheltenham Open has traditionally been seen as the official start of the National Hunt season. It’s the start of the Road to The Cheltenham Festival, which is one of the key jump racing events of the year.
The Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Grand National, the King George VI Chase. All of those races are seen as being hugely important moments in the National Hunt calendar, but it all needs to start somewhere and that somewhere is with the November Meeting. From then on the jump racing season truly kicks into gear, building to a crescendo at the end of March and the start of April.
Cheltenham Open OR November Meeting?
We’ve explained in more detail elsewhere on the site why the meeting has changed its name, but as we’re using the titles interchangeably during this article it’s probably best that we quickly explain why the name was changed.
The long and short of it is that there is another big sporting event in the United Kingdom known as The Open, which is the golfing major run by the Royal & Ancient. It was felt, in this day and age of social media campaigns and hashtags, that having two big sporting moments every year with the same name might cause some confusion.
After a meeting between the Jockey Club and the R&A it was decided that it would be easier and less confusing for the Cheltenham event to change its name rather than the golfing one. The fact that the golfing event had been in existence for more than a hundred years before the Cheltenham one was even considered probably didn’t hurt their cause.
As a result of the deal made between the two organisations, the Cheltenham Open has become the November Meeting, following in the footsteps of another event held at the racecourse every year, the April Meeting. Any change of name for something major takes time to adjust to, however, so that’s why we’re calling the event by both names in this article
History and About The Cheltenham Open
Perhaps the most interesting thing about The Open at Cheltenham is that it hasn’t yet had a race created specifically for the occasion. If you look at the Cheltenham Festival, on the other hand, countless races were made in order to justify the move to a four day meeting. The Open, however, essentially came about by bringing numerous races that have been run at the racecourse for decades together into a bigger meeting that takes place over three days.
It was first run back in 2000 and over the years since it has developed into the family friendly alternative to the Festival itself. About 200,000 pints of Guinness are drunk over the course of the Cheltenham Festival, whilst the November meeting is filled with so much more than just the horse racing. As well as events like a stallion parade, live music and trade stalls, there’s also camel racing that kids find fascinating.
That’s not to suggest that the racing isn’t important, of course. The Open started out as something of an underwhelming couple of days of races held over the course of a weekend in November, similar in statue to any number of events held throughout the country year round. A number of top-level races were added to the card as time went by, however, leading to the November Meeting becoming the second-most important event hosted at Cheltenham Racecourse.
Perhaps seizing on the growing love of the Festival, Cheltenham’s organisers realised there was something to be said about a few days worth of racing being given something of a carnival atmosphere. This is now one of the most exciting meetings in autumn, if not the entire year. As with the other big event held on the racecourse in March, the November Meeting is built around a Gold Cup. This one is currently sponsored by Paddy Power, though in the past it’s been associated with the likes of Mackeson Stout, Murphy’s and BetVictor.
November Meeting Attendance and Popularity
Racegoers love an excuse to put on their expensive frocks and suits and head to the course. Though the Open might not have garnered much interest when it was first put on, it’s entirely fair to say that it’s increased exponentially in terms of how many people turn up nowadays. In fact, in 2016 the course racked up its higher ever attendance over the three day period.
That was the natural progression you might expect given its ever increasing popularity. Back in 2012 over seventy and a half thousand people turned up over the course of the weekend. The following year that had improved to more than seventy-one thousand, with more than seventy-one thousand six hundred people making their way to Cheltenham in 2014.
In 2016 the course posted its highest attendance record to date, thanks to the seventy-three thousand seven hundred people that thought it would be a fun way to spend a weekend, including just shy of thirty-six thousand people who chose to turn up for what was then the Paddy Power Gold Cup.
Nearly seventy-thousand turned up in 2017, with horrendous weather on the Saturday the only thing that stopped the course from racking up a record crowd for a November Meeting. 2018 also saw a similar attendance.
Why Should You Care About The November Meeting?
Given the importance put on the entire National Hunt calendar when it comes the Cheltenham Festival, it’s not outrageous to question why you should be all that interested in the November Meeting. Obviously there’s the racing itself, but racing takes place throughout the year across the myriad of course in the UK, to say nothing of the other courses around the world that you can watch and have a flutter on. Away from that, then, why should you be bothered what else goes on?
The most obvious answer to this also the most important: it’s a hugely informative weekend’s worth of racing when you’re looking for signs ahead of the Cheltenham Festival. In many cases you’ll have some of the same horses that will be racing at the end of March turning up for the November Meeting, with the added benefit over other meetings that they’ll be running on the same race course as they will four months later. If you want to get some indication of how your betting should go when you look at the form guide ahead of the Festival than what happened at the Open should be the first thing you look up.
The November Gold Cup can tell you something interesting about the horses ahead of the more prestigious race of the same name in March, whilst the Greatwood Hurdle can give you really clear indicators for what might happen in the Champion Hurdle. There are similar sign posts in place all over the weekend, so make sure you do your research ahead of time and figure out what you’re on the lookout for before you turn up or tune in. It might bot have the same glowing reputation of the Festival, but the November Meeting is the canny bettor’s first port of call when it comes to figuring out what to place their wagers on.