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The Cheltenham Festival 2018

The Cheltenham Festival is one of the most popular and prestigious horse races in the UK, thanks to its royal connections, long heritage and location in the beautiful Cotswolds countryside. Horse racing has been held continually at the site for more than 200 years and has showcased many of the finest racehorses in the world.

This year's festival will take place from March 13th to 16th and will attract the best horses, jockeys, trainers and owners, who will be taking part in the world's top national hunt races during the racing spectacle. Among its most popular races are the Cross Country Chase, the Champion Bumper, the Foxhunter and the Mares' Novices' Hurdle.



Horse racing has been held at Cheltenham since 1815, with the prime location set in 350 acres of unspoiled English countryside hosting some of the finest jump races in the world and attracting crowds of around 68,000 people. The four-day Cheltenham Festival is the racecourse's most famous meeting and takes place in March every year.

When racing was first held at Cheltenham in 1815, it was flat racing rather than jump races. The first meeting was recorded at Nottingham Hill in 1815, followed by a second on Cleeve Hill overlooking the current racecourse on 25th August 1818.

The venture was evidently a success, as five races took place and the first recorded winner was a five-year-old bay mare called Miss Tidmarsh - ridden by jockey Mr E Jones. A new racecourse and a grandstand overlooking the track were built in 1819 and that year, the race meeting was extended to three days, from 23rd to 25th August.


Cheltenham Gold Cup

The main event in 1819 was the first Cheltenham Gold Cup, when three-year-olds raced over a three-mile flat race - won by Spectre. Over the next decade, the annual race meeting grew in popularity and was already attracting 50,000 people - an astounding number, considering the limited transport links in the mid-19th century.

In 1860, as a forerunner to today's event, the first Cheltenham Festival was known as the National Hunt Meeting. It was to change venue quite often in the early years and although racing continued at Cheltenham, the festival itself didn't make the course its permanent home until 1911.

First launched in 1912 and still run as a championship race 106 years later, the oldest surviving race from the early years is the Stayers' Hurdle.


Famous winners

Some of the greatest horses in history have achieved glory at Cheltenham Festival. One of the event's most famous winners is the iconic Desert Orchid, who was loved by the British public. One of the most popular moments of all time was when he won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1989.

Ridden by Simon Sherwood, "Dessie" overcame his dislike of the heavy going, caused by snow and rain before the meeting, to beat Yahoo in a thrilling victory in front of 58,000 delighted fans. Yahoo favoured the heavy going and was on course for victory.

However, Dessie managed to beat him by 1.5 lengths in the final stages of the race, in a display of dogged determination that later saw him voted the greatest horse race in history in a Racing Post readers' poll.


Top jockey

In the modern era, the top jockey at Cheltenham Festival has been Irishman Ruby Walsh, aged 38, who has won the event's Leading Jockey Award an amazing 11 times - including the 2017 title. He has won 56 races at the festival since he began his long career as a jockey in 1996.

Walsh has been out of action since 18th November 2017, when he fractured his right tibia falling from Let's Dance at Punchestown. It has been touch and go whether he'll be fit in time for this year's festival.

Sources have told the media he's healing well and back in the saddle. In February, he was said to be back to full fitness, but he is yet to make his competitive return.


Royal connection

The royal family has long been associated with the Cheltenham Festival. With racing known as the "sport of kings", it's no surprise that royal visitors such as the Queen's granddaughter, Olympic medal-winning showjumper Zara Tindall, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, have been spotted at the event.

The late Queen Mother, a renowned horse racing enthusiast, has had a race at Cheltenham named in her honour. The annual Queen Mother Champion Chase will be the feature race on the second day of this year's event.

The meeting also attracts celebrity visitors; TV presenter Gabby Logan, former Manchester United football manager Sir Alex Ferguson and former British track cyclist turned jockey Victoria Pendleton were all spotted at last year's event.



Anyone fancying a flutter at this year's festival will be checking out some of the most fancied runners - such as one from champion trainer Willie Mullins' stable, Blackbow.

Blackbow put on a great performance, maintaining his unbeaten record last month in the Goffs Future Stars flat race at Leopardstown. He is among seven Champion Bumper entries from Mullins at Cheltenham.

Nicky Henderson's, We Have A Dream, is another fancied runner after he continued his journey to Cheltenham Festival with a confident Grade 1 win at Chepstow. He put on a definitive performance when he won the Coral Future Champions' Finale Juvenile Hurdle.

Previous winners, On The Fringe and Pacha Du Polder, are among 32 entries for the St James's Place Foxhunter Chase, while other fancied entrants, Burning Ambition and Wonderful Charm, are among the large field.

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