The home of national hunt racing, or Cheltenham Racecourse to you and me, is nestled in the heart of Gloucestershire, outside Cheltenham in the village of Prestbury.
Although race meets take place there all through the hunt season, Cheltenham is world famous for it’s four day festival held every March culminating in the hugely coveted Cheltenham Gold Cup and with a capacity for 67,500 spectators, it is usually sold-out.
Cheltenham race course is divided into two distinct courses known as the Old Course and the New Course and specific races are held on each, for example the Champion Hurdle is always run on the Old Course and the Cheltenham Gold Cup (run over 3 miles and 2½ furlongs with twenty-two fences) is always run on the New Course which has a tricky downhill fence and a longer run-in for steeplechases than the Old Course.
Another unusual feature of the New Course is the proximity of the hurdles that have to be jumped in races that are longer than 2 miles. The majority are positioned very close together at the beginning of the race with only two left in the last seven furlongs.
And, of course, Cheltenham is home to one the single most prestigious national hunt races in the world – the Gold Cup which is run on the final day of the March festival and has a roll of honour that reads like a who’s who of the racing world including Kauto Star, Denman, three time winner Best Mate and history makers Arkle, Golden Miller and Mill House. And with a prize fund of £475,000 it is also the most valuable non-handicap chase in Britain.
The Gold Cup has been run since July 1819 when the first winner, Spectre won 100 guineas for his owner when he took first place over a 3 mile flat course on Cleeve Hill which still overlooks the course today. It took over 100 years to change the style of the race from flat to jumps and on March 12th, 1924 a prize of £685 was awarded to the inaugural fences winner, Red Splash.