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Tips for Cheltenham Festival Beginners
Mon, Jan 12th, 2015

If you are going to the Cheltenham Festival this year for the first time or are just intrigued by the increasing hype around the event we have put together this beginners (or bluffers ?) guide.

What is the Cheltenham Festival?

It is an annual four-day horse racing meeting held at the Cheltenham racecourse in Gloucestershire, South-West England.

There a two main types of horseracing, jumps and flat, and this meeting is considered to be the Olympics for jumps horses. In truth it isn’t really that international, jumps horseracing is mainly concentrated in the UK, Ireland and France. The best jumps horses in the UK and Ireland will be there but only a few French trained horses.

Bluffers Tip: National Hunt racing is the official title given to jump racing. The original name of the Cheltenham Festival was the “National Hunt Meeting”.

When does the Cheltenham Festival take place?

The 2015 Cheltenham Festival takes place from Tuesday 10th to Friday 13th of March. The first race generally starts at 1:30. There are 35 minute gaps between races meaning that on a 7 race day the last race is run at 5:15.

Each day has a feature race. On Tuesday it is the Champion Hurdle, Wednesday the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Thursday the World Hurdle and on Friday the Gold Cup. In terms of their importance these features races would be ranked 1.The Gold Cup 2.The Champion Chase 3.The Queen Mother Champion Chase 4.The World Hurdle.

Bluffers Tip: The Cheltenham Festival was extended from 3 days to 4 days in 2005. To pass yourself of as a Cheltenham Festival veteran mutter under your breath “I much preferred the three day Festival, it was all quality then”

What races are run at the Cheltenham Festival ?

There are 27 races ( plus a charity race) run at the Cheltenham Festival.

We will try and break them into a few categories. Within National Hunt racing (see tip 1 above) there are two main types of race – hurdle races and steeplechases. Horses running in hurdle races are called “hurdlers” and those in steeple chases are referred to as “chasers”. Hurdlers have to jump over are relatively small (three-and-a-half feet) brush-like obstacles. Chasers jump bigger hedge-like fences.

In the normal progression of a jumps horse’s career they might be expected to use hurdle races to practice their jumping before graduating on to the larger obstacles. This isn’t always the case though as the best hurdlers often stick to that discipline – there is plenty of prize money and prestige attached to the top hurdle races.

Hurdle Races: The top hurdle race run at the Cheltenham Festival is the Champion Hurdle run on the opening day over 2 miles. The World Hurdle run over 3 miles on the Festival Thursday is second in terms of prestige and attracts “staying” horses who have more stamina than speed. As recognition of their quality these races are classified as “Grade 1”.

There are also individual hurdle races for 4 year old horses (called juveniles), horses that haven’t won a race before the current season (called novices), and handicap races for horses that aren’t up to graded class. In graded races horses generally run off level weights whereas in a handicap race the horses carry varying weights based on the handicapper’s assessment of their previous runs.

Steeplechases: Friday’s Gold Cup is run over 3 and a quarter miles is the highlight of the week and is considered to most prestigious chase of the entire National Hunt season. The Grand National run at Aintree is more famous but is actually a handicap race. The horse that wins the Gold Cup will be considered the best staying chaser of that season. Speedier chasers run in the 2 mile Queen Mother Champion Chase run as Wednesday’s feature race. Thursday’s card includes a newer race, the Ryanair Chase, for those horses without the speed for the Champion Chase or stamina for the Gold Cup.

As with the hurdling division there are few more categories. There are races for horses that haven’t won a race before the current season (called novices or beginners), and handicap races for horses that aren’t up to graded class. There are also races confined to amateur riders run at the meeting.

Bumpers: Races run under National Hunt Racing rules also include flat races generally referred to as “Bumpers”. The purpose of these is to allow horses starting out to gain experience of the racecourse and longer distances. Bumpers are usually run as the last race on the card. The Cheltenham Champion Bumper, which is the last race on Wednesday’s card, is the only Grade 1 bumper run in GB and is the most valuable.

Bluffers Tip: After watching the Grade 1 Neptune Investment Novices Hurdle (2nd race on Wednesday ) say of the winner “future Champion Hurdle winner there”.

What horses are expected to be the stars of the 2015 Cheltenham Festival ?

Generally speaking the horses that win the feature races would be the stars of the meeting and you could normally rank them in the order of race prestige i.e. 1.The Gold Cup 2.The Champion Chase 3.The Queen Mother Champion Chase 4.The World Hurdle

Sprinter Sacre is a horse you may have heard of. He won the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2013 but has been off track for over a year.

The Champion Hurdle will feature two former champions. Hurricane Fly won in 2011 and 2013, and Jezki in 2014.

The Gold Cup looks pretty open this year with Bobs Worth and Lord Windemere the previous winners expected in the line up.

Who are the Cheltenham Festival Jockeys to look out for?

We will give you three:

Tony (“AP”) McCoy is the most famous jumps jockey out there. He has ridden over 4200 winners and has been the British Champion jockey on 19 occasions. Tony won the award for BBC Sports personality of the year in 2010, having also landed the Grand National on Don’t Push earlier that year.  He has ridden 30 Cheltenham Festival winners. McCoy unusually is retained by an owner rather than a trainer. This means that he is normally relatively easy to spot in the Green and Gold silks of J P McManus. His best chance for 2015 ? - We will come back to you on that.

Ruby Walsh would be less well known but the ten times Irish Champion jockey has notched up more winners than McCoy at the Cheltenham Festival. He has been leading rider at the meeting on eight occasions and tops the all time winners list with 41 winners. Famous horses Ruby has been associated with include Kauto Star, Denman and Big Bucks. Ruby rides now alsmost exclusively for the Irish Champion Trainer Willie Mullins. While this arrangement will give him a host of good rides.

Barry Geraghty is another to look out for. He is second in the winning most list of Cheltenham Festival jockeys with 31 winners. He has won all four of Cheltenhams feature races since 2013.  Famous horses Barry has been associated with include Moscow Flyer and Kicking King. Barry was leading rider at the 2012 Cheltenham Festival with 5 wins - all in Grade 1 races.  Barry now rides as first jockey to the Nicky Henderson stable. Henderson is the winning most Cheltenham Festival trainer of all time.

Which bookmakers should I bet with at the Cheltenham Festival ?

We think the best strategy is to treat a bet like any other purchase and shop around for the best prices. During the Cheltenham Festival bookmakers get involved in their own version of the supermarket price wars and will introduce a whole series of offers. Since you can do your “shopping for bets” on line it is easy to open a few bookmaker accounts and snap up the biggest bargains.

If you are new to this and had say £50 to spend on bets the Cheltenham Festival we would recommend using it something like this:

Open an account with Stan James and deposit £10

Stan James will match your first £10 bet with another free bet for £10. 

Open an account with Skybet and deposit £10

Skybet will give you a totally free bet of £10 just for registering on the site.

Open an account with Coral and deposit £5

Coral will give you up to twenty pounds in free bets.



If you are a Cheltenham Festival fan we would love to get your views on our discussion forum. We have dedicated threads for all 27 races and will be gathering stats, quotes and tips in the Countdown to 10 March 2015.


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Champion Chase Day

World Hurdle Day

Gold Cup Day

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Neptune IM News and Tips

JLT Novices Chase News and Tips

Triumph Hurdle News and Tips

Arkle Trophy Chase News and Tips

RSA Chase News and Tips

Pertemps Final News and Tips

County Hurdle News and Tips

Festival Chase News and Tips

Coral Cup News and Tips

Ryanair Chase News and Tips

Albert Bartlett Hurdle News and Tips

Champion Hurdle News and Tips

Champion Chase News and Tips

World Hurdle News and Tips

Gold Cup News and Tips

Mares Hurdle News and Tips

Cross Country News and Tips

Festival Plate News and Tips

Foxhunter Chase News and Tips

NH Chase News and Tips

Fred Winter News and Tips

Kim Muir News and Tips

Martin Pipe Hurdle News and Tips

Novices Handicap News and Tips

Champion Bumper News and Tips

Grand Annual News and Tips

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