LESS THAN an hour-and-a-half away from Coventry Airport is the famous Cheltenham Racecourse, home each spring to the hugely popular Cheltenham Festival, which this year runs from Tuesday, March 14 to Friday, March 17.
Offering four days of the best steeplechase and hurdle racing in the world, the festival brings the jump-racing season to a climax, with over 450 horses competing for 2.7 million pounds sterling in prize money. In addition to the four major Championship races, there are another six grade one contests and a whole host of handicaps that set racegoers the challenge of picking a winner that can bring a high return.
Each year, attendances continue to grow and, over the duration of the meeting, crowds will easily exceed 240,000. It is without doubt one of the world’s most anticipated racing spectacles and of great importance to the UK racing industry.
The first Cheltenham Festival meeting took place in 1902 and since then has continued to gain prominence within the racing calendar. The jump season is now hard to imagine without the build up to Cheltenham – the expectation grows and the excitement begins many months before the first Cheltenham race gets under starters orders.
2006 Festival Highlights
The main races to look out for this year are:
Tuesday 14: Smurfit Champion Hurdle
Wednesday 15: Queen Mother Champion Chase
Thursday 16: Ladbrokes World Hurdle
Friday 17: totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup
Cheltenham’s Top Riders
Richard Dunwoody is the only jockey to have ridden over 100 winners at Cheltenham, 109 in total. Other prolific riders include Peter Scudamore (94), John Francome (71), Fred Winter (67) and Terry Biddlecombe (60).
In terms of festival winners, Tony McCoy unsurprisingly heads the list of current jockeys riding, albeit that the festival has not been kind to him in recent years. With 15 victories, McCoy leads his nearest rival Mick Fitzgerald by two and Richard Johnson by three. Barry Geraghty follows up with nine winners with Ruby Walsh on eight.
Cheltenham Festival’s Top Trainers
The late Fulke Walwyn is still, by far, the most successful festival trainer with 40 winners gained over a 40-year period. His nearest rival is record-breaking trainer Martin Pipe, who has saddled 36 winners since 1981, with Nicky Henderson following closely behind with 30 winners since 1985. Fred Winter trained 28 winners and Tom Dreaper trained 26. Howard Johnson was the festival’s leading trainer in 2005.
Trade stands and entertainment
For the three hours before racing and the hour-and-a-half after, guests can enjoy the festival atmosphere among the many trade stands, parades, music and entertainment on offer at the course.
The Cheltenham ‘collection’ offers the Best Mate range – an exclusive range of Best Mate branded merchandise including rugby shirts, baseball caps, scarves and a gift card. Ten per cent of the proceeds go towards Best Mate’s former owner Jim Lewis’s favourite charity – the Gentleman’s Night Out, a charity that supports disadvantaged children in the Birmingham area.
Another place of interest is The Hall of Fame, situated right in the heart of the grandstand complex. The Hall of Fame offers the finest display of steeplechasing history, video recordings of great races over the years and a chance to look behind the scenes and learn about the horses and people who have created this exciting sport.
Visitors can also experience the thrill of riding at speed on a mechanical horse and receive expert tuition, helping to provide a much better understanding of what it takes to be a jockey.
New for 2006 – The Pamper Zone
New at this spring’s festival will be a ‘pamper zone’ where you can treat yourself to a bit of ‘R and R’. The Pamper Zone will be offering Indian head massage, seated acupressure massage, Thai foot massage, reflexology, eastern scalp massage, manicures and make-up. For further information and to book, call 0044 1531 822 127 or e-mail [email protected]