Cheltenham Racecourse

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Published: 08/10/2013

Located in Gloucestershire on the outskirts of Cheltenham and within the natural amphitheatre of Prestbury Park, Cheltenham Racecourse ranks as one of the most highly regarded National Hunt venues in the United Kingdom. It features three left-handed tracks: the Old Course, New Course and Cross Country Steeplechase Course. A full 16 days of racing are conducted annually, including the four-day Cheltenham Festival in March. Notable Grade One races here include the Champion Hurdle, the Arkle Challenge Trophy and the Queen Mother Champion Chase as well as the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

A Hub of Legendary Events

The first organised flat race meeting in Cheltenham took place on Nottingham Hill in 1815, followed by the first Gold Cup race on Cleeve Hill three years later. Unfortunately, the local parish priest believed horseracing was evil and convinced his congregation to disrupt the 1830 race meeting. Months later, the course’s grandstand was burnt to the ground, so the racecourse was moved in 1831 to Prestbury Park, its current venue. Records indicate that steeplechasing, which was established in nearby Andoversford from 1834, moved to the present course in 1898.

In 1911, the four-mile National Hunt Chase moved permanently to Cheltenham from Warwick as part of a new two-day National Hunt Meeting in March. Added to the meeting in 1924 was Cheltenham’s prestigious three-mile Gold Cup, revived as a jumps race on what is now referred to as the Old Course. In the next decade, a horse named Golden Miller won all five Gold Cup races from 1932 to 1936 as well as the Grand National in 1934.

Another great race inaugurated at the “Cheltenham Festival” was the Champion Hurdle in 1927. The March meeting had to be expanded to three days and soon other top events were clamouring to join in, such as the Triumph Hurdle, originally held at Hurst Park in Surrey in 1939, which became part of the Festival in 1955. Another big race started here was the National Hunt Two-Mile Champion Chase in 1959; in honour of the Queen Mother’s 80th birthday in 1980, it was renamed the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

To cope with growing crowds, the facilities at Cheltenham had to be expanded, and the Tattersalls Grandstand was opened in 1960. Concern for the security of Cheltenham’s future also caused Racecourse Holdings Trust (now Jockey Club Racecourses) to be formed in 1964. By the 1970s, the centre of the racecourse was developed as a popular raceday enclosure, and the main Grandstand was completed in 1979. Additional improvements continued through the 1980s, leading to the creation of a new stables complex in 1990, the introduction of the Cross Country Course in 1995 and replacement of the original Tattersalls Grandstand in 1997 with new tiered viewing and the Panoramic Restaurant.

Racing into the New Millennium

The process of upgrading has surged in the past decade, with £3 million invested in the Best Mate Enclosure at the centre of the racecourse and another £17m going toward additional facilities such as “The Centaur,” a new conference and events centre with one of the largest auditoria in the South West of England, capable of accommodating some 4,000 visitors. In 2005, the Festival was successfully extended to four full days, and now a £45m redevelopment is getting underway to add a new 6,500-capacity grandstand and royal box.

Throughout the year, more than 700,000 visitors come to the racecourse. The Festival alone is worth an estimated £50 million to the local economy, with participants going through 18,000 bottles of champagne and 214,000 pints of Guinness. Total prize money at the Festival has topped £3.67 million, ranking it as the most valuable and prestigious fixture in jump racing.

Apart from the Festival, other important fixtures hosted at Cheltenham Racecourse include the two-day Showcase to open the jumps season in October, The Open for three days in November featuring the Paddy Power Gold Cup, the two-day International in December and the New Year’s Day Meeting. Other key racedays are the Festival Trials in January, the two-day April Meeting and the concluding Hunter Chase Evening, also in April.

Published on: 08/10/2013

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