Cheltenham Racecourse 

Located on 350 acres in the Cotswold Hills of Gloucestershire, the sporting arena known as Prestbury Park is home to the Cheltenham Racecourse. It is a massive natural amphitheatre with three separate layouts for horseracing. They overlap in a unique pretzel-like shape that has gained fame as the home of the four-day, 28-race Cheltenham Festival held in March.

The Old Course

The Old Course is used each season for The Showcase and The Open, as well as the first two days of The Festival. It is a one-mile, four-furlong, left-handed oval of turf that features a 350-yard run-in. Accommodating nine fences and six hurdles, it is considered by riders to be particularly challenging.

There is a water jump on the third fence, followed by open ditches on the fourth and sixth fences. Although the course is marked by severe undulations, it only heightens the pace, which tends to range from sharp to galloping. After the final ditch, four out, the true test of stamina begins in earnest. Many leaders fail when they encounter the challenging run up “Cheltenham Hill” and then its two downhill fences. The last two jumps in the home straight must also be timed perfectly if the barriers are not to exact a heavy toll.

An adjustment was made following the 2010 Festival, moving the penultimate fence 239 yards from the foot of the hill to a position around the bend on the finish straight. In the past, it was located at the bottom of a brief downhill gradient, where momentum carried horses and riders into the fence or launched early jumpers into bad spill on the landing side. Pacing will continue to be a critical factor in winning here.

The New Course

The New Course serves as the venue for The International, New Year’s Day, Festival Trials Day, and the annual April and May meetings in addition to the third and fourth days of the Festival, which includes the Cheltenham Gold Cup. It is a one-mile, five-furlong left-handed oval of turf that features a 220-yard run-in. Its sixteen obstacles include ten fences that are notorious for their stiffness along with six challenging hurdles.

The second fence on this course is a water jump, and the third and fifth fences feature open ditches. Like the Old Course, the undulating surface invites a galloping pace, which makes a slightly longer run up Cheltenham Hill even more demanding. This layout, however, has only one fence on the downhill slope, followed by two more on a slightly longer home straight.

Most recently, a troublesome fence at the crest of the hill has been moved back 15 metres, where it can be jumped on a flatter part of the track. In the past, the course fell away to the left immediately beyond the fence, causing even veteran raiders and mount to get caught out. Another recent modification is the widening of the fences on the New Course by five metres, allowing their outside portions to be used during the early part of the season and keeping twelve metres of ground on the inside fresh for the Festival.

The Cross Country Course

The Cross Country Course at Cheltenham is uniquely reserved for three cross-country races each season, including the Cross Country Handicap Chase on the Festival’s opening day. Its figure-of-eight shape was first introduced at the Festival in 1995, designed by Mike Etherington-Smith, who created the layout for the Three-Day Event cross-country course for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.

The Cross Country Course weaves left and right through centre of Prestbury Park, incorporating such natural obstacles as live hedges, shrubs, banks, ditches, water, and timber rails, which sets it apart from steeplechases using “dead” materials. Its last three furlongs are run on the same turf as the Old Course, and the track tends to suit chasers, especially those who jump and stay well.

One change here is worthy of note. Claims of a jockey taking an “illegal shortcut” in 2008 have caused the Cross Country Course to be fitted with new official course markers. Now, an additional “C” marker and a running rail have been positioned at the point where the corner was cut. Failure to observe them will be cause for disqualification.

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