The Cheltenham Festival is arguably the pinnacle of British national hunt racing, perhaps now even outshining the Grand National as the most important fixture in the jumps racing season. The Festival, which takes place in mid-March, host 28 races across four days. Fourteen of those are Grade 1 races – the highest level in national hunt racing.
While there is a glut of unmissable races at the Cheltenham Festival, including the Arkle and Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, we hear a lot about the “feature races” or the “day’s feature”. Those are the four most prestigious races at the Festival, with one taking place at 3.30 pm each day of the four-day event. Feature races aren’t unique to Cheltenham, of course, as every racing festival will have its standout events. But the features at Cheltenham act as signposts, pillars around which each day is built.
Here’s a brief guide to each Cheltenham Festival feature race:
With a distance of just over 2 miles, the Champion Hurdle is the most prestigious hurdle event in national hunt racing. It’s had many famous winners down the years, including Hatton’s Grace, Persian War and Istabraq, all of whom are three-time winners. Nicky Henderson leads the way as the trainer with most victories (7), whereas Ruby Walsh and Tim Molony both have four wins each as jockeys. The 2020 Champion Hurdle is likely to see a new generation of star hurdlers come to the fore, with the likes of Epatante (3/1) and Pentland Hills (7/1) leading the ante-post betting markets (odds from Ladbrokes).
Queen Mother Champion Chase
Coming in at a fraction under 2 miles is the Champion Chase (The Queen Mother prefix was added in 1980), a race that has grown in prestige and that is now regarded as the top event for minimum distance chasing. Badsworth Boy (1983, 1984,1985) is the sole horse to have won the Champion Chase three times, but Altior can join him if he wins this year. Nicky Henderson’s star horse has looked unbeatable over the last four years, but he finally snapped his winning streak last November. That, coupled with fitness concerns, have pushed Altior’s odds out to 3/1 (William Hill), a price that can be capitalised on at freebets.co.uk – the best place for Cheltenham free bets. Altior is likely to see some stiff competition this year though, particularly from race favourite Defi Du Seuil.
Established: 1912 (modern renewals from 1972)
A long-distance hurdle event coming in just under 3 miles, the Stayers Hurdle was known as the World Hurdle from 2005-2015 for sponsorship reasons. It returned to the name Stayers’ Hurdle from 2016. As the name suggests, it’s the top hurdle event for stayers, i.e. horses that compete better over longer distances. Big Buck’s stands apart from all others in this event, with four consecutive victories from 2009-2012. Last year’s winner, Paisley Park, is the even-money favourite to win again this year.
Cheltenham Gold Cup
The race that forged the legends of Golden Miller, Arkle and L’Escargot, the Cheltenham Gold Cup is a gruelling test of stamina (3 miles 2 ½ furlongs) for the best chasers in Britain and Ireland. It’s the most important race at Cheltenham and, one would argue, it has become the most sought-after prize by national hunt jockeys and trainers, even eclipsing the Grand National in recent years. Once again, we see last year’s winner as the ante-post market leader, with Al Boum Photo currently seeing odds of around 4/1. However, this race always delivers drama and quality, and there will be many top trainers believing they can add the name of their charges to the esteemed Gold Cup roll of honour.