What Are the Feature Races at the Cheltenham Festival?

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:

Champion Hurdle

Established: 1927

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

Established: 1959

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.

Stayers’ Hurdle

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

Established: 1924

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.

Is Aidan O’Brien related to Vincent O’Brien?

The simple answer is no, Aidan O’Brien is not related to the late Michael Vincent O’Brien, but the current ‘Master of Ballydoyle’ has much in common with his predecessor. Indeed, it was Vincent O’Brien who bought Ballydoyle House, in Co. Tipperary in 1951 and, later, along with his son-in-law, John Magnier, and the late Robert Sangster, established what became known as the Coolmore syndicate, for whom Aidan O’Brien has been private trainer since 1996.

Both Aidan and Vincent O’Brien began their training careers in National Hunt racing; both have the distinction of having won the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival three years running, Aidan with Istabraq in 1998, 1999 and 2000 and Vincent with Hatton’s Grace in 1949, 1950 and 1951. Similarly, both men subsequently rose to become the dominant force in Flat racing, not just in Ireland, but in the whole of Europe and both became Champion Trainer in Britain, despite training on the other side of the Irish Sea.

Has any horse ever won the Champion Hurdle, Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National?

The Cheltenham Gold Cup was inaugurated, in it current guise, in 1924 and the Champion Hurdle in 1927 but, in over nine decades, just one horse has won both races. That horse, or mare, was Dawn Run who, in 1984, won the Champion Hurdle – as part of a unique treble, which also included the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown and the Grande Course de Haies d’Auteil – and, in 1986, snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Dawn Run never ran in the Grand National; sadly, she suffered a broken neck during a fall in the Grande Course de Haies d’Auteil later in 1986.

However, two horses have won the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National. In fact, the first of them, Golden Miller won both races in 1934 – the year in he recorded the third of his five consecutive wins in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and broke the course record at Aintree – and remains the only horse to do so in the same season. The second, L’Escargot, won the Cheltenham Gold Cup two years running, in 1970 and 1971, before denying Red Rum his third consecutive win in the Grand National, in 1975.

No horse may have ever won the Champion Hurdle, Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National, but one man who did was the late Fred Winter; in fact, he won all three races as a jockey and as a trainer.