10 interesting facts about Cheltenham
The Cheltenham Festival is the jewel in horse racing’s crown and the showpiece meeting of the National Hunt season. Taking place in March each year, thousands upon thousands of racing fans descend upon jump racing HQ to marvel at the equine talent that is on show.
The talents and heroics of the horses speak for themselves at Prestbury Park, but here we have 10 interesting facts about Cheltenham that perhaps you didn’t know.
1 – 280,000
That is the record number of fans on average that passed through the gates of Prestbury Park during the four days of the Cheltenham Festival in 2022.
Gold Cup day sold out in record time ahead of the 2023 Festival and keen to enhance the spectator experience, 5,000 has been taken off the maximum capacity for both the Thursday and Friday of the meeting.
2 – All aboard!
It is no surprise that due to the hefty number of spectators there is plenty of pressure put on the local transport hubs.
In a normal year it is thought that around 135,000 people will use the town’s train station over the four days with Bristol and Birmingham both easily accessible by train from Cheltenham.
However, with industrial action expected to hit rail services during the Festival, Cheltenham has drafted in the help of National Express to make sure all racegoers arrive at Prestbury Park on time.
Services direct to Cheltenham Racecourse will be available from over 70 locations across England and Wales.
3 – Anyone for a drink?
It is believed that at least 8,000 gallons of tea and coffee are served each year, which is unsurprising with gates opening at 10.30am each morning, while for those looking for something stronger, over 250,000 pints of Guinness are poured over the four days.
4 – Food glorious food
Five tons of cheese are apparently eaten during the course of the Cheltenham Festival, while nine tons of potatoes are consumed and five tons of salmon are also devoured in the various executive boxes and hospitality suites.
For those with a more luxurious palate, Clare Smyth, who is from Northern Ireland and the UK’s only chef with three Michelin stars, will be on hand to rustle up some tasty treats, while the Chez Roux restaurant will host up to 500 guests a day across the four days.
You don’t want to drink on an empty stomach after all…
5 – Cancelled!
The Cheltenham Festival was put on hold during the war when attentions were diverted to more pressing matters. The Festival was also cancelled in 2001 due to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain.
The meeting had initially been postponed to April but when a case of the disease was confirmed locally, putting the racecourse within an exclusion zone, all racing had to be called off.
In 2008, the second day of the festival was cancelled due to heavy storms. The races scheduled for that day were instead run on the third and final days, with a feast of action and a return to the heady heights of a three-day Festival.
6 – Ruby, Ruby, Ruby
Ruby Walsh is the most successful jockey at the Cheltenham Festival having returned to the winner’s enclosure 59 times during his long and distinguished career in the saddle.
He picked up the Festival leading jockey award for most winners in the week 11 times and the chants of ‘Ruby, Ruby, Ruby’ to the tune of the Kaiser Chiefs became a regular sound at Prestbury Park as punters revelled in the success of the Irishman.
Walsh won the Gold Cup twice, but is also just as famous for his final flight falls aboard Annie Power and Benie Des Dieux, who were both just one jump away from certain victories in the Mares’ Hurdle.
7 – Quevega
Six of Walsh’s 59 victories came courtesy of Willie Mullins’ superstar mare Quevega who is the winning-most horse at the Cheltenham Festival.
She won the opening day’s Mares’ Hurdle six years in a row between 2009 and 2014 and now has a bar named after her at Cheltenham Racecourse.
8 – Golden Miller
Before Quevega there was Golden Miller, who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup five times in the 1930s and is the only horse to win the blue riband on more than three occasions.
9 – Staying power
Although the Gold Cup gets all the headlines, it is the Thursday feature – The Stayers’ Hurdle – that is the oldest race at the Cheltenham Festival.
The three-mile hurdle was first run in 1912 and has been won by some of the the most well-known and best horses around over the years.
At the 2012 Cheltenham Festival, Big Buck’s made history by winning four consecutive Stayers’ Hurdles, confirming his status as the greatest staying hurdler in history
10 – £100 million
Overall the Cheltenham Festival is worth over £100 million to the local authority as the spa town welcomes visitors from across the globe.
Hotels book up months in advance and prices skyrocket in the build-up to the Cheltenham Festival.
The Festival is often an annual pilgrimage for equine disciples from the Emerald Isle with visitors from Ireland accounting for over a quarter of the daily crowd.
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