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A guide to Cheltenham Festival’s feature races

With 28 races run over a course of four days, and half of those marked as Grade One races – the highest level of national hunt racing – the Cheltenham Festival is the pinnacle of the UK’s horse racing calendar. The 2021 edition is just around the corner, with the famous Prestbury Park opening its doors between Tuesday 16th and Friday 19th March. Ahead of this year’s Cheltenham Festival, and before you check out all the leading markets on the betting exchange, here are the list of the feature races on each day to look out for.

Day 1: Champion Hurdle

The Champion Hurdle was first raced in 1927, when Blaris was the inaugural winner, landing a purse of £365. These days, the prize pot stands at a rather more handsome £450,000. The race is open to horses aged four years and older, and is run over a distance of two miles and half a furlong (3,298 metres).

As its name suggests, the Champion Hurdle is the most prestigious hurdles race, and while it’s the first feature race of the Cheltenham Festival, it’s the final leg of the Triple Crown of Hurdling (which also consists of Newcastle’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle, and the Christmas Hurdle, held at Kempton).

Epatante won last year’s renewal, cementing Nicky Henderson and JP McManus’ names in the history books as the most successful trainer and owner, respectively. As things stand, Epatante is the favourite to win back-to-back races.

Day 2: Queen Mother Champion Chase

Established in 1959, under its original name of the National Hunt Two-Mile Champion Chase, it wasn’t until 1980 race that the Champion Chase was given its current guise – in celebration of the Queen Mother’s 80thbirthday and in recognition of her support to jump racing. The first ever winner of the Champion Chase was Quita Que, while in 1980, Another Dolly was named the victor following disqualification to Chinrullah.

The Champion Chase is open to horses aged five years and older, and is run on the Old Course over a distance of almost two miles (3,199 metres). Last year, Paul Nicholls entered the record books, becoming the third trainer to successfully land six winners in the Champion Chase, as Politologue won against the odds. Willie Mullins’ Chacun Pour Soi is currently the favourite for the 2021 renewal. However, if Henderson (Altior) or Nicholls (Politologue) are successful, they will go down as the most successful trainer in the history of the Chase.

Day 3: Stayers’ Hurdle

The feature race on day three of the Cheltenham Festival is the Stayers’ Hurdle, vastly considered the leading long-distance hurdles race in the national hunt calendar – raced over a distance of two miles and seven furlongs (4,785 metres). The race is open to horses aged four years and older.

The Stayers’ was founded in 1912, and initially run over a distance of three miles – the prize money for the inaugural winner, Aftermath, was £100. While these days, the winner can expect to receive in excess of £300,000, and last year’s victor was 50/1 outsider Lisnagar Oscar. 2019 winner Paisley Park is the favourite for this year’s race, and will look to overcome the disappointment of finishing seventh last year.

Take a look at the record books for the Stayers’ and you’ll find a common theme – Big Bucks. The horse famously run the race four years in succession, between 2009 and 2012, making him the most successful. In turn, making Ruby Walsh the most successful jockey (he also won the race in 2017, on Nichols Canyon) and those four wins make Nicholls the leading trainer.

Day 4: Gold Cup

Of course, the pinnacle of the Cheltenham Festival, is the namesake race on Gold Cup Day, the final day of the meeting. The blue riband event was established in 1924 and boasts names in its roll call of honours, such as Arkle, Best Mate, Golden Miller, Kauto Star and more recently, Al Boum Photo, who will look to make it a hat-trick of wins in the Gold Cup this year.

Run on the New Course, over a distance of three miles and two-and-a-half furlongs (5,294 metres), there are 22 fences to be jumped, and the Gold Cup is open to horses aged five years and older. The most valuable non-handicap race in the UK, the Gold Cup’s total purse stands at an incredible £625,000.

But did you know it was originally run as a flat race? Inaugurated in 1819, contested over three miles and with just 100 Guineas awarded to the winner, Spectre, it wasn’t until 1924 that the Cheltenham Gold Cup was considered a jumps race – and run on the Old Course.