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Cheltenham Festival History

The official title of the Cheltenham Festival is the National Hunt Meeting. This originated in 1860, when the National Hunt Chase was first held at Market Harborough and titled the Grand National Hunt, featuring the one race alongside other steeplechases. After taking place at a number of locations, including Cheltenham in 1861, the race returned to Cheltenham in 1904 and 1905. It was staged over a new course established at Prestbury Park in Cheltenham in 1902, although racing had taken place there previously. The National Hunt Meeting was held at Warwick from 1906 to 1910, but returned to Prestbury Park in 1911 and has remained there to this day. The earliest traceable reference to a "Festival" is in the Warwick Advertiser of 1907

The centrepiece Cheltenham Gold Cup, established in 1924, was the original Championship race staged at the Festival, with the Champion Hurdle being introduced in 1927, the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 1959, and finally the Stayers Hurdle, which was first run in 1972.

In 2001 the Festival was cancelled 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 of the festival.

Until 2005 the festival had traditionally been held over the course of three days, but this changed with the introduction of a fourth day, meaning there would be one championship race on each day, climaxing with the Gold Cup on the Friday. To ensure each days would still have six races, five new races were introduced. Two further races have since been added, bringing the total to 26 races overall, with grade one events including the Champion Bumper, Triumph Hurdle, Ryanair Chase, Supreme Novices' Hurdle, Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle, Arkle Challenge Trophy, RSA Chase, Champion Hurdle, World Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase and the feature race, the Gold Cup.

The festival also includes one of the two biggest Hunter Chases of the season, the Foxhunters', which is run on the Friday over the same course as the Gold Cup, and is sometimes referred to as the "amateurs' Gold Cup".

Unlike Royal Ascot and many other top flat racing events in Britain and Ireland, the Cheltenham Festival does not have a history of attracting many international contenders, though French-trained horses have done well - Baracouda being perhaps the most well-known, having landed the World Hurdle twice.

The 2010 Cheltenham Festival had the first ever running of the Ladies Charity Flat Race in aid of Cancer Research UK. The race was contested over 1 mile 5 furlongs, and all 12 amateur jockeys were female. The race was won in a photo-finish in front of a packed Cheltenham grandstand by Dublin-based Orna Madden riding Prince Picasso, finishing just ahead of fellow Irish rider Katie Doyle riding Devil To Pay, with Helen Needham riding on Mr. Wall Street in third.


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