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Cheltenham Festival 2024 guide: When is it, times, big races, top horses, trainers, jockeys and more

The Cheltenham Festival is racing’s Olympics, but fortunately we don’t have to wait four years for it. Planet Sport delivers our guide to the big races, trainers, jockeys and more in 2024.

For four days in March, the world watches on as our equine superstars, prepared and accompanied by some very skilled jockeys, do battle for numerous different championship categories.

It's Great Britain versus Ireland with occasional raiders of other nationalities throwing their hats in the ring. But it's more than just national pride that's at stake.

It's about a place in sporting history and it's a chance when the small stable might just have that one horse that can topple the might and clout of the big hitters.

Here is Planet Sport's essential guide to the stuff you should know about the Cheltenham Festival, so you can sound like an expert.

 

When is the Cheltenham Festival?

The 2024 Festival takes place from Tuesday March 12 to Friday March 15 inclusive.

There's 14 Grade 1 races crammed into four days of racing and traditionally Tuesday is Champion Day, Wednesday is Ladies Day now renamed Style Day, Thursday is St Patrick's Thursday and Friday is Gold Cup Day.

During the four day Festival, the first race will always start at 13:30 and the last race goes off at 17:30, with the feature races of each day usually at 15:30. They've kept timings nice and simple.

But be aware these are rough times, as horses don't own wrist watches and don't tend to like lining up in order on time. So you still might have a bit more time to get your bets on. Thoroughbreds, eh!

 

Where is the Cheltenham Festival?

The Festival is staged on a quite breathtaking expanse of land called Prestbury Park, overlooked by Cleeve Hill, the gateway to the Cotswolds.

It's just a mile or so north of the spa town that is Cheltenham and is positioned right beside the A435.

 

What is The Cheltenham roar?

From the moment you walk in on day one at Cheltenham, the feel of the place makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention.

You only have to glance at the magnificent natural amphitheatre that is Prestbury Park to conjure up endless replays of great races, fabulous finishes, desperate defeats, in the mind.

It all starts traditionally at around 13.30pm on Tuesday with the 'Cheltenham Roar'.

As soon as the racecourse commentator announces "They're coming into line for the Supreme" the spectators cannot hold their delight any longer. As the tapes go up, the runners head up towards the stands for the first time to a tumultuous roar.

 

What are the big races at the Cheltenham Festival?

Let's have a look at some of the big races. Even if you are not a horse racing expert you are bound to have heard of some of these.

You can also check out all the ante-post markets ahead of the meeting by visiting Planet Sport Bet.

(Please note the horses have not been declared for the races yet, and are subject to change)

 

The Cheltenham Gold Cup

Day Four - Friday, March 15, 15:30 GMT

The biggest race of the lot, crowning the champion staying chaser and always the feature on the final day of the card. It can be a gruelling test for both horse and rider.

Some of the greatest jumps horses of all time have lifted this prize, including five-time champion Golden Miller and triple champions Arkle and Best Mate.

Current holder is Galopin Des Champs, who will be back to defend his title in March and is currently a clear favourite.

Who could win the Cheltenham Gold Cup: Galopin Des Champs is the current ante-post favourite, with Fastorslow, Gerri Colombe and Shiskin the next in the market.

Check out our Gold Cup ante-post tips.


The Champion Hurdle

Day One - Tuesday, March 12, 15:30 GMT

The feature race on day one and the championship for the speedsters, the two-mile hurdlers. Hatton's Grace, Sir Ken, Persian War, See You Then and Istabraq all won this three times each.

Nicky Henderson's star Constitution Hill cruised to victory last year, but will sadly not run at this year's Cheltenham Festival after scoping badly after a run out at Kempton two weeks before the Festival.

Who could win the Champion Hurdle: With Constitution Hill off the board, State Man is now the clear favourite, but Lossiemouth is now lurking next in the betting.. 

Check out our Champion Hurdle ante-post tips.


The Queen Mother Champion Chase

Day Two - Wednesday, March 13, 15:30 GMT

Wednesday each year sees the fastest chasers on four legs go to post for the two-mile championship over the larger obstacles.

The race is named in honour of the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who was a wonderful supporter of National Hunt racing.

This race has produced some of the most wonderful performances ever seen at the Festival, the likes of Master Minded, Moscow Flyer before him, and more recently the brilliant Sprinter Sacre and fellow dual winner Altior.

Energumene won it in 2022 and 2023, but injury denies him the chance of a hat-trick this year, so attention turns to hot favourite El Fabiolo who is unbeaten in seven and won the Dublin Chase last time out.

Who could win the Champion Chase: El Fabiolo is once again joined by regular adversary Jonbon and Edwardstone, who choked in the same race last year.

Check out our Queen Mother Champion Chase ante-post tips

 

Ryanair Chase

Day Three - Thursday, March 14, 14:50 GMT

A relatively new race to the Festival, this championship for the 'in-betweeners', those whose optimum racing distance is at around two-and-a-half miles, was inaugurated in 2005.

Only two horses, Albertas Run and Allaho have proved good enough to win the race twice. Other memorable winners have been Cue Card, Vautour and Frodon.

Envoi Allen won the race last year and will be back to defend his crown, but hopes of a third Ryanair Chase win for the brilliant Allaho have been dashed for the second year in succession after injury forced him to miss the Festival.

Who could win the Ryanair Chase: An open race with Banbridge the early favourite, but Envoi Allen and Stage Star are not far off.

 

Stayers' Hurdle

Day Three - Thursday, March 14, 15:30 GMT

While this was on the calendar from the Festival's early days, it has twice been dropped from the meeting for spells, before being rekindled.

There's no doubt that the race has taken on greater prominence since the Festival expanded to four days.

Notable winners since the dawn of the 21st Century include dual French-trained scorer Baracouda, Inglis Driver, who also won it twice, and the impressive Big Buck's who won four successive runnings from 2009-2012.

Surprise winner Sire Du Berlais stopped Flooring Porter claiming a hat-trick in the 2023 race, and both return to battle it out again, although both are big prices.

Who could win the Stayers' Hurdle: Teahupoo, who was third last year, currently leads the market, with stablemate Irish Point and Crambo jostling for position in the market.

Check out Stayers' Hurdle ante-post tips

 

Other Cheltenham Festival Grade races of note

 

Day One - Tuesday, March 12

13:30 - Supreme Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1)

14:10 - Arkle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1)

14:50 - The Ultima Handicap Steeplechase (Grade 3)

16:10 - Mares' Hurdle (Grade 1)

16:50 - Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3)

17:30 - National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup (Grade 2)


Day Two - Wednesday, March 13

13:30 - Gallagher Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1)

14:10 - Brown Advisory Novices' Steeple Chase (Grade 1)

14:50 - Coral Cup Hurdle (Grade 3)

16:50 - Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase (Grade 3)

17:30 - Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Grade 1)


Day Three - Thursday, March 14

13:30 - Turners Novices' Chase (Grade 1)

14:10 - Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3)

16:10 - Magners Plate (Grade 3)

16:50 - Mares Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2)


Day Four - Friday, March 15

13:30 - JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1)

14:10 - County Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3)

14:50 - Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Race (Grade 1)

16:50 - Mares' Steeple Chase (Grade 2)

 

Top Cheltenham Festival trainers

There have been many great trainers throughout the history of the Festival.

Here is the pick of the current crop.

 

Willie Mullins

The master of Closutton has become a Cheltenham phenomenon. A record 94 winners have been sent out from Willie Mullins' County Carlaw yard and he could break the 100-mark in March.

Mullins waited a long time to saddle his first Gold Cup winner but, like the proverbial London bus, once he did so, he struck again immediately with 2019 and 2020 winner Al Boum Photo. He landed it again in 2023 with Galopin Des Champs.

He's also won four Champion Hurdles, five Ryanair Chases, five Arkle Trophies, two Stayers' Hurdles, seven Supreme Novices' Hurdles, nine Mares' Hurdles, two Queen Mother Champion Chases and much more.

Anything saddled by this man across the four days of the Festival merits the closest of scrutiny.

Mullins was leading trainer at the 2023 Cheltenham Festival with six wins and 21 places.

 

Nicky Henderson

Henderson began training in 1978 and has now trained an incredible 73 Cheltenham Festival winners.

Of those, Long Run (2011) and Bobs Worth (2013) won the Gold Cup, while See You Then won the Champion Hurdle in 1985, '86 and '87.

There have been other brilliant performers at the Festival for him too, in the shape of dual Champion Chase winners Sprinter Sacre and another who landed the two-mile championship, Remittance Man.

Constitution Hill won the Supreme Novices' Hurdle in 2022 and the Champion Hurdle in 2023, but won't be around to defend his crown in 2024.


Paul Nicholls

Along with Henderson, Nicholls has set the standard at Cheltenham and these is no doubting his status as one of the greats.

The Ditcheat maestro was responsible for two modern greats in Kauto Star, the first horse to regain the Cheltenham Gold Cup (2007, 2009) and Denman, who won the race in 2008 and was runner-up on three further occasions.

A total of 48 Festival winners have been sent out from his yard, six of them successful in the Champion Chase, including spectacular dual winner Master Minded (2008, 2009).

He also won four successive Stayers' Hurdles with Big Buck's (2009-2012) and he has a Champion Hurdle and three Ryanair Chases on his CV.

After Nicholls drew a blank in 2021 and 2022, he finally got back to winning ways in 2023 with Stage Star and Stay Away Fay bringing home Grade 1 glory.


Gordon Elliott

One man who could seriously challenge Mullins and Henderson at the top of the Cheltenham tree is Gordon Elliott.

He was born in the year that Henderson took out a licence but has wasted no time in winning just about every big pot you can think of.

Already on the 37-winner mark at the Cheltenham Festival, Elliott saddled 2016 Gold Cup winner Don Cossack and also Tiger Roll, who has won four Festival races in addition to his two Grand Nationals.


Henry De Bromhead

De Bromhead did not train his first Festival winner until 2010 but has now chalked up 21 of them from his base at Knockeen, County Waterford.

Three of those have come in the Queen Mother Champion Chase through Sizing Europe (2011), Special Tiara (2017) and Put The Kettle On (2021).

The 51-year-old trainer also saddled a Champion Hurdle-Gold Cup double in 2021, with Honeysuckle winning the former and Minella Indo the latter.

He did it again in 2022 with Honeysuckle winning the Champion Hurdle again, and A Plus Tard lifting the Gold Cup.

Honeysuckle's swansong in 2023 saw her land the Mares' Hurdle, and Envoi Allen picked up De Bromhead second Grade 1 of last year's Cheltenham Festival.


Dan Skelton

Definitely one for the future, Skelton only 'graduated' to winning Festival races as recently as 2019 and at the moment has six winners to his name.

His time will come. Note that four of his six winners were delivered in the unbelievably competitive County Handicap Hurdle.

Surely it is just a matter of time before the Alcester handler is winning the big Grade 1 races, and anything he saddles in Cheltenham week merits respect.


Top jockeys at the Cheltenham Festival

While trainers rightly get huge recognition for preparing their horses to deliver on the big day, it's the jockeys who really grab the limelight.

For somewhere between four and nine minutes, depending on the length of the race, these men and women get the best view in the house and have their names etched in racing history as Cheltenham Festival winners.

Here are some of the best ones to watch in 2024.


Paul Townend

Townend had to wait in the wings for a long time as second jockey to the incomparable Ruby Walsh at the Willie Mullins yard.

It's no surprise then that, post-Ruby's retirement, he has been firing in the winners, given such strong ammunition to sit on.

Now with 28 successes to his name, that number can only grow and grow, given that the 33-year-old has plenty of years left in the saddle.

Townend won the leading jockey at the 2020, 2022 and 2023 Cheltenham Festivals with five winners a piece.

Last year's big Cheltenham winners: Galopin Des Champs (Gold Cup - 2023) Energumene (Champion Chase - 2023); El Fabiolo (Arkle - 2023); Lossiemouth (Triumph Hurdle - 2023); Impaire Et Passe (Ballymore Novices' Hurdle - 2023)

 

Harry Cobden

Planet Sport Bet ambassador and number one jockey at Paul Nicholls' Ditcheat yard, Cobden certainly has a wise head on young shoulders.

At just 25 years old he has already landed some big winners in National Hunt racing, including the King George VI Chase twice and guiding Politologue home in the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2020.

In 2023, he broke his four-year Cheltenham Festival drought on Stage Star who won the Turners Novices' Chase.

He took his Cheltenham tally to 48 on Stay Away Fay, who won the Albert Bartlett on the final day of the Festival.

Last year's big Cheltenham winners: Stage Star (Turners Novices -2023); Stay Away Fay (Albert Bartlett)


Rachael Blackmore

Blackmore arrived with a bang at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival and has not looked back.

Her first Festival winner came in 2019 on A Plus Tard, going on to land her first Grade 1 at the meeting, when Minella Indo claimed the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle in the same year.

The 2020 Cheltenham Festival saw her guide Honeysuckle to success in the Mares' Hurdle, and the partnership then stepped up to win the 2021 Champion Hurdle, making Blackmore the first female jockey to win hurdling's blue riband.

In all, she rode an incredible six winners at the 2021 Festival, becoming the first woman to win the Ruby Walsh Trophy for leading jockey at the meeting.

Then in 2022 she went even better landing her first Gold Cup on A Plus Tard, and another Champion Hurdle on Honeysuckle.

Honeysuckle's farewell came in 2023 and Blackmore steered her home in the Mares' Hurdle, and then claimed the Ryanair Chase on Envoi Allen.

Last year's big Cheltenham winners: Honeysuckle (Mares' Hurdle - 2023); Envoi Allen (Ryanair Chase - 2023)


Nico de Boinville

De Boinville is Nicky Henderson's stable jockey and was top jockey at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival with three wins.

He rode Coneygree to Gold Cup glory in 2015, but it's Altior who has provided him with the most success  at Cheltenham; winning the Supreme Novices' Hurdle on him in 2016, the Arkle in 2017 and the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2018 and 2019.

He teamed up with Constitution Hill to land the Supreme Novices' Hurdle (2022) and the Champion Hurdle in 2023, but sadly they won't be able to defend their crown after Paul Nicholls' leading fancy scoped badly following a poor workout at Kempton just two weeks before the Festival.

Last year's big Cheltenham winners: Constitution Hill (Champion Hurdle - 2023)


Harry Skelton

Much like brother Dan, here is a man for the future. Skelton has ridden four of those winners trained by his brother, plus 2019 Queen Mother Champion Chase scorer Politologue, for Paul Nicholls.

His tally of five is clearly a Cheltenham Festival career in its infancy, but expect to see many more before he hangs up his saddle.

A superb horseman, fabulous judge of pace and a real giver of confidence to his mounts as they approach their obstacles, whatever Dan achieves, Harry will be along for the ride.

He'll also surely pick up more Festival winners for other yards in years to come.

Last year's big Cheltenham winners: Langer Dan (Coral Cup - 2023)

 

READ MORE: Cheltenham Festival 2023 guide: When is it, times, big races, top horses, trainers, jockeys and more

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