Cheltenham Racecourse

Address:
Prestbury Park, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL50 4SH - Map & Directions
Telephone:
01242 513014
The Centaur
The Centaur (andy dolman / geograph.org)

Situated in a natural amphitheatre in Prestbury Park, just below the Cotswold Hills, Cheltenham racecourse is also the venue for the annual Wychwood music festival. A National Hunt course, the first ever race took place at the current site in 1818, although there was racing in other parts of Cheltenham prior to this. Cheltenham racecourse is most famous for the ‘Cheltenham Festival’, a four-day yearly racing event held in March, and it holds the largest tented village of any kind at all sporting events across the country.

Despite having a huge capacity of 67,500, in 2013 there was a £45million redevelopment at Cheltenham, during which a new 6,500 capacity grandstand was erected including a brand new royal box. The Tattersalls grandstand was opened in 1960 due to a huge increase in crowds, however this was knocked down in 1997 and replaced with an assortment of tiered viewing and restaurants. The main grandstand was built in 1979 before being extended on two separate occasions during the 1980s.

Whilst the track has its own steam railway station, the national rail network no longer uses it so those travelling by train must travel to Cheltenham station, which is served by direct trains from several major cities including Birmingham and London. Located just two miles from the course, the station is well within walking distance but also has regular bus links to the racecourse, with a special service shuttle bus put on during the festival. Those travelling by car should leave the M5 at Junction 11 and the directions to the course are well signposted along the A40. Other than during the festival, there is free parking at the course for all visitors.

Cheltenham Racecourse
Cheltenham Racecourse During the Festival

Ticket Prices

Considering the superb facilities and high quality racing, the ticket prices at Cheltenham are incredibly generous. A regular entry ticket to the grounds is just £9, with a club ticket costing as little as £25 for regular race days. Cheltenham also offers a ‘young person’ club ticket for those aged between 18 and 24, costing just £20.

Under-18s are permitted in free of charge when accompanied by a full paying adult and there is a significant discount in ticket prices when buying for a group of 15 or more. A normal grandstand ticket during the Cheltenham festival starts at just £22.

The Course

There are three separate courses at the temple of National Hunt racing that is Cheltenham – the Old Course and the New Course that run alongside each other, and a cross-country course in the middle.

The cross-country course, by far the least used of the trio, goes round in a figure of eight shape, whilst the two National Hunt courses are oval shaped. Both left-handed, the Old and New courses accommodate for both steeplechase and hurdle races, with each varying in length. The Old steeplechase course is 11½f with nine fences whilst the hurdles is 1m4f and has just six flights.

A Tale of Two Courses

It’s the New and the Old Course which see the bulk of the action at Cheltenham and on the face of it they appear quite similar to each other. Closer inspection, however, reveals distinct differences between the two which both offer horses a unique test of their abilities.

Hurdles races on the New Course for instance tend to suit more inexperienced jumpers as there are only two hurdles in the final three quarter miles. While it avoids tired legs having to tackle the jumps, it does mean that the New Course places extra emphasis on stamina and it’s common to see horses setting off for home just a little too soon.

When it comes to steeplechasing, the New Course is almost constantly on the turn, sharp and galloping in nature, with 10 fences and a challenging uphill finish. Much like during hurdles races, successful horses tend to be blessed with exceptional power and stamina due to the steepness of the final stages on the 1m 4f circuit.

The Old Course on the other hand has more of a focus on speed, as it’s the distinctly quicker of the two. Squeezing into gaps as they emerge to maintain momentum is vital as a result so jockeys are regularly in need of a good race here and the best in the game tend to flourish. Dwell too much and particularly in large-field races, the chance is likely to pass them by.

A True Jumping Test

The fences at Cheltenham, regardless of the course and occasion, are some of the most challenging and unforgiving you’ll find in the UK. You rarely get away with riding an average jumper here and all it takes is one small mistake for dreams of winning to go up in smoke. While it’s important that the home of National Hunt racing offers a real challenge, there’s always a trade-off between that and the safety of both horse and jockey and the fairness of the test. Most feel Cheltenham has things just about right.

The penultimate fence on the Old Course has long been the most notorious Cheltenham has had to offer. A high fall rate led to its relocation towards the bottom of the hill in 2010 after Clerk of the Course Simon Claisse called it an “unreasonable challenge”.

Initially a successful move, over time the fall rate began to slowly creep up so in 2016 the feared obstacle moved eight yards further from the turn. Three years later, after consulting with jockeys, it edged forward another 10 yards, equivalent to two strides, leaving a gap of 110 yards between the final two fences.

It remains to be seen if this proves to be the optimal layout but we’d not be overly surprised to see some reconfiguration at some point yet again in the future.

Major Meetings at Cheltenham

The Cheltenham Festival
A Race Takes Place During the Cheltenham Festival

The Cheltenham Festival is arguably the biggest event of the racing calendar, alongside The Grand National. Hosted annually in March, the festival coincides with St Patrick’s Day so is always a very popular event among Irish visitors. The headline race at Cheltenham is the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which always takes place on the fourth day and has been in place since 1924. A long and gruelling race, the Gold Cup covers 3m2½f and includes 22 fences.

The other main race is the Champion Hurdle, which was introduced in 1927. The festival used to last three days but that was increased to four in 2005 and there is now one championship race per day. With a total of around 26 races throughout the festival, and approximately half of those Group Ones, the racing is unsurpassed, with tremendous quality AND quantity. Ruby Walsh is Cheltenham’s most successful jockey, having had 31 winners at the festival between 2004 and 2014.

Dining and Hospitality

There are 12 restaurants in total at Cheltenham, all different in terms of menu and pricing, with the costs ranging between £40 and £540 + VAT per head. Similarly, there are also four separate type of private hospitality, which range between £120 and £360 + VAT per person.

Cheltenham racecourse is home to the Centaur, an auditoria and conference centre, which can house up to 4,000 people and is able to be hired out for business conferences, weddings and private functions. The University of Gloucestershire regularly use Cheltenham racecourse for their graduation ceremonies, as well as a place to host their summer balls.

Map

Swap Start/End

Grudge Matches