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Sports Then and Now

Cheltenham Festival Has Rich Tradition

Posted on September 03, 2017 by John Harris

CheltenhamFirst held in 1860 as the National Hunt Chase, the Cheltenham Festival is a top-rated horse racing competition on the United Kingdom calendar with prize money second only to the Grand National.

Often held around St. Patrick’s Day and popular with Irish visitors, the festival features several Grade 1 races and is one of the few times during the year where many of the top British and Irish trained horses compete. The festival also includes one of the two biggest Hunter Chases of the season, the Foxhunters’, which is run on the Friday of the event.

The Cheltenham Festival is especially noted for its atmosphere, most notably the “Cheltenham roar”, which refers to the enormous noise generated by the crowd as the starter raises the tape for the first race of the festival.

The Stayers Hurdle, which was first ran in 1912, is the oldest race in the festival that is currently a championship race. The Gold Cup, established in 1924, was originally a supporting race for the County Hurdle, which was the main event of the first day, but that eventually changed as it became a championship race. The Champion Hurdle started in 1927 and the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 1959, were both championship races from the time they were introduced.

For more than a decade, the leading jockey during the Cheltenham Festival has been Ruby Walsh. The Irish jockey has been the top jockey at the Festival 11 times since 2004. In 2017 he claimed four race victories and has been in the saddle for 56 career victories in the festival.

Though Walsh won four races in 2017, the winning jockey for the Gold Cup race was Robbie Power aboard the horse Sizing John. A 7-1 betting choice, Sizing John finished two and three quarter lengths ahead of Minella Rocco in the showpiece race.

Walsh has finished as the top jockey at Cheltenham each of the last five years. He has twice (2009 and 2016) won seven races during the festival.

In 1987, 21-year-old Gee Armytage became the first female jockey to win a race at the festival. She won the Kim Muir Challenge Cup and the Mildmay of Flete Challenge Cup on a horse named Gee-A.

The Cheltenham Racecourse still has several races scheduled for the remainder of 2017, including the Showcase on October 27-28. The 2018 Cheltenham Festival will be held on March 13-16.

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