At Prestbury Park in March, the famous festival of horseracing takes place. Cheltenham Festival is four days of top class jump racing against the backdrop of the Cotswold Hills in Gloucestershire. For those four days it also becomes the second home to thousands of Irish race goers who travel across the “little pond” to England to follow the stars of jump racing. Even in Ireland, everything grinds to a halt for Cheltenham week. Of course, the fact that St Patrick’s Day usually falls during Cheltenham Festival week helps greatly.
One personal story we know of is a racehorse owned by a syndicate of neighbours in tiny village in the West of Ireland who travelled across to Cheltenham. He was not in the famous Gold Cup but it was a race bigger than he had competed in before. Hopes were high and the proud owner’s bets were laid on, but sadly, their boy was pulled up as he swallowed his tongue but as his famous jockey A.P McCoy said he was “travelling well” meaning the horse had been running on well until that point. This story is just one of hundreds that are part of the festival’s melting pot of hard luck stories.
There is style to be had on and off the racecourse with lovely ladies parading their wonderful colourful outfits and hats on Ladies Day in the parade rings and stands while on the course sleek jump-bred racehorses, fit with their coats clipped dance with their necks arched waiting for the start. Cheltenham Festival is the pinnacle of racing for many small home-bred racehorses and trainers and those from the elite training stables. The festival atmosphere is unique and electrifying and hearts are broken and mended in the space of a couple of races.
The holy grail of jump racing is the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which is a Grade One National Hunt steeplechase open to horses aged five years and over and is run over a distance of 3 miles and two and a half furlongs with twenty-two formidable fences to be jumped. It is one of the most valuable races with prize money totalling £475,000 and is contested by Irish and English horses. It is the highlight of the week and for horse owners and trainers the culmination of years of worry, joy, blood, sweat and tears. Breeding a thoroughbred is just the start. The horses must have the right stuff of courage, heart and a mighty leap to race and win. They are expertly trained and cared for and tried at local hunt races, point to points and brought up through the grades. It is a proud moment for all connections to see the horse with the glorious Cheltenham turf beneath his feet, a slight sweat on neck and flanks, jockey crouched low over his neck as he soars over the fences. The famous “Cheltenham roar” of the crowd carries the horses and jockeys, spurring them on.
For any visitors to Gloucestershire at this time of year, a trip to the races is a must. There is plenty of hospitality on offer and a trip to this to this famous sporting makes for a splendid day out.