Cheltenham Festival 2023 guide: When is it, times, big races, top horses, trainers, jockeys and more
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's 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 2023 Festival takes place from Tuesday March 14 to Friday March 17 inclusive.
There's 14 Grade 1 races crammed into four days of racing and traditionally Tuesday is Champion Day, Wednesday is Ladies 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.
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. It's almost as if it's staged but it isn't. This is spontaneity. This is excitement. THIS is Cheltenham. 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 17, 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 of 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 A Plus Tard, who should be back to defend his title in March. Who could win the Cheltenham Gold Cup: Galopin Des Champs is the current ante-post favourite, closely followed by Grand National winner Noble Yeats, A Plus Tard, Bravemansgame, Stattler, Conflated and the 2021 winner Minella Indo.
The Champion Hurdle
Day One - Tuesday, March 14, 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. Last year's winner, the darling of Ireland, Honeysuckle, defended the title she also won in 2021, but lost her unbeaten record later in the year. She is expected to make her swansong at the 2023 Cheltenham Festival, but will be avoiding the Champion Hurdle in favour of the Mares' Hurdle.
Who could win the Champion Hurdle: Constitution Hill, State Man, Vauban, Epatante and I Like To Move It
The Queen Mother Champion Chase
Day Two - Wednesday, March 15, 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, giving trainer Willie Mullins his first victory in this race, and should be back to defend the title this time. However, he came up short in the Clarence House in December and now has plenty of competition in the ante-post market.
Who could win the Champion Chase: Energumene, Editeur Du Gite, Edwardstone, Blue Lord and Gentleman de Mee.
Day Three - Thursday, March 16, 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.
The 2021 and 2022 winner Allaho will sadly not go for the hat-trick in 2023 after suffering an abdominal bleed which ruled him out of the Festival.
Who could win the Ryanair Chase: Shishkin, Blue Lord, Fury Road and Janidil
Day Three - Thursday, March 16, 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. Flooring Porter won the race for Ireland in 2021 and 2022 and is yet another defending champion set to return this year.
Who could win the Stayers' Hurdle: Blazing Khal, Flooring Porter, Teahupoo, Home By The Lee, Marie's Rock, Gold Tweet
Other Cheltenham Festival races of note
Day One - Tuesday, March 14
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 15
13:30 - Ballymore 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 16
13:30 - Turners Novices' Chase (Grade 1) 16:10 - Craft Irish Whiskey Co. Plate (Grade 3) 16:50 - Mares Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2)
Day Four - Friday, March 17
13:30 - JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1) 14:10 - McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) 14:50 - Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Race (Grade 1) 16:50 - Mrs Paddy Power Mares' Steeple Chase (Grade 2)
There have been many great trainers throughout the history of the Festival. Here is the pick of the current crop.
The master of Closutton has become a Cheltenham phenomenon. A record 88 winners have been sent out from Willie Mullins' County Carlaw yard and he looks certain to raise the bar even higher in March.
With the quality of thoroughbred at his disposal it would be a surprise if anyone else becomes the first to train 100 winners at the Festival and at recent rates that may only be two or three years away. 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's also won four Champion Hurdles, five Ryanair Chases, four Arkle Trophies, two Stayers' Hurdles, seven Supreme Novices' Hurdles, nine Mares' Hurdles and a Queen Mother Champion Chase 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 2022 Cheltenham Festival with a staggering 10 wins.
Leading fancies at Cheltenham 2023:
Tuesday, March 14: Facile Vega (Supreme), Il Etait Temps (Supreme); El Fabiolo (Arkle) Dysart Dyanmo (Arkle); State Man (Champion Hurdle) Vauban (Champion Hurdle); Brandy Love (Mares' Hurdle), Echoes In Rain (Mares' Hurdle) Wednesday, March 15: Gaelic Warrior (Ballymore); Energumene (Champion Chase); Sir Gerhard (Brown Advisory); It's For Me (Champion Bumper) Thursday, March 16: El Fabiolo (Turners' Novice) Appreciate It (Turners' Novice); Blue Lord (Ryanair Chase), Janidil (Ryanair Chase); Klassical Dream (Stayers' Hurdle); Ashroe Diamond (Mares Novices') Friday, March 17: Lossiemouth (Triumph Hurdle); Galopin Des Champs (Gold Cup); Allegorie De Vassy (Mares Novices')
Henderson began training in 1978 and has now trained an incredible 72 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 is the favourite to win the Champion Hurdle in 2023.
Leading fancies at Cheltenham 2023:
Tuesday, March 14: Jonbon (Arkle); Constitution Hill (Champion Hurdle); Epatane (Mares' Hurdle) Marie's Rock (Mares' Hurdle) Wednesday, March 15: No Ordinary Joe (Coral Cup) Thursday, March 16: Luccia (Mares' Novice Hurdle); Shishkin (Ryanair Chase); Marie's Rock (Stayers' Hurdle) Friday, March 17: Shishkin (Gold Cup)
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 46 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. However, Nicholls has drawn a blank at the last two Cheltenham Festivals.
Leading fancies at Cheltenham 2023:
Tuesday, March 14: Tahmuras (Supreme) Wednesday, March 15: Hermes Allen (Ballymore Novices Hurdle); Threeunderthrufive (Ultima Handicap Chase); Stage Star (Brown Advisory) Thursday, March 16: Stage Star (Turners Novices'); Hitman (Ryanair Chase) Friday, March 17: Hermes Allen (Albert Bartlett); Bravemansgame (Gold Cup)
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 34-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.
Leading fancies at Cheltenham 2023:
Tuesday, March 14: Doctor Bravo (Supreme Novices'); The Goffer (Ultima Handicap); Queens Brook (Close Brothers) Wednesday, March 15: Gerri Colombe (Brown Advisory), Mighty Potter (Brown Advisory); Delta Work (Glenfarclas Chase), Galvin (Glenfarclas Chase) Thursday, March 16: Mighty Potter (Turners Novices'); Teahupoo (Stayers' Hurdle); Conflated (Ryanair Chase) Fury Road (Ryanair Chase) Friday, March 17: Three Card Brag (Albert Bartlett); Conflated (Gold Cup)
Henry De Bromhead
De Bromhead did not train his first Festival winner until 2010 but has now chalked up 18 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 50-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.
Leading fancies at Cheltenham 2023:
Tuesday, March 14: Inthepocket (Supreme); Honeysuckle (Mares' Hurdle) Wednesday, March 15: Inthepocket (Ballymore Novices' Hurdle) Thursday, March 16: Journey With Me (Turners Novices'); Envoi Allen (Ryanair Chase); Foxy Girl, Ladybank and Magical Zoe (Mares' Novices') Friday, March 17: Monty's Star and Hiddenvalley Lake (Albert Bartlett); A Plus Tard (Gold Cup)
Definitely one for the future, Skelton only 'graduated' to winning Festival races as recently as 2019 and at the moment has four winners to his name. His time will come. Note that three of his four winners were delivered in the unbelievably competitive County Handicap Hurdle. Surely it is just a matter of time before the Alcester handler is winning championship races, and anything he saddles in Cheltenham week merits respect.
Leading fancies at Cheltenham 2023:
Tuesday, March 14: Punta Del Este (Juvenile Handicap Hurdle) Wednesday, March 15: Galia Des Liteaux (Brown Advisory); Langer Dan (Coral Cup); Nube Negra (Champion Chase) Thursday, March 16: Midnight River (Cheltenham Plate); She's A Saint and Kateira (Mares' Novices') Friday, March 17: Punta Del Este (Triumph Hurdle); Pembroke (McCoy Contractors) Protektorat (Gold Cup); Galia Des Liteaux (Mares' Chase)
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 2023.
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 not surprise then that, post-Ruby's retirement, he has been firing in the winners, given such strong ammunition to sit on. Now with 22 successes to his name, that number can only grow and grow, given that the 32-year-old has plenty of years left in the saddle. Townend won the leading jockey at the 20220 and 2022 Cheltenham Festivals with five winners a piece.
Biggest Cheltenham winner: Al Boum Photo (Gold Cup - 2019 and 2020)
Last year's big Cheltenham winners: Energumene (Champion Chase - 2022); Vauban (Triumph Hurdle - 2022); Allaho (Ryanair Chase - 2022); Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (Sir Gerhard -2022)
What a four years at Cheltenham it has been for the 33-year-old from County Tipperary. 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 landed the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle in the same year. The 2020 Cheltenham Festival saw her partner 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. Following all of that, we cannot fail to mention her outstanding achievement of being the first woman to ride the winner of the Grand National, when she partnered Minella Times to success last April. The in 2022 she went even better landing her first Gold Cup on A Plus Tard, and another Champion Hurdle on Honeysuckle She could again be set to provide us with one of the great moments of the 2022 Festival, when back on board the unbeaten Honeysuckle, in defence of their Champion Hurdle crown.
Biggest Cheltenham winners: A Plus Tard (Gold Cup -2022); Honeysuckle (Champion Hurdle - 2021 and 2022)
Biggest Cheltenham winners of 2022: A Plus Tard (Gold Cup -2022); Honeysuckle (Champion Hurdle - 2022); Bob Olinger (Turners Novices' - 2022)
Much like brother Dan, here is a man for the future. Skelton has ridden three of those winners trained by his brother to win, plus 2019 Queen Mother Champion Chase scorer Politologue, for Paul Nicholls. His tally of four 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.
Biggest Cheltenham winner: Politologue (Champion Chase 2019)
Last year's big Cheltenham winners: None
Jockey to watch: Harry Cobden
Number one jockey at Paul Nicholls' Ditcheat yard and certainly has a wise head on young shoulders. At just 24 years old 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. He is expected to be on board strong prospects Bravemansgame, Hermes Allen, Tahmuras and Facile Vega.
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