5 facts about… the Cheltenham Festival

The annual four-day meeting is arguably the highlight of the horse-racing calendar, with 230,000 people expected to attend and millions on offer in prize money

Horse Race

Since 1911 the National Hunt Meeting has been in Cheltenham. The popularity of the event and its location means it is now more commonly known as the Cheltenham Festival. With the 2014 festival underway, the wait for the centrepiece race, the Gold Cup, is almost over.

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As we wait to see who will be victorious, here are five facts about the history of the premier racing event…

1) The first Cheltenham Gold Cup was held in 1819, but as a three-mile race with no jumps. The modern version with jumps was first ran in 1924 with the winner taking home £685. (The 2014 winner will pocket £575,000.)

2) The Gold Cup has only been cancelled three times in its history, outside of the two World Wars. A frozen course forced cancellation in 1931, and flooding stopped races in 1937. The entire Cheltenham Festival was cancelled in 2001 due to a local outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

3) The growing popularity of the races at Cleeve Hill in Cheltenham did not please everyone. Local parish priest, Francis Close, began preaching about the evils of racing and gambling in 1829 and he inspired such hatred for the races that the grandstand at Cleeve Hill was burnt to the ground in an arson attack. The venue was changed to Prestbury Park, its current location.

4) History has been made already in the 2014 Festival as Quevega became the only horse to win six times. What’s more, she achieved the victories in consecutive seasons. Her latest win surpassed Golden Miller’s five consecutive races between 1932 and 1936. (Golden Miller was also the first horse to win the Gold Cup and the Grand National in the same season.)

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5) Norton’s Coin achieved a record of his win in 1990, when he became the longest-odds winner of the Gold Cup. Starting at 100-1, no one expected Norton’s Coin and jockey Graham McCourt to be a contender but they stunned the crowd, and the favourite Desert Orchid, to clinch the win.