To the majority of sports fans in the U.S., the words “Greatest show on turf” are normally associated with the St. Louis Rams team that dazzled the NFL between 1999 and 2001.
Across the Atlantic, however, the monicker applies not to football or soccer but horse racing—and specifically to the Cheltenham Festival.
Britain’s biggest horse racing festival, Cheltenham is to jump racing what the Belmont Stakes or Kentucky Derby are to U.S. horse racing.
The four-day festival gets underway on Tuesday and culminates in the Gold Cup on Friday, the day’s fourth race and one of the most prestigious events in jump racing along with the Grand National—which is scheduled for next month.
While the Grand National remains Britain’s biggest single betting race, over four days the Cheltenham Festival dwarfs the amount of money staked on most racing events across the world.
According to industry data published by bookmakers Ladbrokes, last year 25 of the bookmaker’s top 40 races of the year by turnover were among the festival’s 28 events.
Over 250,000 spectators are expected to descend on the racecourse over the next four days, with the festival set to go ahead despite worries about coronavirus.
As of Tuesday morning, over 300 cases of the virus have been reported in the U.K., along with five deaths and 18 people recovered, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Organizers, however, have insisted the festival will go ahead, unlike 2001 when it was canceled amid the so-called “foot-and-mouth” crisis.
Here’s all you need to know ahead of the Greatest Show on Turf.
What is the Cheltenham Festival?
The festival is arguably the biggest horse racing event of its kind in the U.K and is a staple of the British sporting calendar.
The festival consists of 28 races across four days, half of which are Grade 1 events, and its prize money is second only to that of the Grand National—which will be run next month.
For wanting of a better comparison, Cheltenham is the Belmont Stake to the Grand National’s Kentucky Derby.
Unlike the three Triple Crown races, however, horses at Cheltenham compete on a course featuring either fences or hurdles, as opposed to a flat track.
Additionally, horses race on turf as opposed to dirt, as is the case in the Belmont Stakes and the Kentucky Derby.
When is the Cheltenham Festival?
The 2020 edition of the festival gets underway on Tuesday, March 10, and runs until Friday, March 13.
As usual, each day of the meeting features seven races, with the first starting at 1:30 p.m. local time (9:30 a.m. EDT) and the last getting underway at 5:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m. EDT).
Each of the four days has its own name. Tuesday is Champion Day, Wednesday is Ladies Day, while Thursday and Friday are known as St. Patrick’s Thursday and Gold Cup Day.
Where is the Cheltenham Festival?
The festival takes place at the Cheltenham Racecourse in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, approximately 96 miles north-west of London.
The 67,500-capacity racecourse first hosted the Cheltenham Festival in its current guise in 1911, although the event itself dates all the way back to 1860.
The racecourse has two different courses—the Old Course and the New Course—both of which are used during the festival.
Where to watch Cheltenham in the U.S.
None of the traditional U.S. channels broadcast the festival on TV in the U.S., but a livestream of all the 28 races will be available via TVG.com.
Cheltenham Festival Tuesday schedule (All times EDT)
Champion Day features seven races, four of which are Grade 1 events
- 9:30 a.m. The Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle*
- 10:10 a.m. The Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Steeple Chase*
- 10:50 a.m. The Ultima Handicap Steeple Chase
- 11:30 a.m. The Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy*
- 12:10 p.m. The Mares’ Hurdle*
- 12:50 p.m. The Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase
- 1:30 p.m. The National Hunt Steeple Chase Challenge Cup
*Denotes Grade 1 races