Every sport has its blue riband event, the one in which its very finest proponents take part and where the best of the best can show their class.
In football it’s the World Cup, in athletics it’s the Olympic Games – and in National Hunt racing it’s the Cheltenham Festival.
Held early in March each year in the normally quiet Gloucestershire spa town of Cheltenham, it’s four days that see it transformed into the centre of the horse racing world.
While the Grand National a few weeks later may be the race that gets all of the biggest headlines, and offers some of the biggest prizes, a Cheltenham win is the one that owners and trainers really want to achieve.
Of the many Grade 1 races that are run over the festival’s four days, it’s the Gold Cup that’s the most prestigious of all.
With over £350,000 for the winner it can also make the name of both jockey and trainer in a way that no other race over the jumps can quite manage.
Of the hundreds and thousands who flock to Cheltenham every year a great portion of them travel from Ireland and Irish horses tend to do very well indeed.
The fact that the festival generally also coincides with St. Patrick’s Day only goes to make the party atmosphere even more intense.
The history of the Cheltenham festival is a long one, going back as far as 1860 when the National Hunt Chase was first held in Market Harborough.
It subsequently moved to Warwick racecourse but has been held at Cheltenham’s Prestbury Park from 1911 until the present day.
Over the decades there have been many famous winners of its biggest race, with perhaps the most remarkable feat in Gold Cup history being the five victories achieved by Golden Miller winning five years running from 1932 until 1936.
In fact, so legendary is the horse that there’s even a Golden Miller Way in the town.
Naturally, gambling is a huge part of the festival and even though it’s still a few weeks away already many Cheltenham betting offers are starting to appear with many online bookmakers hoping to encourage racing fans to secure a good early price.
Looking at the four biggest races in the festival, for Tuesday’s Champions Hurdle the early favourites are Honeysuckle and Pentland Hills while for the Champion Chase on Wednesday, it’s the exotically named Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi who seem to be favoured.
Thursday’s main race is the Ryanair Chase with A Plus Tard being widely fancied and on Friday in the Gold Cup there’s quite a lot of confidence that last year’s winner Al Boum Photo could well do it again.
Kemboy is another strong contender having beaten Al Boum Photo in Ireland’s Punchestown Gold Cup in May last year, giving jockey Ruby Walsh the perfect end to his career.
Tickets for the final day on Friday Cheltenham tend to sell out fairly quickly but there are usually some left on the previous three days.
Finding accommodation can be a little more tricky as it tends to get booked up to a year in advance. So maybe if you’re planning to visit this March, you’ll have to make it a day trip.
But, however long you go for, remember to prepare for the weather. Snow’s not unknown for at least one of the days – but hopefully you’ll have the pleasure of a few winners to keep you warm.