Confused by Cheltenham? Here’s how to bluff your way through this year’s festival

If you can’t tell Ruby Walsh from your Ruby Tuesdays, we’re here to help.

Michael O'Leary knows his way around Prestbury Park. Now you can too.
Michael O'Leary knows his way around Prestbury Park. Now you can too.
Image: Joe Giddens/PA Wire/Press Association Images

OVER THE NEXT week, talk of Cheltenham will be impossible to avoid no matter where you work.

That’s all well and good if you’re mad about horse racing but what if you just want to make small talk while you’re waiting for your porridge to heat up in the microwave?

We’re here to help, so here are the basics you’ll need to bluff your way through any awkward moments. And if all else fails, just mumble something about “being off the bridle” and make a hasty exit…

It’s only horse-racing. What’s so special about it?

Yeah, yeah, yeah we know it’s only horse racing but it’s the biggest and best horse racing of the year.

The four-day Cheltenham Festival (Tuesday – Friday) is the highlight of the national hunt calendar which means you’re pretty much guaranteed to see almost all of the best horses in action.

For owners and trainers, it’s the meeting they’ve been preparing for all year. For fans, especially the thousands of Irish ones who travel over, it’s as good as it gets.

Sounds good. How many races are there?

There are 28 in total, seven each day. Racing starts at 1.30pm each day and the races are usually scheduled at 35-minute intervals, meaning that the final race starts at about 5.15pm.

For pedants — There are technically only six races on Thursday. The St. Patrick’s Derby charity race in aid of the Injured Jockey’s Fund is not officially part of the festival.

I’m not watching 27 races. When are the important ones on?

If you’re too busy to watch the lot — and let’s face it, most people are — you’ll want to focus your attention on the festival’s four feature races:

  • The Champion Hurdle (Tuesday)
  • The Queen Mother Champion Chase (Wednesday)
  • The World Hurdle (Thursday)
  • The Cheltenham Gold Cup (Friday)

These start at 3.20pm each day, so you may want to tailor your lunch breaks accordingly.

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Horse Racing - Punchestown Festival - AES Festival Family Day - Punchestown Racecourse Ruby Walsh on Annie Power. Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

I haven’t the first clue about the horses. Who are the ones to look out for?

There are lots of theories as to what makes a horse a ‘sure thing’ but the reality is  certainties are few and far between in national hunt racing.

On Tuesday everybody is going to be talking about Annie Power and the decision of Willie Mullins and Rich Ricci to run her in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle.  The battle for the Champion Hurdle on the same day looks set to be between Faugheen and The New One though Hurricane Fly will undoubtedly attract a few each way fivers for old times’ sake.

Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy have won the last two renewals of the Queen Mother Champion Chase and all eyes will be on the pair come Wednesday.

With the absence of the aforementioned Annie Power, the main event on Thursday, the World Hurdle, looks set to be a straight shoot-out between Zarkandar and Saphir Du Rheu while, on Friday, everyone will be talking about the Gold Cup.

Silviniaco Conti will go into the Gold Cup as heavy favourite but last year’s winner Lord Windermere cannot be discounted especially as he’s likely to offer significantly better value.

I think I’ll just look for whoever Ruby Walsh is riding. Will that work?

It’s not a bad tactic. Ruby loves Cheltenham and Cheltenham loves Ruby — look out for the annual “Ruby Tuesday” headlines if the four winners some expect on the opening day come in. If he has another good week, it will be the ninth time in 11 years Walsh will finish the festival as top jockey.

Show some love for the other Irish jockeys as well, particularly Barry Geraghty and the soon to retire AP McCoy

Give me five stats I can use to impress people…

  • €5,379,970 – The amount of prize money on offer over the four days.
  • 30 – The number of extra Ryanair flights put on for the festival
  • €207m – The amount gambled on the Cheltenham festival annually.
  • 236,472 – The number of pints of Guinness consumed at last year’s festival.

A version of this article first appeared here.

‘It’s just how he copes with 65,000 people and the noise of the festival’ – Ruby on Un De Sceaux

About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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