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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Like soccer, steeplechase racing in America is misunderstood and underappreciated by the betting public. But one thing U.S. punters grudgingly would admit is that many of the sport’s best horsemen have come from its ranks.

Steeplechase horsemen that readily leap to mind are those of trainers Jonathan Sheppard, Tom Voss, W. Burling Cocks, Janet Elliot, Mickey Walsh, and a current master, Jack Fisher.

But then there are the horsebackers; the legendary Joe Aitcheson Jr., Jerry Fishback, Alfred Smithwick and George Bostwick.

All the horsemen above are members of American Racing’s Hall of Fame, young trainer Fisher not yet eligible.

The feature of this article, though, is five facts you likely didn’t know about Cheltenham Racecourse, “the Home of Jump Racing” in Cheltenham, Gloucesterchire, and how Cheltenham became the racecourse the popular destination racetrack it is today.

Number 1: Cheltenham Only Exits Because of Mineral Water

Cheltenham, or Celtan hom as it was originally called, is known about starting in 803 with the likely foundations of the town having been in either the 8th or 9th century. For the most part, the town was rather small without many noticeable features until in 1716 mineral springs were found. Soon the town became one focused on health and holiday, and what better way to enjoy a holiday than a trip to the races?

Starting in the 19th century, horse racing became a popular sport for both the locals and riders from elsewhere around Britain. This soon evolved into planned races, and the foundations of the Cheltenham festival as we know it today. To think that if those mineral springs were never found there would have never been a Cheltenham festival.

Number 2: The Golden Cup Had Only Been Canceled Third Times

Established in 1924, the Gold Cup is a Grade 1 National Hunt race, and one of the most prestigious races to win. It takes something truly disastrous to cancel the Golden Cup, which is why we’re not counting the two times in World War II the Gold Cup was canceled. The first cancellation came in 1931 when the track froze over. The second, six years later in 1937, was due to flooding.

The most recent closure of the Golden Cup came much more recently. Having carried on since the end of the war in 1945, no one could have seen the Golden Cup being canceled in 2001 due to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. Not even the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak stopped the Golden Cup from being hosted, and we can only hope that the 2001 cancellation will be the last time the Golden Cup had to be postponed.

Number 3: Eight Winners By the Same Trainer in 2015 and a Lot of Tea and Bread

2015 was a busy time for Cheltenham Festival. Eight winners were all trained by the legendary Willie Mullins, which is a record that was only met in 2018 by another trainer, but has yet to be surpassed. It must have certainly been exciting for spectators, and Cheltenham saw one of the largest serving of tea and bread rolls in its history.

Forty-five thousand bread rolls and cups of tea were served to the patrons of the 2015 Cheltenham Festival. On average, around eight thousand gallons of tea and coffee are served during the festival, but 2015 surpassed that average number with ease. Of course, forty-five thousand bread rolls aren’t very likely to make it into the Cheltenham Hall of Fame.

Number 4: It’s Not Just Horse Racing That’s The Attraction

What exactly happens to a racecourse when it’s not in use? Does it just sit there, gathering weeds until the races begin again? This is certainly not the case for Cheltenham. For starters, from 1999 to 2013 Cheltenham was the preferred venue of the Greenbelt Festival, and to this day is still used as a venue for the Wychwood Music Festival.

Lastly, the University of Gloucestershire holds not only its summer ball here, but also all graduation ceremony.

Number 5: Special Flights Exist For The Festival

To keep up with demand for the races, the airliner Ryanair adds an extra thirty flights along the Dublin to Birmingham route when the races are about to start. Over twenty-thousand visitors will use these flights to reach Cheltenham, which marks quite a windfall for Ryanair during this period. From a small town to host to the second largest horse race in Britain, Cheltenham has seen thousands of jockeys and horses compete in the races with millions watching on eagerly. While the history of the racecourse may not be steeped in myth or ancient traditions, it’s still incredible to thing that this race may never have existed if it weren’t for mineral water being found in the town.

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