Destination Cheltenham

Dick Francis
Jockey and author Dick Francis helped put Cheltenham on the map for a global audience of mystery lovers.

Dick Francis fans will recognize the name Cheltenham as the setting of several of his racing novels — Damage, Under Orders, and Comeback to name a few — which makes it a destination event for racing fans worldwide.

England’s Cheltenham Festival was first held in 1860 and was first held in Prestley Park, its current location, in 1904.

The town rose to prominence in 1716 when pigeons pecking on the ground in a field revealed  the existence of a hidden underground spring. It appears the birds were drawn by the salt deposited in the ground by the mineral springs. This fortuitous discovery turned Cheltenham into one of the most popular spa locations in England.

One Of The UK’s Most Famous Races

The Championship Hurdle at Cheltenham
The Championship Hurdle at Cheltenham

Every year I like to post the Aintree Grand National results (after checking to make sure there are no bad crashes) and this year I discovered the Velká Pardubická in the Czech republic. But in terms of a spectator event, the Cheltenham Festival may be the most enjoyable of the bunch.

The four-day event in mid-March truly lives up to its title as a “festival,” which has helped it to reach the same level as the Grand National and Royal Ascot as one of the UK’s most famous races.

As the festival has grown in popularity, it’s become a huge benefit to the local economy. In 2016, the event infused as much as £100 million into the local economy, remarkable for a four-day event in rural England. Sponsors like Bentley and Guinness, lend major brand influence to the festivities, and just recently BetBright reached an extension of its sponsorship deal with the Cheltenham Racecourse – which is significant given that betting activity remains a major part of the action for racegoers.


The home of the Gold Cup
The main appeal of Cheltenham is the racing. There’s a full schedule for each of the four days, and each day is also capped off by a particularly prestigious event. Day

Cheltenham Gold Cup
The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the highlight of the meet.

one (Champion Day) sees arguably the most significant British hurdle race of the year in the Unibet Champion Hurdle. Day two (Ladies Day) brings about the always-thrilling Queen Mother Champion Chase. On day three (St. Patrick’s Thursday), spectators can witness the Ryanair Steeple Chase. And the final day, Gold Cup Day, is marked by the Gold Cup itself: the biggest prize at Cheltenham. It’s a very full slate that will afford you the opportunity to see some of the best horse and jockeys in Europe.

Pump Room
The town’s fortunes were made when King George II visited the Pump Room in Cheltenham.

Plenty to do Besides Horses
There’s enough going on at the Festival for non-horse lovers, too. The town of Cheltenham is resplendent with Regency architecture, including the It’s also known for Regency buildings, including the Pittville Pump Room, a remnant of Cheltenham’s past as a spa town. There are on-site restaurants and bars (some with views of the tracks), there’s a Guinness Pavilion, and the people-watching can be almost as much fun as the races, especially on the special theme days. On Ladies Day, spectators dress to impress in the combination of chic and costume-like attire that has become emblematic of major races. And on St. Patrick’s Thursday, as you might guess, many attending the festival make wonderful use of the Guinness Pavilion!


Where To Stay

National trust properties
Sprinkled throughout the Cotswolds are charming National Trust properties that you can rent — Diston’s cottage is only 18 miles from Cheltenham.

Cheltenham is located in the Cotswolds, one of the most picturesque regions of the UK. The town itself, as well as neighboring Gloucester has many places to stay, but charming cities like Bristol, Bath, and Oxford are only short drives away, and offer you the chance to stay somewhere without worrying about race crowds or hiked room prices. Just be advised that if you want to attend the Cheltenham Festival, the town fills up quickly so find your room and get event tickets as early as possible. Prices for event tickets in particular will only get more expensive the closer we get to mid-March. But if you’re interested in traveling for a unique and fascinating equestrian event, this is certainly one to keep in mind!



Move over Aintree, The Velká Pardubická is now the Toughest Steeplechase

Taxis Ditch
The most difficult jump on the course is Taxis Ditch. Riders are not allowed to practice the jump and the only race in which it is featured is the Velká.

While the Aintree Grand National is one of the best known steeplechase races in the world, the title of the toughest race now goes to the Velká Pardubická  (the Grand Pardubice), a cross country steeplechase that has been run in Pardubice, Czech Republic since 1874. It takes place every year on the second Sunday in October. The length of the steeplechase is 4.25 miles (6.9 km), and horses must negotiate 31 jumps.

Velká Pardubická course
Look at this course! It’s hard to imagine how long it would take to memorize the route.

What makes the Velká Pardubická particularly difficult is that it is a combination between cross country and steeplechase. This is not a groomed track. It goes through all kinds of terrain. It is the only steeplechase in the world that is partially run over plowed fields (initially, half the race was over this kind of footing but that has been reduced as it’s so taxing), and when they are wet like they were today, that makes the footing deep and mucky. Adding to the difficulty is the course. It twists and turns in a way that makes the track not immediately obvious!

This year’s winner was No Time To Lose, ridden by Jan Kratochvil. No Time to Lose was trained by Josef Vana, who won the race as a jockey eight times.

Maryland Hunt Cup a two horse race

Woody Allen once said that 80% of success is showing up. The 2017 Maryland Hunt Club demonstrated the truth to that statement when eight out of the 10 starters failed to

Derwins Prospector (left) and Drift Society battle it out in the Maryland Hunt Cup. After 8 out of 10 entries fell, it literally became a two horse race.

finish. The result? Long shot Derwins Prospector crossed the finish line three-quarters of a length ahead of Drift Society to take home the $60,000 winner’s purse.

The Maryland Hunt Cup lived up to it’s reputation as the toughest timber race this year. With three miles to go, only four horses remained. Field leader Old Timer held on until the second to last fence before unseating his jockey.

The unlikely winner was described as a “superb jumper” by Joseph Davies. Unfortunately, last year, he unseated his rider at the first fence. This year, Davies arranged for French jockey, Gozague Cottreau, to take the reins. The pair finished fourth at the Grand National in Butler, where he finished fourth.


Get ready for the Maryland Hunt Cup

The Maryland Hunt Cup may be the closest thing we have in the States to the Grand National. The four mile race includes 22 timber fences, with several of the jumps approaching 5′. The 121st running will take place this Saturday, April 29th.

Program fro 1804 Hunt Cup
The first Maryland Hunt Cup was run in 1894 and was won by Johnny Miller owned and ridden by John McHenry.

The race began in 1894 as a competition between the Elkridge Fox Hunting Club and the Green Spring Fox Hunting Club to determine which hunt had the best horses. The first year entries were limited to members of the two hunt clubs. The next year it was opened up to horses owned and ridden by members of any recognized hunt in Maryland. In 1903,  it was expanded to horses owned and ridden by members of any Hunt Club in North America. Today, there is no restriction on where the horses and riders come from. The only thing that has stayed the same is that the jockeys must be amateur riders.

One For Arthur Wins the Grand National

For those of you who missed the 2017 Grand National, it’s safe to watch the replay. Although many horses and riders fell, no injuries were reported. All the horses made it back safely to the barn.

One For Arthur
One For Arthur with his two owners Belinda McClung and Deborah Thompson.

Winning the big race was One For Arthur, trained by Lucinda Russell and ridden by Derek Fox.

One For Arthur is only the second Scottish trained horse to win the Grand National. One For Arthur, an 8-year old bay gelding, is named after Arthur Guinness, Ireland’s most famous brewers. He is owned by Belinda McClung and Deborah Thomson, two old school friends whose partners spend so many hours on the golf course that they decided to call their partnership “Two Golf Widows.” Needless to say, their husbands were at the National to see Arthur romp home. Quite an outcome for two people who bought the horse for fun!

Jockey Derek Fox rode a very strategic race. You would never know that he broke his left wrist and right collarbone just one month ago after a fall with a novice hurdler.

One For Arthur
One For Arthur jumps into the lead at the Grand National


Rule the World Rules at Aintree

Rule the World
Long shot Rule The World surged to the lead and won the Grand National.

Rule the World, a 33-1 long shot that had never won over fences, broke his maiden today at the 2016 Grand National at Aintree . . . ridden by 19-year old David Mullins on his first time around the course. What a story! Can you imagine a horse breaking his maiden at Aintree?

And don’t worry, it’s safe to watch the race. All 39 starters (and jockeys) came back safely; 1 completed the race. There were also a couple of game horses that ran (and jumped) at the head of the field. Thankfully, they jumped clean and stayed out of the way of the rest of the field. (There is a slightly better quality video of the race at this link).

David Mullins
19 Year old David Mullins smiles through the mud.

The win almost didn’t happen. They had a significant bobble at the fourth to last fence, but Mullins stayed on and they surged after the last fence to pass favorite The Last Samurai. Conditions for the race were wet. Very wet. Heavy rain and the occasional hail showers left the turf spongy and very tiring — several horses were pulled up by their jockeys because of the hard going.

Mullins, who comes from a racing family, is the second youngest jockey to win the Grand National — 17-year-old Bruce Hobbs won back in 1938 — but it’s an amazing achievement for someone who turned pro less than two years ago and who won his first race over fences just a year ago.

“Credit to Mouse, he told me before that this is probably one of the best horses he’s ever had, he’s just had small problems, so to get the call to ride this one was amazing. It’s his first win over fences, which is even more amazing than me having a first ride over them.”

“That’s the best ride I’ve ever got off a horse and it’s the best feeling to come back into a place like this. It was just brilliant.”

Rule The World to Retire

Mouse Morris, David Mullins, Michael O'Leary and Rule The World.
Mouse Morris, David Mullins, Michael O’Leary and Rule The World.

Rule The World is a 9-year old gelding who started his career over hurdles and moved up to Steeplechases in 2014. He finished second in five races before his win today, but also racked up some serious injuries, including fracturing his pelvis twice.

Having reached the pinnacle of Steeplechasing success, Rule The World’s owner, Michael O’Leary has indicated the 9 year old gelding will be retired.

‘He isn’t a young horse,’ said O’Leary. ‘He has had multiple injuries and what you would hate to do now is risk him and lose him. He has won a Grand National — would you want to send him back here next year with 11st 8lbs on his back? I don’t think so.

(Daily Mail)

O’Leary credits the gelding’s recovery from injury and his win today to trainer Mouse Morris:
“That it came back and won today was thanks to an incredible training performance put together by its genius of a trainer.”

For Morris, who also trained the Irish Grand National winner just twelve days ago, winning the Grand National at Aintree was a personal triumph after a year recovering from a personal tragedy — His 30-year old son Christopher died from carbon monoxide poisoning last year in Argentina.

“We got a bit of help from somewhere,” Morris said. “Tiffer was working overtime for me.”

Balthazar King continues to improve

Balthazar King
Balthazar King was a favorite in the Grand National but fell at the Canal Turn

Balthazar King, the horse injured during the Grand National on Saturday, is showing steady improvement. He fell at the Canal turn, bringing down Ballycasey who ran into him. He suffered several broken ribs.

He was treated for about an hour at the Aintree track before being transported to the University of Liverpool Equine Hospital.

Trainer Philip Hobbs reported yesterday:

Balthazar King has had a good 24 hours and (is) making steady progress. He has broken a couple of ribs and is very sore but is eating and seems bright in himself.

Balthazar King finished second in the 2014 Grand National and was favored to win.