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Prestbury Park is the home of National Hunt racing in Britain, the famous Cotswolds amphitheatre playing host to four days of fantastic jumps action in March each year as the Cheltenham Festival takes centre stage.
This historic plot of Gloucestershire countryside comprises one racecourse, but within Cheltenham there are three different courses that are used for racing during The Festival – The Old Course, The New Course and The Cross Country Course.
The Old Course
The Old Course plays host to all of the action (excluding the Cross Country race) on the Tuesday and Wednesday of the Cheltenham Festival – the first two days.
Both of Cheltenham’s traditional courses are left-handed and very undulating, while the notoriously stiff fences place a premium on sound and accurate jumping.
The Old Course is slightly sharper than the New Course, while it boasts a fence in front of the grandstands before turning left-handed and veering out into the countryside.
The last half-mile on both courses climbs up the famous Cheltenham Hill, one of the most daunting and demanding finishes in racing and a challenge that examines the stamina and desire of any horse to succeed at this iconic meeting.
In its nature the Old Course is considered to be more of a speed test, hence the two-mile Championship races – the Champion Hurdle and the Queen Mother Champion Chase – are the features races on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Cheltenham Festival on the Old Course.
The experts will suggest that strong-travelling horses do best on the Old Course, as it becomes vital to hold position in a race and not be forced to make up too much ground whilst expending vital energy.
The New Course
Widely regarded as a more severe test of stamina, the New Course is used for all races on the Thursday and Friday of the Cheltenham Festival, the feature contests being the Stayers’ Hurdle (three-miles) on day three and, of course, the Gold Cup itself (three-miles-and-two-furlongs) on the concluding afternoon of Cheltenham.
This tough challenge will reveal any shortcomings, especially with that brutal uphill finish looming before victory is assured. Many horses have found their dreams shattered after setting off up that hill in full flow.
On the New Course, the hurdles track has just two flights in the last six furlongs, ensuring jockeys must judge when to fully commit for home as going too early has often proved to be the undoing of their hopes and dreams.
The fourth-last fence on the New Course comes up very soon after a turn at the top of the hill in the countryside and has caught many out over the years.
The New Course tends to lend itself more to hold-up performers, with both the tendency to commit for home too soon and the long run-in allowing plenty ground to be made up in the closing stages of races – comparable to the Old Course.
The Cross Country Course
The Cross Country Steeplechase Course is a very unique and demanding examination of horses and riders and is used but once at The Festival – for The Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase on the second afternoon of the meeting.
The Cross Country is run over a journey of three-miles-and-six-furlongs and it meanders through the Cheltenham countryside taking in a whopping 32 obstacles long the way. The unique challenge almost encompasses a ‘figure of eight’ through Prestbury Park and, for jockeys, this is an exacting test, unmatched at The Festival.
Amongst the unique jumping challenges it features cheese-wedges, banks, hedgerows, whiskey barrels and a replica of Aintree’s famous Canal Turn.
The Cross Country race was once viewed as something of a novelty at the Cheltenham Festival, but it has secured its own special place in modern times, not least as racegoers can take up viewing points ‘in the middle’ of the course for this contest – allowing them close-up viewing of the action that is unrivalled.
Gold Cup Racecourse, all Time Fact
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