Six Of The Greatest Moments In Cheltenham Festival History

The festival gets underway next Tuesday
07:00, 07 Mar 2023

In a week’s time, we will be hearing that famous Cheltenham roar as the first race of the 2023 Cheltenham Festival gets underway and we cannot wait for it all to unfold in Gloucestershire. With the excitement brimming, everyone is buzzing to see what this year’s four-day meeting has in store for us. 

As we edge closer to the ‘greatest show on turf’ returning, here are some of the greatest moments in the history of the Cheltenham Festival. There are far too many to choose from in its 162-year history, but here are some of The Sportsman’s personal favourites of recent times.

2021: The year of Rachael Blackmore

2021 was a festival of firsts for Tipperary jockey Rachael Blackmore as she just couldn’t stop winning. She had tasted victory in previous years aboard A Plus Tard and Honeysuckle, but 2021 was the year that punters found it very difficult to bet against her as she rode an impressive six winners across the four days. Her victories on the mare Honeysuckle are up there, and that first Champion Hurdle win in 2021 was a thing of beauty as the racegoers were left stunned.


Paisley Park’s 2019 triumph in Stayers’ Hurdle

Everyone can remember witnessing Paisley Park storming to victory in the 2019 Stayers’ Hurdle, following up his victory in the Cleeve Hurdle at the festival trials day two months prior. The Emma Lavelle-trained horse beat Sam Spinner and Faugheen to take the crown but it was the story of its owner, Andrew Gemmell, that really won the hearts of the public. Blind since birth, Gemmell purchased Paisley Park in 2015 and having had many great days with Lavelle, this one was by far the greatest.

Champ’s dramatic late surge to win the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase in 2020

In 2020, we witnessed one of the greatest finishes in Cheltenham history when Champ, ridden by Barry Geraghty, came out of nowhere to snatch victory at the death for trainer Nicky Henderson. Champ was nine lengths behind leading duo Minella Indo and Allaho at the final fence with the famous uphill finish to come. You thought it was going to be a tight finish between the pair before all of a sudden Champ came flying into the shot at pace and powered his way in between them to win the race in dramatic fashion. It was truly spine-tingling.

Best Mate’s historic Gold Cup win in 2004

In 2004, Best Mate won the hearts of a nation as he matched the legendary Arkle by winning a third successive Gold Cup, having won his first in 2002 and defended it in 2003. The famous Cheltenham roar has arguably never been as loud as it was when Best Mate pulled wide from the front two heading into the penultimate fence. The treble is a feat that hasn’t been matched since. Best Mate is permanently honoured at the Gloucestershire racecourse with one of the enclosure’s named after him.

Amateur jockey Waley-Cohen’s Gold Cup fairytale win in 2011

Part-time jockey Sam Waley-Cohen, the founder of a dental practice, lived out a fairytale when he clinched the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2011 with Long Run. Not only did Waley-Cohen win one of the sport’s biggest honours, but he beat some horse-racing’s greatest legends along the way, trumping the likes of AP McCoy, Ruby Walsh and Barry Geraghty to claim the festival’s most glamorous prize. Waley-Cohen ended his career as a jockey on a high in April 2022 by winning the Grand National with Noble Yeats, owned by his father Robert. For an amateur to go out with two of racing’s biggest prizes, he lived the dream.

Annie Power’s £50 million fall at the final fence in 2015

There was a lot of drama surrounding the Mares’ Hurdle in 2015.  Wins earlier in the day for Un De Sceaux, Douvan and Faugheen had left the bookmakers feeling a little hot under the collar. Punters were anticipating a bumper payday courtesy of a Ruby Walsh/Willie Mullins combo four-fold, with just Annie Power left to go. However, their bet-slips were left in tatters when Walsh, well in front and on a clear path to victory, fell at the final hurdle. That last-minute disaster is believed to have saved bookies around £50m and is regarded as the ‘most expensive fall in racing history’. Fortunately, Annie was okay and went on to claim the Champion Hurdle the following year.

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