Cheltenham Festival’s history – how the prestigious meeting came to be

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  • Each March, most of the world’s best National Hunt horses gather at Cheltenham Racecourse to line-up and take their place at the historic Cheltenham Festival.

    But where does this jewel in the racing calendar crown originate? Read on to find out…

    Cheltenham Festival history

    W A Baring Bingham purchased the Prestbury Park area where the racecourse sits, in 1881, with the intention of turning it into a stud farm, before realising there was an appetite for horseracing in the area.

    As a result, he decided to host a race meeting in 1898 — it proved popular enough to host more racing there the following year, and it continued to grow in popularity until, in 1902, it played host to a National Hunt Festival in mid-April. Two years later and the National Hunt Chase was moved to Prestbury Park for successive years, having first run at Market Harborough in 1860, and in 1911 Cheltenham Racecourse became the race’s permanent home.

    The 1911 running of this fixture was classed as the first Cheltenham Festival as we think of it today.

    In 1908, Frederick Cathcart became Chairman of Cheltenham Racecourse and his appointment proved influential in the decision to move the Chase to the venue from 1911. Cathcart was a senior partner at the racecourse management company Messrs Pratt & Co, which had been appointed to help in the development of Cheltenham as a national racecourse, and it was under his guidance that the venue saw a number of important races arrive.

    One of those was the Gold Cup, which Cathcart introduced to the venue in 1924, following it up quickly with the Champion Hurdle three years later. Described as ‘indefatigable’ after his death, the Cathcart Challenge Cup was named in his honour before it was later replaced in the Festival schedule by the Ryanair Chase.

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