Cheltenham Festival

12 March 2024 to 15 March 2024 Cheltenham Racecourse

Cheltenham Festival is one of the biggest events in the horse-racing calendar, though there’s plenty more to it than that. This year marks 100 years of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and it promises to be quite the event!

What’s it all about?

Taking place between the Tuesday and the Friday before St Patrick’s Day in March, Cheltenham Festival is one of the biggest events in horse-racing’s National Hunt calendar - National Hunt races, often informally called “jumps”, are the ones where racing horses are required to jump over hurdles (in ‘hurdle races’ ) or various obstacles such as fences, open ditches and water features (in what are called ‘steeplechase’ events). 

Second only to the Grand National in terms of the amount of prize money involved, Cheltenham Festival features four days of racing, betting, dining and live entertainment. There are 28 races spread evenly over the four days, with 14 Grade 1 races (in which the world‘s very best Thoroughbred and best-ranking horses compete):

Champion Day: the opening day of the festival is cited by many as the best for the atmosphere of celebration, excitement and tension, epitomized by the roar of the crowd as the first race flag falls. The featured race of the day is the Unibet Champion Hurdle, the highest-quality race for two-mile hurdlers anywhere in the world. 

Style Wednesday: unofficially known as ‘Ladies Day’, this is the day where more attention might actually be paid to the festival-goers than the horses; The Slow Fashion Awards, open to both men and women, celebrate sartorial style and elegance in vintage and borrowed items, as well as investment pieces that may have been passes down the generations, transcending the seasons.

St Patrick's Day: Cheltenham Festival has strong connections to Ireland, where three-time Gold Cup winner ‘Arkle’ was affectionately known in the 1960s as simply "Himself"; the Prestbury Cup celebrates the decades-long rivalry between Ireland and Great Britain, and this year Ireland enjoy 94% odds to win!

Gold Cup Day: the final day of Cheltenham Festival is famous for The Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup, the most prestigious steeplechase race of all National Hunt events. The race is 3 miles, 2 furlongs and 70 yards, with 22 fences to be jumped, and is sometimes referred to as the Blue Riband of jump-racing. In 2022 Rachel Blackmore bedame the first female jockey to win the Gold Cup in a now iconic moment.

Note: race times each day are as follows: 13:30, 14:10, 14:50, 15:30, 16:10, 16:50 and 17:30. The feature race of each day takes place at 15:30. 

Click here for information on the Cheltenham Racecourse app and to download.

Aside from the racing, what is there to do?

There will be live entertainment before, during and after all races on each of the four days of the festival across its nine entertainment stages, with with the party carrying on into the night at The Centaur, Cheltenham Racecourse’s very own indoor entertainment venue, with space for 4,000 revellers. Entry is free for all Club and Tattersalls ticket holders, and this year The Centaur’s stage will be graced by The Wickermen, Vogue Williams (performing a DJ set), Lampa and The Chip Shop Boys!

For a full run-down of all performaces at Cheltenham Festival click here

As well as the many restaurants in the gorgeous nearby town of Cheltenham, the Racecourse itself boasts fifteen restaurants and ‘hospitality experiences’, from Michelin-starred fine-dining restaurants with unparalleled views of the racecourse to the venue’s very own (and very cosy) pub. Click here for more information on food and drink options at Cheltenham racecourse.

New this year is The Feed Room, a food court themed on a traditional stable feed room in the tented village featuring six pop-up food concepts including boa buns, tacos, pizza, naan, Deli and Crumble.

Is there a dress code?

Up until very recently there was indeed a strict dress code across all 15 of the racecourses run by The Jockey Club, including Cheltenham. You may have seen ladies at racing events seemingly trying to one-up one another with more and more ostentatious hats to go with their elegant dresses, and men would regularly wear top hats and three-piece suits. Racecourse rules dictated that they were required to wear their suit jackets at all times - even during heatwaves - and would be asked to leave the grounds if they did not comply!

However, as of 2023, Cheltenham Racecourse has relaxed its dresscode to be more “accessible and inclusive” to a larger audience (horse-racing may still have a reputation as a rather upper-class event). Last year saw attendees in slightly more relaxed and casual attire; one festival-goer even decided to push the envelope and test the upper limits - despite some stares and stern talking-to’s, he attended in true ‘festival-goer’ attire!

The Jockey Club’s website states that spectators are asked to use their common sense when selecting an outfit, and there are still SOME rules that must be observed:

- No offensive clothing of any kind

- No replica sports shirts or football kits

- No offensive fancy dress - although, with St Patrick’s Day looming, attendees are allowed to dress up in “appropriate” outfits!

Despite the relaxation of the dress code, Cheltenham Festival is still a place for race-goers to show off their style; click here for John Morris’ Cheltenham Style Guide.