Horse racing is more than just a sport in the UK, it is a way of life, and the Cheltenham Festival is the biggest and best meeting in the racing calendar. It is also the first major event of the year, and signals the end of another long winter and a summer of great racing to come. This year, there will be more live coverage on TV and online than ever before, bringing the festival to a global audience.

Steeped in history

The Cheltenham Festival can trace its roots back to the 1860 National Hunt Chase, held in the racing town of Market Harborough. The following year, the race was run at Cheltenham for the first time, and over the following 50 years, it was staged at various locations around the UK. In 1911, it returned to Prestbury Park in Cheltenham, where it has remained to the present day.

Until 2005, the festival comprised 21 races over three days, but given that there were four championship races in total, it made sense to extend it to have one per day. In recent years, each day has featured seven races, with the showcase championship race fourth on the card at 3:30PM.

Millions wagered

The Cheltenham Festival attracts every kind of racing enthusiast. You will see professional gamblers who make a living from their knowledge of the runners and riders, horse lovers who just love to see their favorite animals doing what they do best, and even the outrageously dressed fashionistas who turn up in their hats and finery for Ladies Day.

Yet whatever brings them in, few can resist betting a few pounds on at least one or two of the races to add a little more excitement to the proceedings. The Cheltenham Festival is second only to the Grand National in terms of money wagered, and an estimated £500 million ($700 million) will change hands this year.

Picking the winners

The runners and riders were announced in mid-January, which has given the tipsters, bookmakers and racing fans far longer to pore over the form and select their top picks than is usual. With so many races, that is just as well, but the sheer amount of choices can still be daunting, particularly in races like the Supreme Novice’s Hurdle, with 30 runners or more. This Cheltenham Guide for 2018 from Cheltenhamfestival.net gives a race-by-race preview, including the bookmaker’s favorites, the past winners and some outsiders that just might pull a surprise out of the bag.

Timetable of events

Each day has its own unique theme, and its dedicated races. The races on days one and two are run on the Old Course, which is just over two miles long, while the final two days use the longer New Course, which finishes with an energy sapping flat out gallop up the daunting Cheltenham Hill.

Champions Day

The showcase race on the first day is the Champions Hurdle, but don’t miss the earlier races. It all begins with the controlled chaos of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, followed up by the Arkle Challenge, named in honor of possibly the most famous Cheltenham winner ever.

Ladies Day

If anything sums up the unique appeal of an English horse racing festival, it is Ladies Day. The dresses, hats and inappropriate shoes will be impossible to miss, and champagne sales will hit an all-time high. Today’s championship race is the Queen Mother Champion Chase, named after a lady who was known to enjoy a bet on the horses and a glass or two of something refreshing.

St Patrick’s Day

There is a strong Irish theme throughout the Cheltenham Festival, and horses from The Emerald Isle traditionally do well here. The third day celebrates all things Irish, so the champagne is swapped for Guinness and the park is alive with the sound of Irish folk music. Those who can drag themselves trackside have the Stayers Hurdle to enjoy as the day’s big race.

Gold Cup Day

After the fun, it is back to serious racing on the final day. All eyes are on the biggest prize of them all, the Gold Cup. Can Sizing John win it for a second year? Or will Might Bite be too strong? There is one way to find out, and that is to watch every minute of the action.