In a non-pandemic year, thousands of racegoers head to the Cotswolds for the most important week in the National Hunt calendar — the Cheltenham Festival (16-19 March). However, that will obviously not be possible in 2021, but there is no need to miss the action, as every single race from the meeting will be shown on TV.
Here’s our full TV guide so you don’t miss a moment of the action…
Cheltenham Festival on TV: how to watch
The Festival at Cheltenham is the Olympics of jump racing but with the four-day spectacular being held behind closed doors this year owing to the pandemic, how can you watch the Cheltenham Festival from the comfort of your armchair?
The Cheltenham roar will be noticeably absent, sadly, but for racing fans and amateur punters alike, it couldn’t be easier to submerse yourself in all the action — and for the legions of workers now beavering away in their living rooms, this could be the year you can enjoy the Festival’s full glory (just remember not to schedule any zoom meetings after 1pm…)
So here it is, your armchair viewing guide to the Cheltenham Festival — and now is definitely the time to invest in that 85inch Ultra HD TV you’ve been hankering after. Grab your remote, a family pack of snacks and a tipple of your choosing because you needn’t leave your armchair for four days – it really will be the best (and safest) seat in the house.
Where can I watch it?
Those of you with a Racing TV subscription can enjoy all the races live but for everyone else in the country, tune in to ITV 1 where the brilliant ITV Racing team will take you right to the heart of the action. They have expanded their coverage to show six of the seven races every day and, due to the absence of crowds, there will be “themes” every day – to include the local community, Ireland, the racing family and all the key workers across the country with the sport which has lifted spirits over the past year. The live Festival coverage will also be simulcast on the ITV Hub, on web and app for viewers to watch online or if you’re on the move you can still keep up to date by listening to BBC Radio 5 Live.
What time does it start?
ITV Racing coverage starts at 1pm every day, broadcasting live till 4.30pm. In a departure from the norm and to allow for ITV Racing’s extended coverage, the tapes go up for the first race at 1.20pm every day, rather than the traditional 1.30pm, while the seventh and final race of the day is now at the earlier time of 4.50pm.
What if I’m too excited to wait until 1pm?
After you’ve picked up your copy of the Racing Post — every Cheltenham Festival viewer’s bible — and checked out the latest news on the H&H Festival hub page, join Oli Bell and his special guests on the Opening Show from 9.30-10.30am where you’ll hear from special guests and experts ready to point you towards some big winners (hopefully).
Who are the experts?
You’ll very quickly discover that everyone’s an “expert” during Cheltenham Festival week and everyone from your farrier to the postman will be offering you their Festival “banker”. Our tip is to stick with what you know and if it’s too good to be true, it usually is. The ITV Racing team is an encyclopedia of racing facts and figures and usually pretty good with tips. The main presenters are Ed Chamberlin and Francesca Cumani alongside Alice Plunkett, Mick Fitzgerald, Matt Chapman and Luke Harvey with legendary former jockeys Sir Anthony McCoy and Ruby Walsh on hand for their expert opinion. If you enjoy a bit more interaction, Oli Bell and Chris Hughes will be manning the “social stable”, which will be linked to the channel’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
When is the big race?
Racing fans are treated to a “championship” race every day, beginning on Tuesday with the Unibet Champion Hurdle, Wednesday features the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, on Thursday it’s the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle and it all culminates on Friday with the Wellchild Cheltenham Gold Cup. Each showpiece race is run at 3.05pm. But each of the 28 races over the four days offers something to savour with 14 Grade One (top level) races in total.
Speed is my thing, which race will I enjoy the most?
The shortest races at the Cheltenham Festival are just shy of two miles in length and with the best horses, trainers and jockeys battling it out for top honours, they are always breathtakingly fast and furious. Over the fences (the larger obstacles), the Queen Mother Champion Chase is a real sprint and you’ll find the fastest chasers such as Chacun Pour Soi, the legendary Altior, reigning champion Politologue and the up-and-coming Nube Negra ready to bolt out of the starting blocks this year.
How about if I enjoy a stamina test?
Wednesday’s Glenfarclas Cross Country Steeple Chase is a brilliant spectacle as the field comes away from the racecourse to face the challenge of a course of 32 obstacles that twists and turns, including a mix of timber, brush and drops over a gruelling 3m6f-plus.
Where can I spot future stars?
The Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is traditionally greeted by the deafening yet spine-tingling Cheltenham roar from spectators but despite it being a quieter curtain-raiser this year, this race is always a hotspot for future talent with past winners including Altior, Brave Inca and last year’s victor, the Nicky Henderson-trained Shishkin. Likewise on Friday, the JCB Triumph Hurdle for four-year-olds is the big target for the country’s best juvenile hurdlers – the dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll was first past the post in the race in 2014.
Can I buy tickets?
Based on current Government restrictions, professional sport is able to continue under stringent health and safety protocols, without spectators present. That means that it will take place as a televised event only and there will be no tickets on sale for this year’s meeting.
What is the Prestbury Cup?
As well as the head-to-heads between the leading horses, jockeys and trainers, one of the greatest rivalries is between Great Britain and Ireland for the total number of Festival winners, otherwise known as the Prestbury Cup. In 2020, Irish trainers took the advantage, with 17 winners over the four days versus Great Britain’s 10.
Who are the top jockeys to follow?
Irish jockey Paul Townend recorded an outstanding five winners at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, including the Gold Cup with Al Boum Photo for the second year in a row. Also travelling from across the Irish Sea is the brilliant Rachael Blackmore. Nico De Boinville usually enjoys a tremendous strike rate at Cheltenham while the current champion jockey in Great Britain is Brian Hughes, who will be joined in the weighing room by the former champ Richard Johnson. Look out also for the likes of Harry Cobden and Harry Skelton, who are chasing Brian Hughes in this year’s title race.
Who is likely to be the leading trainer?
It’s hard to look beyond leading Irish trainer Willie Mullins, who really is a mighty force in the sport and has been crowned top trainer at the Festival for seven of the past 10 years, breaking the former dominance of Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson.
How do I bet?
Online betting companies will be clamouring for your custom during Cheltenham so look out for some of their promotional deals for new customers which include everything from a free bet to giving your money back if your horse loses. You’ll need to deposit some money into your betting account, choose a race, select your horse (you could study the form, or you could simply pick your lucky number of favourite colour from the jockeys’ silks) and the type of bet — then get ready to cheer!
Keep up-to-date with all the latest news and updates from the Cheltenham Festival via the Horse & Hound website and read the full report in the 25 March issue of the magazine
Would you like to read Horse & Hound’s independent journalism without any adverts? Join Horse & Hound Plus today and you can read all articles on completely ad-free