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Two Biggest National Hunt Events Are Around the Corner
Horse racing is one of the most bet on sports in the UK. Head to any high street bookmaker, and you’ll almost always find at least one screen airing horse racing from somewhere.

It’s no surprise that Brits love their horse racing. After all, the Queen and many other members of the Royal Family are widely known to be lovers of both horses and horse racing, and frequently attend Royal Ascot. The love of horse racing spans all generations of Brits and transcends the old class structures. 

Going to the races is an opportunity to dress up that other sporting events don’t offer, and there’s a level of glitz and glam that you don’t find elsewhere.

Some of the most attended horse racing events are part of the National Hunt calendar, with races held across the country including in Exeter, Hereford, and Bangor. While all are fantastic events, the two biggest and most popular are the Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National, both of which are just around the corner.

The Cheltenham Festival

The Cheltenham Festival first took place in 1861 as part of the National Hunt Chase, although it wasn’t given its current name until 1907.

It is a race that all the top trainers of jump horses want to enter, and is the focus of race fans for the months leading up to it. The feature race on day 1 is the Unibet Champion Hurdle, which is the most prestigious prize in hurdle racing. 

It takes place every year in March, and usually coincides with St Patrick's Day, making it popular among horse racing fans that also want to celebrate the patron saint of Ireland. The Festival runs over four days, with the final day featuring the headline Gold Cup race.

The Cheltenham Festival is unique in that it uses two different circuits over its four day programme. The first two use the “old course”, and the final two use the “new course”. 

270,000 people pass through the gates each year, enjoying the 28 races over the four days. These races are made up over a mix of different categories, including chase and hurdle events for both novices and seasoned horses. 

With less than a month to go, the favourite to win the Gold Cup is Al Boum Photo, although there is plenty of time for odds to move. This is the biggest race of the four days, and contains the largest purse, with a total of £625,000 being awarded to the runners. 

For fans that can’t make it in person, the 2020 Cheltenham Festival begins on Tuesday 10th March and runs until Friday 13th March, with coverage for most of the day aired on ITV 4. 
Racing Close Up
The Grand National

The biggest event of them all in Britain is the Grand National. It is about as close as the UK gets to the traffic stopping Melbourne Cup. While horse racing is popular among its fans throughout the year, the Grand National captures the imagination and attention of the entire general public. 

The race’s slogan “the world is watching” is fitting, as the Grand National is one of the biggest horse races in the world, with as many as 600 million watching across the globe.

The Grand National takes place on the third and final day of the Grand National Festival, which in 2020 begins on Thursday 2nd April, running until Saturday 4th April. The second day of the festival is the traditional “Ladies Day”, where women will go all out to have the best outfit.

The Grand National race itself will feature up to 40 horses, making it one of the biggest races in the world in terms of the number of runners.

As well as the traditional wagering that takes place at betting shops, at the track, and through online bookmakers, the Grand National is famous for its sweepstakes betting that is run informally up and down the country. 

Friendship groups and workplaces across the United Kingdom will be downloading from the internet, or cutting out from newspapers, a sweepstakes kit that contains the list of all 40 horses that will be entered into the race.Each person that enters pays a nominal amount of money to pick out a horse at random. In smaller groups, people may have to pick several so that all 40 are chosen. Then the money is pooled and the people that picked the top few horses are awarded the money. This is usually split like this: 
  • 1st place  receives 60%
  • 2nd place receives  25%
  • 3rd place receives  10%
  • 4th place receives 5%
This doesn’t take away from the traditional betting though, with many people choosing to do both. In 2013, the amount bet on the race totalled more than £150 million. Just 7 years later, it is expected to exceed more than £300 million. 

The Grand National has shaped some of Britain’s most famous race horses, including the 2008 winner Comply or Die, the 1990 winner Mr Frisk, and the legendary Red Rum.

Red Rum’s 1973 win is remembered as one of the best Grand National Wins of all time, after he closed a gap of 30 lengths to cross the finish line first. 

Like the Cheltenham Festival, live coverage will be broadcast on ITV, with coverage also available through the ITV website and player app so you can watch it on the go. 

Plenty More on the Calendar

While these two major events may be over before Spring has passed, there’s still plenty of horse racing action to look forward to throughout the rest of the year. 

The most upmarket event of the year, Royal Ascot, will take place between 16th and 20th June. Before then, the Boodles May Festival will take place on the kidney shaped course in Chester from Tuesday 5th May to Thursday 7th May. The Goodwood Festival takes place from 28th July to 1st August. This event is often referred to as “Glorious Goodwood”, thanks to its beautiful surroundings and late August summer weather. 

What is certain is that now winter is almost over, there'll be plenty of horse racing action to keep fans excited and entertained throughout the year.

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