Which is the oldest of the four ‘championship’ races at the Cheltenham Festival?
The so-called ‘championship’ races at the Cheltenham Festival, one of which forms the feature race on each of the four days, are the Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase, Stayers’ Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup. The first two are run on the slightly sharper Old Course, while the last two are run on the New Course, which places more emphasis on stamina.
A race known as the ‘Cheltenham Gold Cup’ was first run on Cleeve Hill, overlooking the current racecourse, in 1819, long before the establishment of the Cheltenham Festival. However, that race was run over three miles on the Flat and restricted to three-year-olds. In its current guise, as a level weights steeplechase, the Cheltenham Gold Cup was not added to the Cheltenham Festival programme until 1924. Nevertheless, the Cheltenham Gold Cup pre-dates the Champion Hurdle, which was inaugurated in 1927 and, as such, is the oldest of the ‘championship’ races in their recognisable, modern form.
To avoid any confusion, a version of the Stayers’ Hurdle has been run at the Cheltenham Festival, with a few interruptions, since 1912. However, the original incarnation, the Stayers’ Selling Hurdle, ceased to be in 1938 and its successor, the Spa Hurdle, was replaced by the Stayers’ Hurdle, as we know it today, in 1972. The Queen Mother Champion Chase, too, is a relatively recent addition to the Festival programme, having been inaugurated, as the National Hunt Two-Mile Champion Chase, in 1959.