The history of the racecourse
Throughout the year we welcome more than 700,000 visitors.
The first organised Flat race meeting in Cheltenham took place in 1815 on Nottingham Hill, with the first races on Cleeve Hill in August 1818. Racing’s popularity soared over the next decade with crowds of 30,000 visiting the racecourse for its annual two day July meeting featuring the Gold Cup, a 3m flat race.
In 1829, Cheltenham’s Parish Priest, Reverend Francis Close, preached the evils of horseracing and aroused such strong feeling amongst his congregation that the race meeting in 1830 was disrupted. Before the following year’s meeting the grandstand was burnt to the ground!
To overcome this violent opposition the racecourse was moved to Prestbury Park, its current venue, in 1831. Steeplechasing became established in nearby Andoversford from 1834 and moved to the present course in 1898.
In 1964, Racecourse Holdings Trust (now Jockey Club Racecourses) was formed to secure the future of Cheltenham. The group now owns 13 other racecourses - a combination of jump, flat, dual purpose and all weather racecourses. Wholly owned in a trust by The Jockey Club, the racecourses reinvest all profits into the 14 racecourses to ensure the continued success and development of British horseracing.
The stands changed little between the 1930s and 1950s when the National Hunt Steeplechase course ran behind the back of the stands.
The original Tattersalls Grandstand was opened in 1960 to cope with growing crowds. The Weighing Room was underneath the Festival Restaurant and the Winners Enclosure above the Parade Ring. During this period the centre of the racecourse was developed and became a popular raceday enclosure.
The main Grandstand was completed in 1979 and extended twice in the 1980s. The top two levels were dedicated entirely to Private Hospitality, and in 1982 the Parade Ring, Weighing Room and Hurdlers Hall were built behind the stands with terraced viewing for 4,000.
The new stables complex was opened in 1990 adjacent to Hunters Lodge, our stable staff hotel built three years earlier to sleep 124. The Pre-Parade Ring was used for the first time in 1992 and Hall of Fame Entrance officially opened in 1993. The Cross Country Course was introduced in 1995 and is now raced on three times each season, including The Festival. The race weaves around the centre of the course with natural obstacles including hedges, banks and ditches. In 1997, the original Tattersalls Grandstand was knocked down and replaced with tiered viewing and the Panoramic Restaurant which boasts spectacular views across the racecourse.
During 2003-2004, £3m was invested in the Best Mate Enclosure in the centre of the racecourse, giving a new grandstand and arguably one of the best views of racing. During the same period, £17m was invested in providing additional raceday facilities with The Centaur, a new conference and events centre. Accommodating up to 4,000 visitors, The Centaur is the biggest venue of its kind between Birmingham and Bournemouth. In 2005, The Festival was successfully extended to four days.
Cheltenham has now completed the £45million redevelopment of the course, which opened in November 2015. Details aboout the redevelopment can be found here.
The racecourse employs more than 80 permanent staff, which rises to approximately 1,000 for a race meeting and more than 5,000 at The Festival. The Festival is worth an estimated £100m to the local economy and hosts the largest tented village of any kind at a sporting event. Prize money at Cheltenham exceeds £6m throughout the season with £4.1m on offer at The Festival alone, making it the most valuable and prestigious fixture in Jump racing. The racecourse is also home to many other organizations and businesses including Cotswold RDA, Cheltenham Archery and Clubs for Angling and Model Aircraft. Throughout the year we welcome over 700,000 visitors to the racecourse and hope that every visitor - horse or human - enjoy their visit and will be back soon.
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