To get a handle on what the Cheltenham Festival is, take the Super Bowl, mix it with the Olympics and the Breeders’ Cup, and add heavy, heavy betting to the brew. Then, spread it out over a four-day, 28-race jumping bacchanalia.

Al Boum Photo-Cheltenham
Al Boum Photo and rider Paul Townend will try getting the jump on their competitors in Friday’s Cheltenham Festival’s Gold Cup. The pair seek their third consecutive title at the festival’s marquee event. (Image: Healy Racing)

Well, hold the bacchanalia this year. This year’s Cheltenham Festival, which opens Tuesday and runs through Friday, won’t feature the 250,000 people that turn the Gloucestershire area into the center of UK sports for the week. Because of UK government guidelines, only essential personnel are allowed at Cheltenham this year.

That’s a 180-degree and 365-day change from last year’s festival, which served as a surrogate final-bash before COVID shut down the world. So instead of Cheltenham swarming with tourists, horseplayers, random celebrities, and connections to the horses, everything goes on the screen. ITV and Racing TV will televise all 28 races. And if you have a betting app, that’s another viewing outlet.

These changes will cost the region approximately £100 million in revenue, but the show – and the jumps – go on. So does the wagering, an estimated £300 million over the four days just in the UK and Ireland.

Imagine Breeders’ Cup for National Hunt runners

What are they wagering on? The Cheltenham Festival features 28 races over four days, with seven races running each day. It’s a four-day Breeders’ Cup for jumpers, featuring more than £4.6 million in prize money. Fourteen of the 28 races are Group 1s, and five of those are the flagship events on their respective days.

Cheltenham’s marquee event is the £625,000 Gold Cup, the fourth of seven Friday races. It sends its contestants 3 ¼ miles and 70 yards. Leading the charge is two-time defending champion Al Boum Photo, who sits as the current 5/2 favorite. He’s angling to be the first horse since Best Mate (2002, 2003, 2004) to win three Gold Cups.

Tuesday’s headline event is the Champion Hurdle, a two-mile, 87-yard race. Wednesday’s is the nearly two-mile Champion Chase. Thursday’s two feature events are the 2 ½-mile, 87-yard Ryanair Chase and the nearly three-mile Stayers’ Hurdle.

Cheltenham Festival could be Tiger Roll’s farewell ride

One other storyline involves Tiger Roll. The two-time Grand National champion goes for his fifth Cheltenham win in Wednesday’s Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase. That 3 ¾-mile, 37-yard race could be the 11-year-old standout’s last race. His owners withdrew him from next month’s Grand National over a weight dispute, and the four-time Cheltenham winner’s form has disintegrated over the past year.