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The history of racing in Cheltenham can be traced back hundreds of years. Legend has it that flat races were being run on Notting Hill in Cheltenham over 200 years ago. Racing proved to be a popular pastime in the area, so much so that it angered a local clergyman who arranged for all facilities on Nottingham Hill to be burnt to the ground.
Cheltenham horseracing fans were not so easily dissuaded from their favourite pastime, and it didn’t take long before horse races were again being organised. By the turn of the 20th century racing in Cheltenham had once again found a permanent home in Prestbury Park, where developer Baring Bingham set up a grandstand and enclosed the racetrack with railings.
The official opening of racing facilities at Prestbury Park in 1902 with a two day festival marked the official commencement of Cheltenham Festival history. Two years later the most famous Cheltenham Festival race of them all was introduced with the first running of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, won by Red Splash.
The introduction of the Cheltenham Gold Cup gave the Cheltenham Festival the impetus it needed to earn recognition as one of the biggest annual sporting events in the United Kingdom. The hotly contested race introduced a parade of superstar racehorses to the world, including Golden Miller, Cottage Rake and the legendary Arkle.
The performances of brilliant Irish racehorses, Cottage Rake in particular, attracted a great deal of interest from Irish national hunt racing fans, sparking off the rivalry between the English and Irish racing communities that drives the festival to this day.
During the 1960’s the success of the Cheltenham Festival, and the purchase of Cheltenham Racecourse by the Jockey Club saw the venue enter into a sustained period of development as facilities were upgraded to accommodate the massive public interest in the event.
Once developments began they gathered a momentum of their own, and during the next four decades of Cheltenham Festival history the racecourse evolved into one of the top horseracing facilities in Europe. Today Cheltenham Racecourse boasts not only multimillion pound grandstand developments, but also a world class turf and excellent hospitality facilities.
In 2005 the expansion of the Cheltenham Festival into a four day long event ushered in a new era in Cheltenham Festival history. The Cheltenham Festival now boasts several of the most eagerly anticipated steeplechase and hurdles races in the racing calendar, and in 2007 drew a crowd of nearly 200,000 spectators to Prestbury Park.