The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the most prestigious race of the National Hunt season and has been run, over 3 miles 2½ furlongs, on the ‘New’ Course at Prestbury Park, in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire since 1959. Nowadays, the Cheltenham Gold Cup is the highlight of the fourth, and final, day of the Cheltenham Festival, held annually in mid-March.
The New Course is a left-handed oval, approximately a mile and a half in circumference and constantly on the turn. Although sharper than widely believed, with pronounced undulations, the New Course is essentially galloping and testing in character, with ten, notoriously stiff fences per circuit.
From the start position, horses in the Cheltenham Gold Cup jump two plain fences – which will become the second-last and last in two circuits’ time – in the home straight before continuing uphill out into the country. The fourth fence is the water jump and the fifth and seventh fences are open ditches, the first of which is jumped uphill. The uphill ditch can prove problematic as horses can see the rising ground on the landing side, which alters their perception of the fence. The second open ditch is followed by two more plain fences and a pronounced downhill run, with another plain fence, back to the point of departure.
The fence after the turn at the top of the hill, which is jumped as the ninth and nineteenth, or fourth-last, has been resited for safety purposes in the past, but still provides its fair share of incident, as does the fence on the downhill stretch; this is especially true on the second circuit, as horses come under pressure. At the end of the second circuit, horses jump the two fences in the home straight for a third, and final, time, making a total of 22 fences in all.