Prestige in all sports is always a subjective opinion. Is it, for example, a greater achievement to win the Super Bowl or World Series? Are the achievements of Serena Williams greater than those of Usain Bolt? It’s always difficult to answer, because there is no right answer.
In the United Kingdom, a nation spoiled for choice with horse racing festivals, the opinion as to which are the greatest tends to change as frequently as the weather. Below are the three best, in ascending order, decided by, admittedly, subjective opinion.
3. Aintree Grand National Festival: 3rd – 6th April, Aintree, Liverpool
The festival that holds Europe’s richest handicap race and one of the world’s most iconic sporting events – The Grand National. No race brings in the casual fan quite like the National, making it one of the world’s greatest betting events. It’s tough to win too, with no horse since the legendary Red Rum winning more than one since the 1970s. Tiger Roll, the 2018 winner after a thrilling photo-finish, is 20/1 (888sport) in the latest odds to make history next year.
Over the years, the Aintree Festival has expanded and is now less focused on the ‘big one’. Indeed, it now has several Grade 1 races, including Melling Chase and Liverpool Hurdle. A particular highlight, however, is off the track – Ladies’ Day at Aintree. It gets huge media attention as the great, the good and the masses dress for in their finery for the big occasion.
2. Royal Ascot: 18th – 22nd June, Ascot, Berkshire
Nothing compares to the pomp and finery of Royal Ascot. The ‘Royal’ part of the title is not throwaway either, as the Queen and other members of the British Royal Family are often in attendance. Parts of Ascot look like a throwback to another era, but that’s part of the reason it is sp special.
However, don’t let that fool you into believing that Royal Ascot doesn’t put spectacular racing front of centre. Even months before the event, Royal Ascot betting markets are scrutinised by punters. At the moment the debate all rages around Stradivarius, the latest winner of Ascot’s biggest race – the Gold Cup. Stradivarius is a hot favourite to retain, coming in around 3/1, but those odds can change at any time. Moreover, there are seven other Group 1 races contested during Royal Ascot.
- Cheltenham Festival: 12th – 15th March, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
For years, Cheltenham was the poorer cousin in British racing, always in the shadow of the Grand National, the Derby and Royal Ascot. No longer; Cheltenham is now simply known as The Festival, a unique event that owes much of its popularity to the (friendly) rivalry held between the Irish and British. Irish racing fans ‘invade’ southern England for the event, all adding up to a carnival atmosphere that rivals any sporting event on the planet.
Each day has its own feature race at The Festival, with the Cheltenham Gold Cup being arguably the most important. However, if you are catching the action at the 2019 event, be sure to keep an eye on the Stayers’ Hurdle on 14th March. The favourite, coming in at 5/1 with 888sport, is Faugheen, a near legendary horse who seems to be on the cusp of a remarkable comeback to the very top of the sport. A win will put him among the contenders for the all-time great hurdlers.