Get an inside look at the royal connections to one of the U.K.'s best-known horse racing events

By Diana Pearl
March 09, 2018 11:00 AM

Royals love their horses. (Princess Anne and Zara Tindall have even competed on horseback at the Olympics!) And one of the biggest horse racing events of the royal calendar is just around the corner.

The annual Cheltenham Festival, about a 100-mile drive outside of London, is a four-day jump racing event that is set to take place March 13 through March 16 this year. Here’s your guide to the races!

Races at Cheltenham
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1. Though the Cheltenham Festival is the racecourse’s main event, it’s open throughout the year.

The annual festival brings in more than 260,000 fans to watch and bet on dozens of horses. The event frequently brings out royal visitors, too, to fill the racecourse’s spacious and luxurious royal box.

A horse takes a winner’s lap at Cheltenham
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Cheltenham differs from other famous racecourses in one major way: It’s a jump racing track, which involves hurdles. (At a racecourse like Royal Ascot, they compete in flat racing.)

The Royal Box at Cheltenham Racecourse
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2. The Royal Box isn’t just for royals.

Despite the name, the royal box isn’t just used by members of the royal family. When the royals aren’t in attendance, it is used to host other VIPs and Cheltenham guests.

Outside, there’s a wide balcony known as the Princess Royal Stand. It’s the only box that features a dual view, to the side and to the front, so visitors in the royal box get alternate perspectives on the races.

Inside the Royal Box
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If fans prefer to stay inside, there are televisions in the box so you don’t miss a moment no matter where you are. There are also betting stations inside, so visitors to the royal box don’t have to mingle with the masses outside to place their bets.

Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall at Cheltenham
Mark Cuthbert/UK Press/Getty

3. The royals really do get the royal treatment.

Of course, when members of the royal family do come to Cheltenham, the royal box is where they go. And as such, preparations are made for their visit — including special gourmet treats.

Afternoon tea
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Certain ingredients are not permitted: There can be no garlic contained in any dishes served to members of the royal family, because they don’t want there to be a smell on their breath when they talk to people. In addition, when onions are served, they are first boiled to get rid of the scent. Menus are sent to the palace beforehand for approval, and favorite dishes include lobster, filet, salmon and asparagus. On official visits, they’ll be served a three-course meal.

Prince William and Kate Middleton at Cheltenham in 2013
David Davies/PA Images/Getty

4. That is, when their arrival is expected.
Oftentimes, members of the royal family will make planned visits to Cheltenham — but occasionally they just drop in. The royal who does this the most often? Avid horse racing lover Princess Anne, whose home, Gatcombe Park, isn’t too far of a drive away. Cheltenham staff say that when she does pop in, she often goes unnoticed by other racing fans.

Sunset at Cheltenham
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5. Queen Elizabeth has a special connection to Cheltenham.
Cheltenham is owned by the Jockey Club, an organization that owns 15 of the largest and best-known racecourses in Britain, and counts noted horse racing fan (and successful gambler!) Queen Elizabeth as their patron.

Queen Elizabeth at the Cheltenham Festival
Mark Cuthbert/UK Press/Getty

Other royal members of the Jockey Club include Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Princess Anne and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. They aren’t the only royals who have visited Cheltenham: Prince William, Kate Middleton and Zara Tindall have all attended the Cheltenham Festival in years past.