The Cheltenham Festival is the most prestigious meeting in the National Hunt racing calendar in the United Kingdom, and has race prize money second only to the Grand National. It is an event where many of the best British and Irish trained horses race against each other, the extent of which is relatively rare during the rest of the season.
The festival takes place annually in March at Cheltenham Racecourse in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. The meeting is often very popular with Irish visitors, mostly because of that nation's affinity with horse racing, but also because it usually coincides with Saint Patrick's Day, a national holiday in celebration of the patron saint of Ireland.
Huge amounts of money are bet during festival week, with hundreds of millions of pounds being gambled over the four days. Cheltenham is often noted for its atmosphere, most notably the "Cheltenham roar", which refers to the enormous amount of noise that the crowd generates as the starter raises the tape for the first race of the festival. For several years there have been concerns about the high number of injuries and fatalities to horses. This was brought to a head in 2006 when 11 horses died. In response the racecourse decreased the number of runners in certain races and re-sited one of the more difficult fences. However, some animal rights groups do not accept that this is sufficient.