From Camilla’s victory to Kate’s debut—top royal Cheltenham moments

Cheltenham Festival 2023: All you need to know

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The annual Cheltenham Festival has returned, with the four-day jump racing event taking place from March 14 to March 17. The racecourse, which hosts one of the biggest equestrian events of the calendar year, is about a 100-mile drive outside of London and welcomes more than 260,000 fans to watch and bet on the action. Often among the throngs of spectators are members of the Royal Family, particularly those who have an affinity for equestrianism. Regular royal visitors include Princess Anne, her daughter Zara Tindall and Queen Camilla, and throughout her 70-year reign, the late Queen Elizabeth II made occasional visits to the racecourse’s luxurious royal box.

As the third day of the Cheltenham Festival gets underway, takes a look back at some of the royals’ most memorable moments at the races.

‘Unmatched passion’ 

An avid rider and animated spectator, Queen Elizabeth II steered the Royal Family’s love of horses throughout her reign.

She was patron of the Jockey Club, which owns the most well-known racecourses across the country, including Cheltenham, and the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association.

Following her death in September 2022, the Jockey Club paid tribute to the late monarch, saying in a statement: “Racing and royalty have been intertwined throughout the sport’s illustrious history, but never as closely and as intimately as during the lifetime of Queen Elizabeth II, whose passion for and contribution to the industry was unmatched.

“As our Patron, she shared many unforgettable moments with us that will forever hold a special place in our history.”

The last time Queen Elizabeth was spotted cheering from the sidelines at Cheltenham was in 2009.

Standing alongside horse trainer Nicky Henderson, the monarch could be seen clutching her binoculars and focusing intently on the racing.

At other points, she and Mr Henderson were seen laughing and beaming with delight, suggesting that a bet may have been made, and successful.

It marked the first time the Queen had attended the annual festival since 2003 when she was photographed chuckling with granddaughter and fellow equine enthusiast Zara, presenting a trophy to Gold Cup Winner, Jockey Jim Culloty, and unveiling a bronze bust of the Queen Mother.

Before that, Her Majesty had been a spectator at the Gloucestershire races only a handful of times.

In 1957, she and the Queen Mother, also known for her passion for horses, attended together. Likewise, the monarch was accompanied by her mother when she visited Prestbury Park in her coronation year, 1953 — her first Cheltenham Festival as Queen.

A BBC Radio Gloucestershire listener recalled the Queen’s 1953 visit years later, saying: “She was with the Duke and Duchess of Beaufort and they watched the race from the water jump on the back of a Land Rover.”

Royal winners

The late Queen and her mother, who died in 2002, shared a love for the equestrian world and Cheltenham seems to have meant a lot to the duo.

In 2009, during her last appearance at the festival, Queen Elizabeth decided to enter a horse into the Gold Cup for the first time.

Fittingly, it was a horse owned by the Queen Mother, who was the only royal to date that had seen a winner in any of the races run during the festival.

In 1965, she watched Dave Dick ride Antiar to victory and it is estimated that she had owned more than 500 winners in her lifetime.

The Queen Mother, a keen National Hunt fan, attended Cheltenham Festival almost every year until her death. And it wasn’t until 2019 that Queen Elizabeth joined her mother as a winner at the races. Her Majesty celebrated her first-ever win as an owner at Cheltenham Racecourse just days before her 93rd birthday.

While the Queen was not in attendance, trainer Nicky Henderson said: “I am sure Her Majesty will be proud that the family [of her horses[ can win a Listed race at Cheltenham…She’s probably watching Newmarket (today) as well. I’m pretty sure it won’t have gone without notification.

“It’s lovely. It’s all the same old families. She’s out of Spring Flight who I trained. And we are still breeding away, the mares are there. The Queen loves her horses. The pride she takes in the yearlings, mares and foals is wonderful.”

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It’s a family affair

Cheltenham has proven to be a favoured family day out for certain members of the wider Royal Family.

Currently, its most regular royal visitors are Queen Consort Camilla, Princess Anne and Zara Tindall, all of whom have a well-documented history with horses.

The Queen Consort, who made an appearance on day two of this year’s festival, has often been spotted in the company of her two children: Tom Parker-Bowles and Laura Lopes.

In 2015, the trio watched the action from the royal box and seemed to struggle to keep the laughter off their faces, with photographs showing them chatting and chuckling throughout the day.

The year before, Camilla was once again accompanied by her son, who was seen looking a little peeved having lost out on a wager with his mother.

Tom handed his mother a wad of £20 notes after 6-4 favourite Faugheen won in the first race. Camilla beamed with delight as she clutched the cash before swiftly stuffing her winnings in her handbag.

An onlooker said: “Camilla looked thrilled to bits,” while royal commentator Emily Andrews tweeted the royal was “gleefully waving a fistful of cash,” after winning the “cheeky bet”.

Later, a Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said: “The Duchess of Cornwall was delighted with her win. She is a great horse lover and always enjoys coming to Cheltenham. All her family are racing fans.”

Similarly, this year, Anne and Zara attended the festival’s opening day together, harking back to the late Queen’s visits with her mother.

Anne and Zara, who was formerly the President of the Cheltenham Racecourse 18-24 Club, have previously been spotted together at the annual event, and both have a particularly strong interest in all things equestrian.

Both mother and daughter have competed in the Olympics, with Zara earning a Silver medal in London in 2012. In fact, ahead of the Games, Zara carried the Olympic torch at the racecourse on her own horse.

Zara’s passion for horses grew from a young age, with Queen Elizabeth and the Princess Royal eager to encourage the young royal’s passion.  

The Queen’s eldest granddaughter has previously spoken about how the sport has positively influenced her, telling Horse & Hound in 2020: “I love riding for my country; those have been the best experiences of my career.

“To get your horse to that level is what it’s all about and what we all strive for. I love the big occasion because I love the pressure. Sitting on a horse that you know is good enough, you are fully prepared, riding for your country, it’s what your dreams are made of.”

In 2019, Zara joined the Cheltenham Racecourse Committee, having been appointed by the Jockey Club. Upon her appointment, she said: “Racing is simply the most exciting sport and it’s open to all. I’m passionate about horseracing, particularly on the jumps side, and the absolute pinnacle of that is Cheltenham. It’s an honour to have been asked…to get involved in a more formal capacity.” 

Making of a future Queen

In 2007, Prince William and Kate, Princess of Wales, stepped out on one of their first public outings as a couple.

The pair attended the first day of the Cheltenham Festival together, signalling Kate’s continuing exposure to public life. 

A body language expert pointed out the occasion as a significant milestone for the future King and Queen. Speaking to, Judi James claimed the outing proved Kate was a “real trooper” who “got” what royal life was about.

She explained: “Shouldn’t we all breathe a huge sigh of relief that William and Kate grew out of this super-traditional and stuffy royal look before the wedding? In his tweeds and tie, performing the royal ‘pointless point’ and frown ritual, William suddenly seems to be channelling his father’s generation of royals rather than acting as a young man with a beautiful date.”

Ms James noted the Prince of Wales’s focus on the public rather than Kate, before contending that is the nature of royal duty. “He even stuck to rigid royal protocol by walking ahead of Kate, leaving her standing in an operatic pose with a high, odd, handclasp that appeared to make a feature of the fact that William still hadn’t ‘put a ring on it’ in terms of that well-displayed ring finger,” she said. “Kate’s ability to smile here regardless and to dress in matching frumpy tweeds showed she was a real trooper though and that she clearly ‘got’ the idea of life in The Firm.”

Neither Kate nor William has attended the festival in recent years, with their last visit coming in 2013. The couple were seen cheering on the horses during the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the most prestigious race of the event.

Kate, who was five months pregnant with her eldest son at the time, looked happy as she took in the electric atmosphere. Meanwhile, William was spotted browsing the race programme.

While the Prince and Princess of Wales are not keen racegoers, they are said to be encouraging their three children to take up the family sport.

Last year, the Daily Mirror reported that Prince George, nine, Princess Charlotte, seven, and Prince Louis, four, had become “avid riders” and were all trotting about on their very first ponies during the coronavirus lockdown.

The three youngsters are said to have begun honing their riding skills at Amner Hall, the Waleses’ Norfolk home. William was reportedly “thrilled” that his children were taking on the hobby he became fond of as a child.

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