When thinking of big events in horse racing, people automatically think about the Kentucky Derby Festival or the Melbourne Carnival. The Cheltenham Festival (13th-16th March) probably does not get the same exposure around the world that it does in the UK and Ireland – but its uniqueness is really worth checking out.

The Festival, which is held at Prestbury Park, Gloucestershire, UK, features 28 races of different national hunt (jumps) disciplines – a type of racing n usually confined to the British Isles. These include hurdles and (steeple)chases. The difference between the two is that a hurdle race involves jumping over a hurdle (usually a bush) and the chase usually involves a longer race with higher obstacles (usually fences) to navigate.

Champion Chase and Gold Cup among Festival highlights

The Cheltenham Festival includes some of the most prestigious events in national hunt racing, including the Champion Hurdle, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Stayers’ Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup. In total, there are 14 Grade 1 races, meaning only the best horses will compete.

Cheltenham’s history stretches all the way back to the mid-nineteenth century, but it is now arguably bigger than ever. Around 67,000 fans will attend the races each day of the Festival, with millions more catching the action on television. The action is fast and furious, with the raucous racegoers providing one of the best atmospheres in sports.

Heavy betting expected across the four days of racing

There is much to get excited about for the 2018 Festival. Willie Mullins, one of the all-time great trainers of national hunt racing, will bring a strong team to the Festival. He trains the early favourites for the first two races, with the brilliant Getabird priced at odds of 2/1 (+200) for the Supreme Novices Hurdle and the exciting Footpad 11/8 (+137.50) for the Arkle Challenge Trophy. The latter race is named after Arkle, one of the most legendary horses in British racing history.

The biggest race of the Festival – the Cheltenham Gold Cup – is set to be a thriller. It will pit Might Bite (4/1, +400), who was the winner of the King George VI Chase in December, against last year’s Gold Cup winner, Sizing John (7/1, +700). While lots of punters will be backing those two popular horses, some of the smart money might go on Native River at 13/2 (+650) or Our Duke 9/1 (+900). Click here for the top Cheltenham betting tips before you place your bet on any of the races.

Cheltenham is painted green by the Irish during a fun week

The party atmosphere at the Festival is also one of the highlights. Although Cheltenham is in the south of England, there is a massive Irish connection to the Festival. The Irish fans bring plenty of humour and pageantry to the Festival, with huge amounts of Guinness consumed on site. 19 of last year’s 28 winners were Irish-trained, something to keep an eye on if you are having a bet. If fashion is your thing, be sure to check out Ladies’ Day, which sees racegoers in their posh frocks and finery.

What else should you know about the Cheltenham Festival? Well, it’s a celebration of horsemanship just as much as it is about brilliant horses. The riders at the Festival have a different skillset than those you would find on the tracks of America and elsewhere. Their bravery and passion in navigating the jumps are part of what makes the Festival special. It all adds up to four spectacular days of racing – a must for anyone who loves horses.