Melanie ReddingHorse racing has essentially become a year-round sport, which means those who follow it closely can always find a contest to zero in on. From Europe to the States, as well as in Australia, major horse races seem to be going on somewhere at all times. But when it comes to live events, particularly for fans in the UK, not many things beat the spring races that run from March through June. Three festivals particularly stand out with those being Cheltenham Festival, the Grand National, and Royal Ascot.

At the time of this writing we’re only a few months past Royal Ascot, and a little more than six months from the 2017 Cheltenham Festival. But while that’s a long while to wait, it’s about the right time to start laying plans if you hope to actually attend one of these events, which ought to be a bucket list item for any horse racing or sports fan. In the coming months you’ll need to book accommodations, secure tickets, pick out a few fun outfits, possibly figure out a betting strategy, and coordinate with friends, so as to get into the social side of the events. Below, I’ll provide a few general details that can serve as an early guide for anyone preparing to attend one of these spring racing festivals.

The Schedules

As we get closer to the New Year, BBC’s list of fixtures will be updated to tell you the details of any and all spring races you may want to attend. And as most fans know, there are plenty of fixtures at major venues that do not fall under the umbrella of signature festival events. But for the marquee spring occasions we’re talking about, the dates are already determined, making it easy to start scheduling ahead. In 2017, Cheltenham Festival will be held from March 14-17 at Cheltenham Racecourse, the Grand National will take place from April 6-8 at Aintree Racecourse outside of Liverpool, and Royal Ascot will be held from June 20-24 at Ascot Racecourse in Berkshire.

Where To Buy Tickets

Each event is different, and for these three festivals you can usually find various ticket packages at their respective websites. You might opt for a pass for the duration of a festival or a ticket to a particular viewing area on a particular day. Frankly, there are a lot of options. However, if you’re looking for a simpler way to sift through those options, SeatGeek’s aggregated ticket finder now includes listings for major horse racing events. Basically, this site compiles all the different tickets and prices that you’d find at other sites and lists them in one place, which means it could be the newest and best way to find affordable options for Cheltenham, Aintree, and Ascot.

Where To Stay

There are plenty of options around each racecourse for accommodations, from luxury hotels to rentals as well as bed and breakfast-style lodgings. Cheltenham Racecourse has actually spawned a full racing accommodation site that makes for a wonderful first stop if you’re planning on attending the March races. Where the Grand National is concerned many would prefer to find affordable places to stay in and around Liverpool, shortening the commute to the racecourse. And for Royal Ascot, there’s a nice opportunity to spend evenings in London given the close proximity to the course. The Liverpool and London options may be particularly appealing to people from abroad, but it’s still worth noting that urban accommodation is a reasonable option for these two huge festivals.

Where To Bet

We’re all about the social side of horse racing as well, and in the case of major events that tends to mean a little bit of betting activity. That’s not to suggest you need to invest a great deal of money in betting, but at festivals like Cheltenham, the Grand National, and Royal Ascot, wagering is part of the fun. It also gives you something to talk about with your friends or family, or even perfect strangers. Lots of different betting platforms get in on the action, though you’ll probably start to see some of the earliest odds listings at Betfair’s horse racing exchange. Six months out there’s not much just yet, but this site devotes thorough attention to the major UK events, and you’ll be seeing Cheltenham odds popping up before too much longer.

Planning Your Race Day Outfits

And finally (perhaps most importantly to a lot of spectators!) there’s the fashion to consider. The three festivals we’re discussing here actually vary quite a bit in this regard. Cheltenham’s placement in the middle of March means that it can be a little bit cool and damp, and outfits tend to be a little heavier and darker than those we typically think of with regard to horse racing. The Grand National, meanwhile, lightens things up considerably and is known to be a little bit more playful than some other events. And Royal Ascot is far and away the most formal of the three, though attendees still embrace the somewhat whimsical nature of horse racing fashion. Keep an eye on Eclipse’s fashion section for some specifics if indeed you set plans in motion to attend one of these races!

Melanie Redding

This is a guest post by Melanie Redding, a part-time writer living in London. While she’s making due with other activities and sports right now, it’s probably pretty obvious that she cannot wait for next spring’s races.

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