Beginner’s Guide to the Cheltenham Festival

What is it?

It’s one of the biggest occasions of the Jump Racing calendar with four days of top class jump racing – 26 races in total, many of which are the annual end of season ‘championships’ for particular types of race.

When is it?

The Festival 2010 takes place from Tuesday to Friday, 16 to 19 March.

Just how big is this meeting?

Over the four days, around 230,000 racegoers will visit The Festival, and with more watching the action on TV, over £500 million will be spent on betting.

Amongst them will be anxious owners, trainers and jockeys, keeping everything crossed, biting their fingernails and working their socks off to earn a slice of the huge prizemoney fund which totals £3.56m.

Is it a social event?

Of course! Because of its high-quality races, The Festival is renowned for attracting real racing enthusiasts. But there is also plenty of non-racing activity to see and enjoy including shopping, music and various dining opportunities.

Thursday 18 March is The Festival’s Ladies’ Day – dress to impress, as there are awards for Best Dressed Lady, Best Accessories and Best Hat. The racecourse also presents an award for ‘The Outstanding Contribution made by a Lady to Jump Racing’ as a result of nominations from the public. Previously, this award has been given to Heather Atkinson, Senior Nurse in Cheltenham’s Jockeys’ Hospital for over 30 years, Ann Saunders from the Professional Jockeys Association, and Lady Chicky Oaksey from the Injured Jockeys Fund.


What highlights should the new visitor to Cheltenham look out for?

The first thing you’re recommended to do is walk to the front of the stands and view the course in front of you…it’s a great view with Cleeve Hill as the backdrop. Then, the Parade Ring is a must before a race or two but less well-known is the Pre-parade Ring behind the weighing room. This is a bit of a Cheltenham secret, so is often less busy than the Parade Ring and yet you can get a close-up look of horses/trainers/owners and see the horses being saddled: you need to be there straight after the previous race had ended.

In the Parade Ring, look out for the statue of the Queen Mother, while another of note is the Arkle statue near the Parade Ring, which is also a great meeting place as the venue’s central point. Whether you’ve backed the winner or not, the Winner’s Enclosure (at the top end of the Parade Ring) is a great place to be after an Irish victory as they know how to celebrate!

Where’s a good place for punters to celebrate a win?

The Arkle Bar at the lower end of the Members enclosure is worth a visit. It has great memorabilia around the walls regarding the great horse himself, and it’s a good bar with a pub-like atmosphere.

Who should we look out for at Cheltenham?

Celebs are quite accessible and they are happy to walk around the course. Mike Tindall and Zara Phillips get out and about as do a few footballers and rugby players. The easiest way to find Kate Middleton is to spot in which direction the paparazzi long lenses are pointing! She remains ensconced in her box or the balcony of it. The Queen might attend this year as she has a runner in the Ryanair Chase – Barber Shop.

Why is it so special for the Irish?

Historical reasons and Arkle. Traditionally they do well with their horses, which are supported by Irish punters who like the ‘craic’. Breeding industry is strong in Ireland and they love their racing. There is also friendly English/Irish rivalry.

What’s the likelihood of Kauto Star winning?

He’s a worthy favourite and the best horse in the race. Some are comparing him to Arkle and he has the highest form rating since Arkle. Take care with betting though, as the result of a horse race is not always predictable!

Is there a particular Cheltenham anecdote that you could share with us?

Plenty…but not in writing!! Well…just one – I had a friend who fell asleep on his back in a flowerbed just in front of the main gates at the start of the day. He was still asleep until he was woken by the commentator giving his horse a mention in the Gold Cup. Around 30,000 people must have walked past him. There was also the time we hijacked a commuter to drive us back into town…but I better not say any more!!

Where can we find out more from you?

For comments and tips see and Twitter – @jpfestival. 

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