The National Hunt racing season is out of the gates — and the big, boisterous kick-off to the calendar takes place in the home of horse-racing in the West Country; Cheltenham.
Not only is this our first chance to see how some of the biggest contenders are running this year, but it’s also the first notable event in the social calendar. So, to ensure you button up the right wardrobe, know your hurdles from your handicaps and have a lavish pad on which to splash your winnings, we’ve put together an extensive, exhaustive and thoroughly comprehensive guide to Cheltenham Festival.
What’s happening across the board?
The Festival — as it’s known, by the way — runs over four days, and each of these days has its own big races and distinct atmosphere.
Day One is Champion Day. This initial day is when all that pent-up energy that has been building all winter long is finally let out, released in some of the most hotly-contested races you’ll see all week.
Day Two is Ladies’ Day. Pretty self-explanatory, this is a day affectionately known as the ‘Queen Mother’ of all race days. Expect women to flock to the racecourse, dressed to impress and ready to win big on some pretty good races. It’s not just all about the fascinators, you know…
Day Three is St. Patrick’s Thursday. This is when each and every Irish owner and trainer (and, as you’d expect, there’s a lot of them) clamour for a big victory. Also, if you want to enjoy a pint of Guinness, get in early — there’ll be a lot of it flowing.
Day Four is Gold Cup Day. This is the culmination of everything that has come before it. The feeling at the racecourse will be electric, and the big money race closes The Festival. This year, the original Gold Cup from 1924 is up for grabs.
How to get a head start with your wardrobe
While there is no formal dress code enforced at The Festival, our charming (read: much-maligned) Great British weather can often impose its own. As the meet takes place in March, and in an area of the country that supposedly has its own microclimate, it often pays to wrap up warm.
You’re practically in the countryside, with Cheltenham sitting right on the border of the Cotswolds, so feel free to go for a checked blazer — but be sure to take a decent overcoat as well in case you get stranded out on the tattersalls.
Personally, we’d recommend a countryside-ready green check blazer from Hackett to ensure you stay both comfortable and stylish. Pair this with a warm-yet-elegant overcoat from New & Lingwood and a pair of sturdy loafers from the master shoemakers at Cheaney, and you’ll be all set for a day to remember.
Cheaney Hadley penny loafer
Hackett green check wool blazer
New & Lingwood fawn cover coat
Hit your stride with the racecourse terminology
If it’s your first trip to the races, then you’re going to be confused. A lot of the lingo and terms that’ll be bandied around will have you scratching your head and may even, god forbid, lead you to placing a bet without fully understanding what you’re doing with your money.
So, to make your time at the track a little more enjoyable — not to mention profitable — we spoke to the experts over at The Jockey Club to break down some of the more confusing and singular terms that fly around the Parade Ring.
Furlong: This is the measurement of distance by which races are set. You’ll see races run over a variety of distances during the week, but the easiest way to break it down is this: there are 8 furlongs in a mile, and 220 yards in a furlong. You do the maths.
Chase: This is a race where the horses will jump over hurdles.
Pulled up: A horse that still has its jockey on board, but does not complete the race. This is usually the case if a jockey decides the horse is too far behind to win the race — or is struggling to deal with the race.
Each way: This is a tricky one. When betting ‘each way’, you are essentially placing two bets, one for your chosen horse to win and another for it to place in the top three or four (depending on the bookie’s rules).
If your chosen horse places in the top three, then you’ll win a fraction of the odds, usually ¼ or ⅕ — but you’ll normally still be in profit.
The Paddock: Also known as the ‘Parade Ring’, this is where horses strut their stuff before each race — giving racegoers the opportunity to see the runners before deciding who to bet on. The winners’ enclosure is also in the paddock and it’s well worth heading there after a race to see the rousing reception afforded to the winning horse and jockey.
Eat like a horse and drink like an Irishman
A day at the races is never complete without a good hearty meal and a drink (or four) to keep you warm in the chilly spring weather. And there are plenty of options at Cheltenham for punters looking for a square meal — whether you’re after pub grub or fine dining.
If you don’t want to miss any of the action as you tuck in, we’d recommend the Panoramic Restaurant, which offers the best views of the winning post along with a convenient betting service — so your meal will pay for itself.
You’ll also find a wide variety of bars to wet your whistle around the race course, from the Gin and Jazz Lounge to the See You Then Bar and Terrace. You’ll never be far from a drink, whether that’s a celebratory champagne when your bet comes in or a comiseratory pint to sink once you’ve sank your money.
Know your dark horses and long shots
If you’re heading to The Festival this year — or even if you’re just planning on having a flutter from behind your desk at work — you’ll want some tips. After all, only fools gamble on horses because they like the name…
So, to get the inside scoop on the top runners at this year’s races, we spoke to the Head of Racing at premier private bookmakers Fitzdares, Sharkie. Take note of these names.
“This year sees the returning Champion Hurdler Buveur D’Air stake his reputation against the challenger mare Apple’s Jade,” says the Head of Racing. “And many think that Apple’s Jade might take it.
“Grand National winner Tiger Roll returns,” he adds, “while undisputed star of the show Altior is our banker of the week in Champion Chase.
“In the Gold Cup, all the chatter is about Presenting Percy, a horse whose prep has involved just one race over hurdles. Without dismissing his obvious credentials, it is Elegant Escape who may emerge victorious.”
Stay in the hotel giving all others a run for their money
There’s only one place to stay when heading to Cheltenham; Ellenborough Park. True, you could probably do with a big win at the track if you’re hoping to check in, but it’s worth every well-won penny.
Located close to the racecourse itself, this historic hotel offers a fleet of chauffeur-driven Bentleys and classic cars during The Festival — ensuring you arrive in style at the track. And this luxurious service is, of course, included in the price of your room.
On the subject of the rooms, the accomodation really is top class. The suites on offer were recently renovated, and offer a perfectly pitched combination of period features and contemporary amenities. There’s nowhere better, in our books.
And, if you haven’t had your fill of equine-themed action at the track, when you return to Ellenborough Park you can decamp to The Horsebox — a horse-themed pub just a nose away from the hotel — and one of the best in the Cotswolds to boot.
Now find out what you should be wearing to the rest of the sporting events this year…