Cheltenham Festival Beginner's Guide
Cheltenham Racecourse, otherwise known as Prestbury Park, is situated just outside the historic spa town of Cheltenham. The town comes to life in mid-March as the focus of the horseracing world shifts to the course that sits in the shadow of Cleeve Hill.
What Cheltenham lacks for in high style respective to Ascot, it more than makes up for in high stakes. Millions of pounds will change hands on each and every Festival race. Legendary punter and owner JP McManus is reputed to have placed more than a few six-figure wagers in the Cheltenham betting ring. Most punters aren’t quite so rich or confident and many bookmakers will stand bets of as little as £2, while some others require £5. Due to the large numbers of Irish race goers at the Cheltenham Festival, many on-course bookmakers will accept Euros.
Cheltenham Festival Course
The Cheltenham Festival will be split in two: days one and two will be run on the Old Course, days three and four on the New Course. The two courses are both left-handed and essentially stiff in nature, but there are subtle differences that can prove crucial. The Old Course, used for the Champion Hurdle and Queen Mother Champion Chase, has a slightly shorter run-in and puts the emphasis somewhat more on speed. The New Course, which hosts the longer Stayers' Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup, puts extra emphasis on a horse’s stamina, which can lead to everything changing as the field climbs the fabled Cheltenham hill.
Travelling to the Cheltenham Festival
Cheltenham is well served by transport links for those who wish to leave the car at home. Cheltenham Spa Railway Station, which lies on the Bristol-Birmingham main line, serves the town. Services from the Midlands and South East are frequent and, with the station lying on the Cross-Country route, it is possible to reach Cheltenham Spa on a direct train from as far afield as Aberdeen.
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Cheltenham Festival Tickets
Tickets for the Cheltenham Festival are highly sought-after, though in practice tickets are usually available on the day for the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of the Festival. The Friday, which includes the Cheltenham Gold Cup, tends to sell out in advance and booking is therefore strongly recommended.
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What to Wear at the Cheltenham Festival
Though the Cheltenham Festival is comparable as a racing event with Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood, its place in the calendar and the more agricultural background of National Hunt racing mean that it isn’t generally seen as a social occasion on the same scale. Cheltenham carries a far more relaxed atmosphere and dress code: there is no Royal Enclosure and the dress code usually calls for coats and flat caps rather than tails and fascinators.
This more relaxed atmosphere at the Cheltenham Festival is also in part down to the make-up of the crowd. Cheltenham is arguably the most famous Anglo-Irish sporting occasion on the calendar and every year thousands of Irish fans come over to Cheltenham. The Irish contingent tends to be particularly noticeable in the Guinness Village, which sits adjacent to the main grandstand.
Cheltenham Festival Dress Code.