Review: Cheltenham Festival
Attraction - Festival
Evesham Road, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL50 4SH, United Kingdom
Brilliant atmosphere, enormous fun
A dear friend once told me you should never bet on horses because you’ve only got one nag in the race and the bookie has all the rest. You can’t argue with the logic of that statement so I keep my punts to once a year, the Grand National, and even then I wouldn’t risk my shirt let alone my house. That said, I’m always up for trying something new which is how I found myself at the Cheltenham Festival this year. Culminating in the Gold Cup it’s the most prestigious ‘jumping event’ in the world.
You can get some outstanding deals from coach companies that include travel, admission and accommodation. However, Cheltenham racecourse being in an absolutely stunning location, I decided to drive down and have the flexibility your own can brings.The course has a scenic location in a natural amphitheatre just below the escarpment of the Cotswold Hills, at Cleeve Hill, with a capacity of 67,500 spectators. It even has its own steam railway station (of the same name), although this no longer connects to the national rail network but is nowadays the southern terminus of the preserved Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway.
I’m normally sceptical these days that I can even afford to attend showpiece sporting events. I know you can easily pay £100 for international matches involving football, rugby or cricket. Horse racing is no different if you have bottomless pockets. The top grandstand seats for the Cheltenham Festival will set you back £160 a time, throw in a restaurant package for two and you wont see much change from £2,000 for a couple of day’s entertainment. Thankfully though, and no doubt because of the huge capacity mentioned earlier, you can purchase a ticket for as little as £22. In this day and age I think that’s absolutely brilliant.
Before I describe the festival though I’d like to say a little about the surrounding area, which at the end of the day was partly the reason I found myself in this neck of the woods. The town is simply beautiful, as you’d expect it’s choc full of spas (the reason the town came into existence), it’s extremely green and pleasant and it has an aura of wealth. Many of the buildings are listed and Cheltenham is often described as the most complete Regency town in Britain.Pate’s Grammer School was founded in1574 so it certainly doesn’t lack history. On a more modern note, be careful what you say about the place, because the Doughnut is just down the road. To the uninitiated that’s GCHQ, the listening arm of our national security forces. Speak badly of Cheltenham and you might just get a knock on the door!
The Cotswolds are on the doorstep. If you have bags of time and more energy than I’ve got, the 102 mile Cotswold Way is yours for the hiking. Btw, I wonder when it will eventually be unacceptable to use Imperial measurements on STA. I don’t think kilometres, grammes and cubic metres will ever come naturally to me in my lifetime. I was watching a rugby match this afternoon and a player was described as being 1.85metres tall. I had to do a quick calculation in my head before I worked out if he was a giant or a midget, the conversion (no pun intended) didn’t come by default.
Anyway, I digress, the Cotswold Way takes in numerous places of interest, including the site of the Battle of Lansdowne, the Somerset Monument, the Tyndale Monument, Sudeley Castle, Cleeve Hill, Hailes Abbey, and the Broadway Tower. With the exception of a small stretch around Broadway (which is in Worcestershire), the entire walk is within Gloucestershire (including South Gloucestershire) and Somerset (including Bath and North East Somerset.
Cleeve Hill is the focal point as far as my review goes.Also known as Cleeve Cloud it is the highest point both of the Cotswolds hill range and in the county of Gloucestershire, at 1,083 feet (330m). It commands a clear view to the west, over Cheltenham and the racecourse, over the River Severn and into Wales; and to the north over Winchcombe. It is a conspicuous outcrop on the edge of the limestone escarpment, (sometimes called the “Cotswold Edge”) and it is crossed by the Cotswold Way. So it’s fair to say you get a lot of bang for your buck. Definitely a must do to say you’ve stood at a record breaker, though just north of here is another ‘peak’ with even better views.
Back to the racecourse. Lovers of history might like to pop into the Centaur before enjoying a punt on our four legged friends. It’s a large complex that as well as hosting concerts and conferences has a permanent exhibition, The Hall of Fame charts steeplechasing history from 1819 and showcases the sport’s riders and trainers associated with National Hunt racing. It’s a trip down memory lane for those who are familiar with the sport and educational for those who aren’t.
The festival itself has themed days, so there’s one for the ladies, one for the Irish and of course Gold Cup day itself which sells out quickly. In fact if you don’t like crowds, be wary. Although the grandstands and facilities have been recently revamped and are top class for guests with mobility issues, 60,000 plus people, in party mood, wont be everyone’s idea of a fun occasion. I personally loved the atmosphere, the fancy dress, the posh attire of the women, the rowdy but good natured antics of the hordes of Irish. They really do love their gees gees in that part of the world and they come over with every intention of having a great time.
Despite the crowds I found it very easy to put a bet on, grab a bite to eat and even order a pint of beer. There’s sufficient staff to deal with the massive influx of punters and security and customer relations helpers are also plentiful. The prices are what you’d expect, above average but not exorbitantly so and I found the quality of the food to be good.. Besides, I intended to pay for it all out of my winnings, ahum. One piece of advice I would give, book a hotel a distance away from Cheltenham. The local ones fill up a year in advance and are very expensive. You wont find special offers or reductions during Gold Cup week, they could sell the rooms ten times over. The cheap deals I mentioned on offer from coach companies are possible because they book their guests in up to 25 miles away. Common sense when you obviously have the means to get your clients right into the venue.
Another little tip. Gold Cup day is always a sell out. Tickets start off expensive and rather strangely increase in price the nearer the festival gets. Every couple of months they raise the cost by about 10%. So either give the day a miss, the other ones are almost as good, OR buy early.
So how did I do then you’re all eager to know. Or probably not. Well the sum total of my equine knowledge extends to knowing they have a leg at each corner and eat hay. So rather than study form, pick the brains of those in the know and spend hours scrutinising the horses’ physiques in the parade ring, I just decided to bet on the favourite. This is a well known tactic of the cowardly and naive. I had my budget and I had my plan. £5 a race, seven races a day, four days of the festival. Now I’m no Carol Vorderman or whizz kid mathematician bookie, but I know that came to £140. I anticipated losing half of it which I was comfortable with. At least I knew if I’d made a mistake, so had a good proportion of the attendant masses. A favourite is a favourite because a fair percentage of people are selecting it.
The first day was a limited success, as in I beat my target of a 50% return. Three favourites were victorious, one at 5/2 and this was instrumental in me getting almost all of my money back. I punched the air in triumph. The second day I just punched my own head in disgust and despair, I lost every penny. The bookmakers made a fortune as not one favourite justified the description.
Day three was much better. I had TWO horses in the first race by virtue of there being a duo of equally fancied nags. And they finished first and second. Twice the prospects but half the rewards, that’s life. A good start though and a few others did themselves justice leaving me with a profit on the day of £7. Boy did I party that night, don’t think I got in until 8.25pm.
And the last day, Gold Cup day, well and truly pulled me out of the mire. So no need for the old joke about backing a horse at 10 to 1 that was still running at 5 past 3. A healthy £22 profit mainly thanks to a star performer in the first race coming in at 9/2. All said and done a loss of about £6 over the festival. Next time I’ll have the bookies going home in tears !
A thoroughly enjoyable few days and something I’d recommend whether you like the sport or not. The surroundings, the atmosphere, the drama and colour, together they make for an unforgettable time. Roll on the Grand National.
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.