With the Cheltenham Festival already underway, we thought we’d help you plan for next year so that you can enjoy the action from the course.
During the festival, the town’s population grows enormously, with 260,000 people attending over the four days. To put this into perspective, Cheltenham is usually only home to 118,000 people, so you’ll need to plan in advance to secure a hotel near the course.
Of course, that’s not the only thing you’ll need to plan for; we’ll guide you through every step.
Getting to Cheltenham
Travelling to the festival can be tricky, particularly finding somewhere to park. If you plan to arrive a couple of days early and leave a day or two late, you might be okay to drive; otherwise, public transport is a good idea.
Extra bus services run throughout festival days, which help ease traffic in the town.
There are also trains that run directly from Paddington to Cheltenham Spa and from Birmingham to the same station. It’s well worth getting the train to avoid the hideous queues that surround the racecourse on festival days.
Somewhere to Stay
If you plan to stay for more than one day, booking a hotel well in advance is essential. Cheltenham is a charming town with many period properties, some of which are beautiful guest houses.
The Park Hotel is a particularly attractive building that’s right in the centre of town and within a manageable walk of the racecourse. It also offers free parking, which is incredibly helpful for those who want to avoid paying a fortune in other parts of town.
Watching Up Close
With the admin out of the way, it’s time to enjoy the festival. Being in the presence of horses is hugely therapeutic, and the closer you get to them, the more you will feel it.
Watching them up close in the pre-parade ring is a lovely way to have a quiet moment with these athletes. Of course, watching them thunder past the winning post is exhilarating, but there’s something really special about being close enough to touch them.
If watching the horses up close is something you particularly enjoy, it’s possible to book behind-the-scenes tours of some of the racing yards surrounding Cheltenham. Jonjo O’Neill and Kim Bailey both have racing yards that are just a twenty-minute drive from the course, and, outside of the days when they’re actually racing at the festival, you can book private tours.
On the tours, you’ll get to see the horses working in the indoor arena, as well as out on the gallops. However, one of the real joys of visiting either yard is getting to tour the stable block and spot any of the big names. It’s lovely to see the workings of a yard, and it gives you an even deeper appreciation of what it takes to get a horse race-ready.
There are a whole lot of high-stakes races that take place during the course of the festival, but there’s one that stands out above the rest. The Gold Cup is not only the biggest race of the festival but one of the main highlights of the National Hunt calendar.
Despite hot competition this year, Galopin Des Champs is the short-priced favourite to take home the prize. So, if you’re looking for good value, the best way is likely with a Cheltenham free bet.
As well as this, the Triumph Hurdle and the Champion Hurdle hold some of the biggest prizes in hurdle racing and are run at a furious pace over just two miles.
The Arkle is undoubtedly the highlight of the Tuesday, which sees horses take on fences over a two-mile course.