There is always an argument around the prestige of various horse racing events in the UK. Is the Grand National the most important event? Does the history of The Derby make it more important? Where does Royal Ascot feature in the all of this?
And yet, while such arguments are usually pointless, there is a case to be made for the Cheltenham Festival being a kind of “people’s choice” of racing festivals. Comparing it to the likes of Royal Ascot is a bit like comparing the music of Nirvana to Beethoven. While Cheltenham has plenty of history, it is the raucous modern choice for racing fans, and one would argue that it’s now the highlight of the racing calendar, as well as a very important social one.
Here’s our brief guide to the 2020 Cheltenham Festival:
When and Where?
The Cheltenham Festival will take place from 10th-13th March at Prestbury Park Racecourse, Cheltenham. Around 70,000 fans flock to races each day.
Tickets can be bought relatively cheaply, priced at about £35 for a standard ticket in the Best Mate Enclosure. You can pay a few hundred pounds for hospitality tickets.
You don’t need to bother with the top hats and tails vibe of events like Royal Ascot, although most racegoers stick on their finery for the occasion. It’s more of a carnival atmosphere though, so expect to see people dressed in all sorts of ridiculous ‘fancy dress’.
Which is the Best Day?
All of them, basically. Each day holds seven races, including a feature race and at least three Grade 1 events. You really can’t go wrong. However, the atmosphere tends to be the best on Opening Day and the last day, which hosts the Gold Cup.
Where Would I Stay?
Despite being a world-class horse racing location, it’s worth remembering that Cheltenham is but a small town in leafy Gloucestershire, so hotels and B&Bs fill up fairly quickly. A lot of fans will stay in nearby Bristol or Birmingham. If you are an intrepid adventurer camping and caravanning are fun options.
What Should I Expect from the Races?
It’s easy to learn how to bet on Cheltenham, and hundreds of millions will be spent by the punters across the UK and Ireland. Expect a lot of the narrative to be built around the following horses: Epatante (11/4 for the Champion Hurdle), Altior (5/2 for the Champion Chase), Paisley Park (even for Stayers’ Hurdle – all odds from Bet365). In addition, there will be millions bet on the biggest race of the Festival – the Gold Cup (see below).
What is the Gold Cup?
The Gold Cup is the key event at the Cheltenham Festival, a gruelling test of stamina for some of the best chasers in horse racing. It’s helped build the legend of horses like Golden Miller, Arkle and Kauto Star, now arguably even outstripping the Grand National as the event jockeys and trainers want to win. This year we will see the likes of Al Boum Photo (4/1), Kemboy (5/1) and Clan Des Obeaux (6/1) try to write their names into the history books.
Do I Need to Bet?
No. Not at all. The Cheltenham Festival is a social event as well as a sporting one. Plenty of folk head to the races to party rather than bet, something that is shown up in the copious amount of champagne and Guinness at the Festival.
Tell Me One More Thing
Well, we keep hinting at the carnival atmosphere. One reason for that is the ‘invasion’ of Irish fans who come to take part in the Festival. The Irish love their racing, of course, and 1000s make the trip across the Irish Sea to join in with the festivities. There is a rivalry between the British and Irish trainers, but it’s good-natured and all adds up to an electric four days of fun.