CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL GUIDE
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Well over 200,000 spectators attend the four days of The Festival. With ticket prices ranging from £20 to £80, the estimated gate receipts total around £7m.
Admission is usually available on the day at the course on the first three days of the Festival – Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Friday – Cheltenham day 4 – otherwise known as Gold Cup day, is usually sold out in advance.
Cheltenham Festival Betting
Cheltenham Festival is a massively important betting event and one that can fundamentally affect the annual profits of bookmakers. Indeed, so important is the Cheltenham races that in 2003 when favorites won half of the races at the meeting, the Festival was blamed by the major Cheltenham betting bookmaking firms for significantly lower than expected profits that year. Through their 8,500 betting shops, telephone betting and online operations, Britain’s bookmakers put a great emphasis on the 27 races that comprise the Festival. Something approaching £600m (over half a billion pounds) is staked on the outcome of those 27 events.
The Festival also accounts for around 10 percent of the Tote’s annual on-course pool betting turnover (not bad for four days’ racing out of the fixture list consisting of well over 1,000 meetings), while at least £1 million pounds change hands on every race in the betting ring at the racecourse, whether that’s on offers, promotions or Cheltenham free bets, with over 250 bookmakers in attendance for each day of The Festival.
Racecourse caterers Letheby & Christopher serve some 20,000 bottles of champagne, 30,000 bottles of wine, 240,000 bottles of beer & lager, and 220,000 pints of Ireland’s national drink, Guinness, as well as 10,000 gallons of tea and coffee to Cheltenham Festival racegoers. Whilst around 12,000 people each day sit down to three or four-course lunches in the various restaurants and hospitality areas, the remainder of the crowd eat into a pile of burgers, hot dogs and sandwiches that if laid end to end, would stretch almost three miles!
When over 65,000 people converge on Cheltenham, as they do on Cheltenham day 1 Champions day, they come in every form of transport you can imagine. Race sponsor (and official airline to The Festival) Ryanair bring a vast throng of racegoers from Ireland, staging up to 20 additional flights to their normal schedule to Birmingham, Bristol, and East Midlands. Train operators Cross Country Trains, First Great Western and Virgin Trains all run additional services throughout the week. And Cheltenham’s very own steam railway brings several hundred spectators each day the eight miles from its station at nearby Toddington.
On a local level, taxi firms do significantly more business in Festival week than in any other week of the year. Typically, 30,000 cars, 2,000 coaches and 50 stretch limos bring people to the races and there are up to 650 helicopter landings at the course during the meeting, making it the busiest temporary airfield anywhere in the country – and that includes Silverstone on British Grand Prix day. Last, but by no means least, many people staying in town just walk to the Cheltenham Racecourse – the best way to beat the traffic.
The Cheltenham Festival racecourses are a place where a great deal of cash changes hands, whether in bars, the betting ring or with the Tote. Except via Tote vouchers that can be purchased on the day, no bookmaker will accept a debit card on the racecourse, so best to come with banknotes. In 2009, almost £1.2m was drawn from the 20 cashpoints around the site – refilling pockets, handbags, and wallets before returning to the battle against the Cheltenham betting bookies.
Staying in Cheltenham
Cheltenham Tourism estimates that around 10,000 beds each night are filled during Festival week, ranging from four-star accommodation to local B & Bs. And night clubs and bars around Cheltenham all benefit from the uplift in the numbers in Cheltenham. Gloucestershire Tourism put the value of the Festival to the wider local economy at £50 million.
Being at The Festival is not just about racing. There are 80 stands selling everything from wellies to wine, silverware to Spanish property and books to binoculars. You could even treat yourself to a handmade rocking horse. With hundreds of thousands of pounds changing hands at the Festival, this is a four-day micro-economy in its own right at the Cheltenham enclosures.