Cheltenham Festival Survival Guide – Do’s, Dont’s and how to get the most from National Hunt racing’s premier event
Are you going to the Cheltenham Festival for the first time? We give some valuable do’s and don’t to ensure you get the maximum enjoyment from your trip to the Festival and to get the most from the experience so you’ll keep coming back again every year.
Every year at the Cheltenham Festival, more than 200,000 people will descend on the Cotswolds town and racecourse to eat, drink, be merry and hopefully relieve the bookies of a few quid in the process!
The Cheltenham Festival experience can be thoroughly enjoyable, where the very best of equine National Hunt talent lock horns over four days of top-class racing, and where the public and celebrities mingle. While the Grand National in April may capture the imagination of the general public more, those more passionate horse racing aficionados can be found at Cheltenham.
Of course, not everyone goes to Cheltenham for the racing and betting isn’t mandatory for those just going along for the atmosphere and spectacle that will unfold. However, a vast proportion of those who will visit Cheltenham on any of the four days will be there to place their Cheltenham Festival tips, and we’ve put together a handy guide to help you get the most out of the Cheltenham Experience – especially if it is your first time visiting the ‘greatest show on turf’!
Cheltenham Festival ‘Do’s’
1. As you’re likely to be at the racecourse for a large part of the day, make sure you have a big breakfast, especially if you’re planning to imbibe the alcoholic beverages. This is important to slow the absorption of alcohol, but also because many of the fast-food outlets are grossly expensive for the fare they provide; £10 for a half-cooked burger and chips so hard you could hit a golf ball off them doesn’t make for a particularly appetizing snack.
2. Dress appropriately. Remember it’s March, and it will still feel nippy in the air, even if the sun comes out. There’s also the potential for rain, so take a warm jacket. The ‘beer jacket’ in the best Cheltenham bars won’t cut it later when the temperature drops!
3. Ladies, unless you’re lucky enough to bag a seat somewhere, remember you’re likely to be on your feet for a good proportion of the day, so it may be an idea to pack a pair of flat shoes for when the stiletto heels get too much.
If you fancy an outsider in the race, check the Tote prices as tote-betting works differently to the betting ring, and you can often (not always) get much better odds via the Tote than you would via normal betting methods.
4. If you do venture into the betting ring to place a wager, be vocal. Remember that unlike in betting shops, there is no queuing system in the betting ring; it isn’t a place for a shrinking violet, so if you want to place a bet then you do need to find your voice, act quickly and be confident in placing your bet. Those around you won’t wait for you and you’ll simply be pushed out of the way.
5. Shop around for the best price in the betting ring; one bookmaker might be offering 3/1 about your fancy on the Day 4 Gold Cup tips, but a couple of pitches down you could find 7/2. The bigger-hitting punters can often be found around the front row of the bookmaker pitches, and towards the rails bookmakers; if you’re only betting small, consider moving down a row where it may be less crowded and you’ll get more chance of getting your bet on.
Remember though that the prices are fluid, and that 7/2 may be the best you’ll get so no point in being too greedy and going in search of 4/1, as by the time you get back to that bookie offering 7/2, it may have become 3/1 or 11/4, and you’ll have lost out.
Similarly, each-way terms differ from bookmaker to bookmaker, as too does their minimum stake, so check these carefully. Consider for yourself whether a bookmaker offering 7/1 but paying 5 places is preferable to a bookmaker going 8/1 but only paying 4 places across Cheltenham Day 1-4.
6. Even if you’re not betting, get involved with the crowd. Join in the Cheltenham roar as the tapes go up; stand at the rails and soak in the electric atmosphere around you as punters shout home their fancies.
7. Do be tolerant of others. Cheltenham is invariably crowded, and people will brush past you, or bump into you (especially if they’re worse for wear!) and some will be just rude, pushing into queues for the toilet, food queues, etc. Don’t let others spoil your own enjoyment.
1. Don’t go expecting to win loads of money or make your fortune. Sure, you might back a winner or two, but with many big fields throughout the four days, there’s sure to be a few big-priced winners. Short-priced favorites too can – and often do – get turned over, so don’t go in too heavily in hope of getting a flyer, only to do your dough. Set a budget and stick to it, take only what cash you need for the day and leave the bank cards at home.
2. Many people going to Cheltenham will have a drink, but it is important not to get too drunk, especially if you’re betting and on a losing streak. Alcohol impairs judgment, and it can be tempting to try to chase losses from Champions Day through to the Gold Cup.
Getting plastered means you’re more likely also spend more time in the bar, or in the toilet – perhaps feeling sorry for yourself – and missing out on the best racing action of the year. Hardly money well spent!
3. Forget about going in fancy dress. You and your mates might think it is funny, especially if you are on a stag/hen do; others though might just think you’re a plonker out to make a nuisance of yourself and spoil the occasion for others.
4. Ladies, if you’re wearing a hat, keep it small and simple. No-one wants to be staring into the back of your expensive millinery rather than watching the race unfold. Keep the big fancy hat for Royal Ascot!
5. Don’t go flashing your bulging wallet of £20 notes, and don’t boast about how much money you’ve won. No-one likes a boasting blow-hard, and you’ll just mark yourself out as a target to potential pick-pockets who may be listening nearby and wanting to get their hands on some Cheltenham free bets.
Also, keep your personal belongings close, and don’t leave handbags unattended at any time.
6. Don’t buy the tips offered at the gates, car-parks or foot-paths leading to the entry gates. They are usually rubbish and offered by those who have done their cash already and are selling tips to raise the cash for another punt in the ring in the hope of getting their money back.
Don’t listen to on-course experts you’ll hear in the bar/toilet/betting shop/food queues either! Like our Cheltenham betting gurus, everyone is an expert at Cheltenham and you’ll be baffled by the countless conflicting opinions about ‘good things’ you’ll likely hear throughout the day.
Instead, study the form/pick the nicest colors or horse name/stick a pin… make up your own mind and back your own selection.
Above all the other rules though is the golden rule and biggest of them all: enjoy yourself! Attending the races during the Cheltenham Festival week is an experience to savor, and you’ll soon be hooked to the point where you won’t want the Festival to end, and will already be planning for next year!