For much of the year, horse racing seems to live inside its own bubble. The daily results and meetings not meriting any more than a casual glance in the newspapers to anyone but the most serious punters. However, on occasion, it can jump right into the public consciousness. The Grand National is an obvious example of this, having been for years the race most ‘open’ to the casual viewer. Recently though, the Cheltenham Festival has established itself as not only the highlight of the horse racing calendar, but one of the highlights of the sporting year in general. This may seem like a throw away comment, but The Festival has grown in stature year on year over the last couple of decades. It has become a must-see spectacle, and a thrilling social event for those attend the races.
The crowds are treated to four days of thunderous action at Cheltenham. If you have never watched racing before, then Cheltenham is the place to start. Trials for the races take place throughout the year, leading to the cream of the crop appearing at the Festival. Put it this way, if you had never watched football before, would you rather be introduced to it by a Champions League game or a Sunday Pub League game? Cheltenham is on that level. It features the UK and Ireland’s best runners, riders and trainers, locked in battle over 28 explosive races.
On the social side, Cheltenham offers a lot of distractions off the track. Revellers will hit the hospitality tents and suites, knocking back champagne and pints of Guinness with abandon. Ladies’ Day offers the chance for dressing up like Lords and Ladies of the manor, as well as the showcasing of some questionable headwear. There is also the carnival atmosphere in the stands, summed up by the Cheltenham Roar that booms out from the crowd to herald the start of the Festival. The town of Cheltenham itself welcomes thousands to beautiful Gloucestershire, who pack out the pubs and clubs and bring millions to the local economy.
Despite the festivities and pageantry, the real action takes place on the track. This is the home turf of legends like Golden Miller, Kauto Star and Arkle. Legends are still being created, even in recent times; Ask anyone who was there if they will ever forget Annie Power crashing through the final fence in the 2015 Mares’ Hurdle, saving the bookies a reported £100,000,000 in the process. Who could fail to be moved by the comeback win of Sprinter Sacre in 2016? A horse so ravaged with injury that it was in doubt if he would live, never mind come back and win the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Highlight races of 2017 will include the Champion Hurdle (14th March), Queen Mother Champion Chase (15th March) and World Hurdle (16th March). The main event of the week is the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which runs at 15.30pm on Friday 17th March.
Of course, Cheltenham is big business for the bookmakers. If any of the races tickle your fancy, you can bet on Cheltenham 2017 at William Hill now. The Festival will take place from 14th-17th March. Tickets can be purchased through the Jockey Club website and start from around £35 per day. Those seeking for something a bit special, can apply for special hospitality tickets through the same website. Whatever you do, enjoy one of the finest sporting spectacles you will see anywhere this year.