Cheltenham Festival

Maya Driver

The Cheltenham Festival is a very famous and popular race meeting that takes place at the Cheltenham racecourse in Gloucestershire. Both English and Irish horses are raced there and because the festival is so near to St. Patrick's Day, you'll often see lots of Irish people there. You'll also often see Irish horses winning because National Hunt races (ones with jumps in) are generally favoured in Ireland over flat racing. In fact, even the old champion Red Rum was bred on the Emerald Isle.

To many people horse racing is almost as much a celebration of fashion as it is of top class racing. Many regard Royal Ascot as the premier racing event in the world with the champagne flowing, men dressed in Paul Smith suits and women dressed in fashionable hats, wearing Prada or Stella McCartney, but the same couldn't really be said of Cheltenham Festival. Forget bijou hats, floating chiffon and strappy sandals - earmuffs, padded anoraks like Barbour jackets, and sensible shoes are the required dress here. National Hunt is often seen as flat racing's poor relation and when it comes to the sartorial stakes, jump racing is indeed furlongs behind. However, the spectators at Cheltenham are more serious about the racing than the socialising.

The Cheltenham Festival commands high sums in prize money, second only to the Grand National. During the four-day festival, over £500 million is gambled, lost and won. Just imagine losing or winning that much money on one race! But if you do fancy a flutter, you don't have to risk such exorbitant amounts. In fact, having a bet on a race or two can be lots of fun if you're a novice. Although it's pretty offputting trying to bet for the first time as there's lots of terminology and jargon to wade through. Lots of websites allow you to place your bets online and they also have good explanations of how it all works, so if you want to have a go but aren't sure how, check out one of the many sites to learn more.

To the seasoned veterans of the gambling world, horse racing is a very serious business. It's not just about picking the horse with the funniest name or the the jockey with the nicest colour silks (although those would be my methods of choosing!). People who really know their stuff make sure they check track distances, how many races the horse has run in the season, the jockey's track record, what the turf is like and all sorts of other details to ensure they make a really informed decision about which horse will finish 'in the money'.

Over the four days of the festival, 26 races are run and an estimated 230,000 people go to watch and enjoy the highly-charged atmosphere of the event. On Thursday it is Ladies' Day, like at Royal Ascot, and on this day an award for 'The Outstanding Contribution made by a Lady to Jump Racing' is presented. It's the only day that dressing stylishly is a must because awards for Best Dressed Lady, Best Accessories and Best Hat are presented, so if you are attending the festival, you will be in very finely frocked company! Ladies' Day is a chance for the women in attendance to really dazzle with their stunning dresses, jewellery and extravagant hats. The highlight of the event is the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which is held on the Friday. This is the ultimate prize and all the jockeys and trainers covet being a Gold Cup winner. Of course, there are also plenty of entertainments off the track, including music, dining and trade stands.

Anyone can buy Cheltenham race tickets for the festival online or by telephone. You will have to choose which enclosure you wish to be in as there are several to choose from. The most expensive and exclusive is the Club, which will set you back over £100 to get in. However, it offers the best views and refreshments and you may even be sharing a spot with rich racehorse owners! The town of Cheltenham is a beautiful place with lots of lovely hotels for you to stay in should you decide to stay for the festival's duration. Of course, the most popular hotels and B&Bs get booked up almost a year in advance. The railway station at Cheltenham connects to cities all over the UK so it's easy enough to go to the races, even without a car. And if you can't make it to the festival you can still catch it on television. Best way to watch it is on a large screen plasma TV so you don't miss any of the action!

Do you like horseracing? Will you be attending this year's festival? Let us know by leaving a comment.

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