It’s the Greatest Show On Turf, and also one of the most intense weeks on the sporting calendar writes WILLIAM KEDJANYI. It’s a racing certainty that everyone reading this blog will be watching the Cheltenham Festival, with more than half probably attending the Gloucestershire spectacular. But how do you navigate a day, or two, or even all four of the sporting extravaganza, whether from home or at the course? Without further ado, here’s a guide of do’s and don’ts for what some would call the best week in sport.
✅ Keep powered up
Racing is the Sport of Kings and has a magisterial history, but it’s a modern game now so don’t leave yourself at a technological disadvantage. For 90% of people, going racing is a upto a ten-hour day and more, and no phone battery can be expected to last that long. Cheltenham does have charging points, and more than in the past, but being stuck beside a plug or leaving your phone can’t be an option for most here, so a mobile charger is essential.
All manner of phone shops will sell them, but for £30-40 or so you can get a high powered, high quality option that will be able to charge even the biggest phone twice in a day, an invaluable resource for any sort of racegoer.
Sandstrom have an excellent set of chargers: https://www.currys.co.uk/gbuk/sandstrom-power-bank-chargers/mobile-phones-and-accessories/mobile-accessories/362_3413_32042_88806_ba00006065-bv00309980/xx-criteria.html
RavPower also have excellent choices: https://www.amazon.com/stores/RAVPower/RAVPower/page/15E5B6FA-77BA-4AAD-953D-891C2FD80553
✅ Eat Early (and well, depending on your discretion)
This is not intended to disparage any of the vendors at Cheltenham – and there’ll be plenty – but during racing queues are sure to be incredibly long – perhaps even longer than the queues for the bars too. A good breakfast – and we don’t judge here, whatever floats your boat – can be a very efficient timesaver.
✅ Keep hydrated
Thousands of people enjoy a Festival ‘session’, and Yours Truly does enjoy Guinness at the track as well. You’ll feel a great deal better going from day to day if you have a glass of water for every two of the black stuff – and it’s a treat in the mornings and evenings there.
✅ Use the clock
This might be easier to do from home compared to at the course, but racing fans and punters finally have access to the sort of data that has been taken for granted in other sports and it has proven to be an invaluable insight into top level jumps racing.
✅ Wear/Pack comfortable shoes
This might be one for the ladies, but as said previously, even one day at Cheltenham is a marathon when you’re going to the course and whilst style will be a premium for some, if you can, a back-up can be a huge benefit.
✅ Get there as early as possible
Depending on where you live, this will be easier for some rather than others, but there are limitless benefits to arriving early on course. The unique atmosphere of Festival week, time to stretch your legs around the course – whilst eating and drinking with relative comfort – and also to explore the festival villages.
✅ Go into the (cross) country
The Cross-Country is an often maligned race, but to see the field flying over the cheese wedges is a thrill.
❌ Go too hard too early
Yes, there’s lots of fun to be had, but the racing is there to be enjoyed and that’s best done with your wits about you. After the last? I think Yours Truly can let that slide….
❌ Chase your losses
The Festival is a marathon of the most fiercely contested races in the sport, and anything can happen. There will be a temptation to attempt to speed recovery from a bad start; Such efforts are usually set to end in disaster. If you had a plan set before the week, then don’t change it after one bad result.
❌ Treat your betting as anything but an expense
This follows on from the first point, but Cheltenham typically has 12 of the most bet on races per year and plenty of punters will back across multiple races on multiple days. Nothing is guaranteed and nobody knows what’ll happen over those hurdles and fences.
❌ Forget to check yourself
Basic advice? Yes, but a final check of what you need before you leave can save some major frustration on course. Got that phone charger you need? Taking notes with you? Is your badge present and correct?
❌ Underestimate the smaller stables
Many will focus – and understandably – on top stables through the week, but plenty of less known trainers have landed all sorts of contests at Cheltenham. Some of those have been big priced winners but it’s interesting to note that three of the five handicap chases last year were won by horses from outside the major stables (Mullins, Henderson, Elliott, Nicholls) and that all those horses were actually under 10/1 when the flag dropped.
❌ Feel you have to bet in every race
This is the worst possible week to be backing horses you don’t truly fancy and being selective is a key weapon in the successful punter’s arsenal. In any case, at this level, the racing is to be enjoyed.
❌ Discount running styles
The majority of Cheltenham Festival contests are very well run, but the distribution of that pace – and also the ground conditions – can make all the difference at the end of the race and paying attention to tools like pace maps can have major benefits.
Have fun. This is the peak of the jumping season, and for so many it is the peak of the year! Consider yourself and others, and let the thrill wash over you.