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In this Ultimate Guide, we’ve included everything you need to know about the Cheltenham Festival, from enclosure information to where to place your bets.

We’ve also included ideas on where to stay and how to make the most of your time in Cheltenham and its stunning surrounding area.

The Cheltenham Festival is a true highlight in the Jump Horse Racing Calendar, which spans over four days and includes 28 races. British and Irish trained horses and jockeys battle it out to achieve a winning title on the outskirts of this beautiful regency spa town.

The festival attracts over 260,000 people annually, who come to soak up the atmosphere that this riveting spectacle has to offer. 2019 was a record-breaking year for visitor numbers, with 266,779 visitors enjoying the event.

Find out everything you need to know about Cheltenham Festival below…


What is the Cheltenham Festival?

Horses running at cheltenham

The Cheltenham Festival dates back to 1860, originally called the Grand National Hunt Meeting which took place across different locations.

Cheltenham’s extended paddock and new stand made it a permanent venue to host the meeting from 1911 onwards.

The Festival includes a championship race on each of the four days it runs. These races date back to the 20th Century, including The World Hurdle (est.1912) The Gold Cup (est.1924) The Champion Hurdle (est.1927) and the Queen Mother Champion Chase (est.1959).

In recent years, the most prolific jump riders have included Tony McCoy, now retired and knighted and more recently, his fellow Irishman and racing TV ambassador Ruby Walsh.

Partnering with trainers Paul Nicholls and more recently Willie Mulling, Walsh has been crowned top jockey eleven times since 2004 and has celebrated a record seven wins in 2016, more than any other jockey to ride before him.


What’s on at the Cheltenham Races?

Fans at Cheltenham

Soak up the superb atmosphere of the Festival on one of its four race days:

Tuesday – Champion Day

The gates are opened and the famous Cheltenham roar that can be heard for miles and is made by the crowd when the first race starts, marking the beginning of this extraordinary event.

Champions Day includes the famous Champion Hurdle, one of the most important of the festival largely because it is the highest-quality race of its type in the world.

In 2019, Espoir d’Allen, ridden by Mark Walsh and trained by Gavin Cromwell, was the surprise winner, though wearing the familiar winning green and gold colours of JP McManus.

Wednesday – Ladies Day

Where the crowds adorn their best attire. Ladies showcase their colourful shoes and spectacular hats to enjoy an action-packed day of gripping horse racing. Ladies Day includes The Queen Mother Championship Chase race.

Thursday – St. Patrick’s Thursday

Drawing on Irish influence, Thursday includes lots of Guinness, Irish music and two major races – the Ryanair Chase and The Sun Racing Stayer’s Hurdle.

Friday – Gold Cup Day

The climax of the Jump racing season comes to a head on Gold Cup Day with a riveting atmosphere and some of the best racing in the annual calendar, including JCB Triumph Hurdle and the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle Race.


Enclosures

Fans watching cheltenham at the finish line

There are three main enclosures where you can spectate from over the course of the Festival:

Club

If you’re after something special, the Club provides an exclusive spectating spot, with the best course views and refreshments available. Gaining a Club Day badge also provides access to the Tattersalls enclosure (see below).

Tattersalls

For access to a wide range of betting and bars along with grandstand views, the Tattersalls is a great option, with access to the Festival Restaurant, trade stands in the tent village, Gold Cup and Hall of Fame.

Best Mate

For a casual and relaxed spectating experience, the Best Mate enclosure provides a variety of bars and casual eateries. Entertainment is provided in the form of the latest cover bands. No access is given in the Parade Ring or to the Shopping village.

Find up to date information about Cheltenham Festival tickets here.


Food and Drink Options

The Festival boasts several restaurants and food and drink outlets, catering towards many different tastes and requirements.

From the discerning Chez Roux Restaurant serving high-end cuisine with champagne and canapes on arrival, to the Moscow Flyer Restaurant for those who want to enjoy a more basic lunch, buffet style, before heading out to enjoy the races.

Many restaurant bookings are included as part of a race day package.

If you’re after a much more casual food experience or your budget doesn’t stretch that far, there are many takeaway catering outlets to choose from, including Tom Atkins Steak, serving steak rolls and Quevega’s (Club Enclosure Only) serving Tapas.

You’ll find lots of places for drinks from the Guinness Village in the Tattersalls to the Golden Miller Champagne Bar in the Club area.


Enjoying Luxury in a Private Box at Cheltenham

If you’re after a memorable day with a group of friends or want to tie in your day with another special occasion, you may prefer to opt for a Private Box.

Package prices vary depending upon race day and the size of your party.

They often include club admission ticket and food and drink refreshments throughout the day.

Enjoy morning coffee before the races begin, an afternoon tea later in the day, with a four-course dinner to bring the day to a memorable end.

Private box hire enquiries can be made here.


Choose your Horse

horses jumping at cheltenham

Placing bets forms a major part of the buzz and excitement of Cheltenham Festival. Backing a horse can really add to the excitement of your Festival experience – especially if you back the winning one! In 2019 one punter walked away with £182,567 after placing a £2 bet.

The way to choose which horse to back differs greatly from person to person.

Some enthusiasts choose to back based on tracking a horse’s form, a favourite jockey or trainer.

Others simply go with a more rudimentary approach of choosing a lucky number or favourite colour horse.

You may want or have a look at the horses in the parade ring to see which one takes your fancy before the races begin.

Racecards are provided on the day of the race, which include a list of the horse options to choose from.

1s, 2s, or 3s indicate a horse that has run well recently.

U (Unseated) F (Fell) and P (Pulled Up) indicate a risky horse to back.


How to get to Cheltenham Festival

Train

Trains run hourly from London and take around two hours.

From Birmingham, every half hour and take around 35 minutes.

From Bristol, trains leave every hour and take around 35 minutes.

It is a 10-minute drive from Cheltenham station to the racecourse.

Bus

From Cheltenham centre, stagecoach service D runs every 10 minutes during daytime hours and every hour on Monday-Saturday evenings.

The service runs hourly on Sundays. At the Festival a shuttle bus operates, picking up at Cheltenham Spa railway station and WH Smith to the racecourse. Fayres apply.

National Express also offer services to the Festival from locations across the UK, starting at £21.00 per person.

Car

The racecourse is located 2 ½ miles (11 mins driving) from the centre of Cheltenham town centre.

The racecourse can be reached via the A435 and A4019. The nearest motorways are the M5 and M40.

The parking scheme at the venue is colour coded depending on your preferred route and label.

Further details of colour coding and locations and any Festival road closures can be found here.


Other Attractions in the Area

Toddington Train

Make the most of your visit to the Cheltenham Festival with a stay in the Cotswolds, a region of natural outstanding beauty.

Winchcombe, Bourton On the Water, Painswick, Chedworth and the village of Toddington are all within a 20-35 minute drive from the town.

Toddington has a fantastic steam railway line to take you to Cheltenham station and kick-start your Festival experience.

These are also great options to stay on your visit to the Cheltenham Festival. Check out the cottages in Winchcombe, Stroud and Stow-on-the-Wold.

In addition to the festival, you may want to extend your stay to soak up all that Cheltenham and the Cotswolds has to offer. Here are three ways to make the most of your time in Cheltenham and its surrounding area:

Shopping in Cheltenham’s Montpellier District

The stylish Montpellier Walk is the perfect place to enjoy some leisurely shopping, with its continental feel.

Enjoy a mosey around the boutique and specialist shops located here. Upmarket shops and outlets can be found at the Courtyard Shopping Arcade for you to peruse.

There are plenty of places to enjoy a cocktail or refreshing glass of wine at one of the local wine bars as you soak up the holiday atmosphere.

If you’ve worked up an appetite, we’d recommend Coffee#1, housed in the beautifully renovated Groundsman’s Cottage, located at the Montpellier Gardens.

Take a trip to the Little Venice of the Cotswolds

bourton-on-the-water

Enjoy the quintessential English countryside feel of Bourton-On-The-Water, with its little shops full of charm and character, quaint cafes and attractions.

A four-mile footpath from Bourton-On-The-Water to Wyck Rissington allows you to soak up natures finest views and blow away the cobwebs.

You will pass through Salmonsbury Meadow Nature Reserve, over short rivers to the calming village of Wyck Rissington.

Find out more about the details of the trail here.

Pay a visit to Sudeley Castle

Just 20 minutes from Cheltenham, this well-maintained historic landmark has been a part of England’s history for over 1,000 years.

The castle is full of fascinating royal heritage and provides access to the family rooms of Kings and Queens and award-winning gardens.


Cheltenham Festival is one of the most famous horse racing days in the UK.

To make the most of your visit, why not get out and explore the rest of the Cotswolds?

Choose your perfect Cotswold cottage with Character Cottages and start planning your perfect getaway.


Image Credits – Carine06 – (CC BY-SA 2.0); Magic Foundry – (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Chris Guy – (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Carine06 – (CC BY-SA 2.0); Carine06 – (CC BY-SA 2.0);