William and Alice Fox-Pitt’s share their top tips for getting the best out of your day at the Cheltenham Festival (11-14 March, 2014)
1. Do your homework
If you can, try to catch one of the many Cheltenham preview nights that are on all around the country or read the racing press. You will enjoy your day at the races so much more if you have a bit of knowledge.
2. Get there in good time
The only negative about the course can be getting in and out of it — the traffic is notoriously bad. While sitting in the traffic jams tune in to Timeform Radio. It’s brilliant — hosted by a seriously professional team who give great tips and the stories of the day, so you’ll arrive totally in the know.
3. Remember where you left your car
It may sound obvious, but you will invariably come out in the dark. It’s not unusual to see tired racegoers wandering around trying to find their vehicles!
4. Get your bearings
Suss out the paddock, the winner’s enclosure and from where you are going to watch.
5. Head to the Guinness Village
There is always a great atmosphere there, you will usually pick up a tip, see a familiar face and hear some fantastic music. If the weather is bad, the Centaur Building is a good bolt-hole.
6. Don’t forget to eat
There are lots of new food outlets, but the pizza oven up the hill to the left of the weighing room is worth a visit. Not only is there a new seating area, but it is slightly away from the hubbub — plus you are in a great vantage point for the pre-parade ring.
7. Visit the pre-parade ring
This is where the horses walk around quietly before they are tacked up and brought into the paddock. You get a great view of the horses and trainers and there is a great buzz before the first race on Tuesday and any of the championship races.
8. Where to stand
Once racing starts, the regulars tend to have their own rituals. However, with the redevelopment, there have been some changes, so it might not look the same as before. For newcomers, there is a fantastic big screen at the back of the paddock where you can see the races even if you don’t make it through to the front of the course.
9. How to bet
There are Tote betting kiosks wherever you go, but it is good fun to get down to the betting jungle, either on the rails where the horses come out on to the course, or as you look at the course up to your right where they pull up.
10. Experience the roar
Run to get back in time to see the victorious horse coming into the winner’s enclosure. It is complete bedlam, but you will never hear a reception like it anywhere else. It goes right through you — especially if it is an Irish winner.
11. See the course
Try to go across to the middle of the course at some stage during the afternoon. You can get much closer to the fences and get a sense of the speed and noise of a race. It is great for the cross-country race.
12. At the end of the day
If time is against you and you need to be somewhere at the end of racing, then get out before the last race. If you can, plan that you don’t have to, because there is nothing better than spending your winnings in the shopping area or mulling over the stories and action.
Alice’s guide to the big 4 Cheltenham Festival races
CHAMPION HURDLE: This looks like the race of the meeting in terms of strength and depth. There are so many I would love to win, including Hurricane Fly because he is a true champion, and The New One for the Twiston-Davies family. My money is on Melodic Rendezvous each-way — he has had a wonderful year and at 25-1 is worth a nibble.
QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE: The withdrawal of Sprinter Sacre has opened up the Champion Chase. Sire De Grugy is the obvious form horse, but Willie Mullins has always held Arvika Ligeonniere in very high regard. Sizing Europe has been confirmed for the race now at a massive price and he could be the each-way value.
WORLD HURDLE: I love Big Buck’s and can’t go against him, but he is going to have to be on his game if Annie Power decides to take him on.
GOLD CUP: Silviniaco Conti is my selection for the big race. He would have gone very close last year and Noel Fehily has waited a long time for this. If he runs, Triolo D’Alene is a good each-way selection.
This feature was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (6 March, 2014 issue)