One of the Cheltenham conundrums is where to watch the racing from. There are endless choices, but you are in the middle of 50,000 people, all trying to get the best view.
So I thought I’d try a different spot for each race, and see which I liked best.
One of the many privileges of working for H&H is some rather special access, and I stayed in the paddock to watch the first race on the big screen. Lots of owners and trainers do the same – you get a great view of the screen just outside the paddock, you don’t have to walk anywhere (important in heels), and while you miss the surging roar of the crowd as the tapes go up, you witness first-hand the jubilation and excitement of the winning connections.
For race two, I went up to one of the best viewing spots on the course, the grandstand perched on top of the members’ stand. This is the tweediest place at Cheltenham, and overheard conversation usually concerns last Saturday’s hunting. You need to get up there early as it’s very crowded, but you are afforded a wonderful view of the whole track beneath you.
It was out on to the lawn in front of the stands for the third race. This is where you really get a sense of the “Cheltenham buzz” – adrenalin pulses through the crowd. But unless you’re about 7ft, it’s not great viewing – you watch the screen, but you can rarely see the horses “live”.
For the fourth, the Champion Hurdle, I was very lucky to go to the pre-parade ring with Sarah Henderson, daughter of trainer Nicky. We watched her father painstakingly saddle Binocular, who stood with ears pricked, sharp as a tack but calm and interested in proceedings. We watched the race in her mother’s box, low down over the crowd near the entrance to the grandstand. The collective willing of Binocular to repeat his 2010 victory was palpable, but we obviously didn’t wish hard enough. He finished a close-up and honourable fourth, but in racing it’s the winning that counts.
To watch the fifth, I found a spot on a balcony near the Guinness village and watched the cross-country race runners thread their way round the complicated course.
For the sixth, I headed back up to the members’ stand, but not to the grandstand. To the left of the steps up to the stand, there’s a railing that will fit about 10 people along it, and I was in time to get a position on it. This provides a great view of the track, and we gasped as Quevega pinged the last to record her fourth win in this mares’ hurdle.
Finally, I made my way down to the rails near the final fence to watch the last. This is possibly the most thrilling spot to observe a race from – you don’t see the whole thing, but to see the sinews straining and the grimaces on the jockeys’ faces as they pushed their mounts for one last jumping effort really brings home how physically intense racing is.
All these spots had things to recommend them, and their own disadvantages. But it’s worth making the effort to experience such top-class racing from a variety of angles. I wonder what the Royal Box is like…?