The Cheltenham Festival is regarded as the pinnacle of jumps racing and is the highlight of the National Hunt calendar. It is one of the most discussed sporting events of the year and it regularly produces plenty of drama and excitement for punters. The four-day extravaganza is enjoyed by many fans on the television but nothing can compare to witnessing these top-class competitors in the flesh. We pick out three pieces of advice which could come in useful ahead of a trip to Gloucestershire.
It may seem an obvious thing to point out but it is generally advised to have your plans finalised up to twelve months in advance. With 100,000 spectators descending on the racecourse over the course of four days, everything becomes booked up extremely quickly. Early bird tickets are always available to purchase up to five months in advance but don’t forget to confirm accommodation, train tickets and dining options with plenty of time to spare as this will help avoid disappointment. It’s one of the most-visited sporting events in the UK and with only fleeting glimpses of the crowd on TV, it can be very easy to underestimate the number of punters heading to Prestbury Park each day. A new record attendance was set in 2018 and the festival continues to attract swathes of visitors who will also require somewhere to eat, drink and sleep.
Source: Cheltenham Racecourse via Twitter
Do Your Research Beforehand
Visiting the Cheltenham Festival is a hugely enjoyable experience but it could potentially be soured by heavy losses or a sequence of bad bets. Whilst it is possible to conduct some research from the Grandstand, it is always easier to arrive at the track already armed with plenty of knowledge. If you’ve carried out your research beforehand, it allows you to relax, take in the scenery and socialise without having to meticulously study the form guide every thirty minutes. Sites such as Betfair have countdown blogs for the Cheltenham Horse Racing Festival, which offer analysis of all of the major races across the four days whilst recent form and statistics are also readily available online. With a large crowd in attendance, 4G can sometimes be in short supply so it isn’t always advisable to simply hang your hopes on a quick pre-race browse on your mobile.
Source: Sporting Agenda via Twitter
Take a Coat
The Cheltenham Festival is held in the middle of March and although temperatures are usually on the rise at that time of year, it can often be deceptively chilly at Prestbury Park. The track is located in a valley and as a result, there is usually a constant chilly breeze present throughout the four days. Although the crocuses and snowdrops suggest brighter temperatures are just around the corner, cold weather is not uncommon during the festival and 2013 was a particularly frosty year for the course. Don’t underestimate the British weather and ensure that you pack warm clothes for your visit to the track. The experience is always enhanced by dressing appropriately for the season and Cheltenham is generally viewed as one of the coldest in the country.
The roar of the crowd as the tape goes up ahead of the opening race is fairly unforgettable and visiting the Cheltenham Festival is a truly memorable experience. If you are hoping for a stress-free and near-perfect trip to Gloucestershire, it is important to ensure that you have every aspect of your visit booked in advance and to make sure that you don’t forget those all-important winter warmers.
Owned by billionaire businessman Trevor Hemmings and trained, in Co. Carlow, by Irish champion jumps trainer Willie Mullins, Hedgehunter is best remembered for winning the Grand National, at the second attempt, in 2005, rewarding many of those who stuck with him. Ridden by Ruby Walsh, the nine-year-old survived a mistake at the fence after Valentine’s Brook on the first circuit and his jockey briefly losing an iron at the fence before Becher’s Brook on the second. He was left in the lead when Clan Royal was hampered by loose horses approaching Becher’s Brook and made the rest of the running, eventually coming home 14 lengths ahead of his nearest pursuer, Royal Auclair.
On his previous attempt in the National, in 2004, Hedgehunter had been ridden more positively by Ruby Walsh, but was a spent force when falling at the final fence. Hedgehunter returned to Aintree for the 2006 Grand National, in which he was allotted top weight, of 11st 12lb, but was nevertheless a favourite in grand national tips columns and was sent off 5/1 favourite to win for the second year running. He had previously run arguably the race of his life to finish second, beaten 2½ lengths, behind War Of Attrition in the Cheltenham Gold Cup just three weeks earlier but, although left in the lead by the fall of Ballycassidy at Valentine’s Brook on the second circuit, was outjumped by Numbersixvalverde, ridden by Niall “Slippers” Madden, at the final fence and eventually went down by 6 lengths.
Hedgehunter ran in the National twice more, finishing ninth of 12 finishers behind Silver Birch in 2007 and thirteenth of 15 finishers behind Comply Or Die in 2008, after which he was immediately retired.
Many Clouds won 12 of his 27 races under National Hunt Rules, including nine of his 18 steeplechases, and earned £928,000 in total prize money. However, the son of dual-purpose sire Cloudings will be forever immortalised as the winner of the Grand National in 2015.
A first winner of the world famous steeplechase for trainer Oliver Sherwood, but the second successive winner for jockey Leighton Aspell, after Pineau De Re in 2014, and a third winner for owner Trevor Hemmings, after Hedgehunter in 2005 and Ballabriggs in 2011, Many Clouds was attempting the National fences for the first time. Nevertheless, he had already proved himself a classy staying chaser, winning the Hennessy Gold Cup and the Betbright Cup prior to finishing sixth, behind Coneygree, in the Cheltenham Gold Cup en route to Aintree.
In the Grand National, he raced prominently throughout and, having been left in the lead by the fall of The Druids Nephew at the fifth last, galloped on relentlessly to win by 1¾ lengths from Saint Are, with Monberg Dude a further 6 lengths away in third. In so doing, Many Cloud, who carried 11st 9lb to victory, put up the best weight-carrying performance since Red Rum in 1974.
Less than two years after his Grand National triumph, in the Betbright Trial Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham, Many Clouds lowered the colours of King George VI winner and Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite, Thistlecrack, for the first time over fences. Tragically, having won by a head, Many Clouds collapsed after the finishing line and, despite immediate attention from racecourse veterinary staff, died.
A subsequent post mortem, conducted by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) with the permission of owner Trevor Hemmings and trainer Oliver Sherwood, revealed the cause of death as severe pulmonary haemorrhage. Sherwood said afterwards, “He was beaten at the last and fought back in the last 50 yards to get up and win. It’s sad for Trevor and the team at Rhonehurst. I’ve been in the game 32 years now and horses like him don’t come along very often.”