Destination Cheltenham

Dick Francis
Jockey and author Dick Francis helped put Cheltenham on the map for a global audience of mystery lovers.

Dick Francis fans will recognize the name Cheltenham as the setting of several of his racing novels — Damage, Under Orders, and Comeback to name a few — which makes it a destination event for racing fans worldwide.

England’s Cheltenham Festival was first held in 1860 and was first held in Prestley Park, its current location, in 1904.

The town rose to prominence in 1716 when pigeons pecking on the ground in a field revealed  the existence of a hidden underground spring. It appears the birds were drawn by the salt deposited in the ground by the mineral springs. This fortuitous discovery turned Cheltenham into one of the most popular spa locations in England.

One Of The UK’s Most Famous Races

The Championship Hurdle at Cheltenham
The Championship Hurdle at Cheltenham

Every year I like to post the Aintree Grand National results (after checking to make sure there are no bad crashes) and this year I discovered the Velká Pardubická in the Czech republic. But in terms of a spectator event, the Cheltenham Festival may be the most enjoyable of the bunch.

The four-day event in mid-March truly lives up to its title as a “festival,” which has helped it to reach the same level as the Grand National and Royal Ascot as one of the UK’s most famous races.

As the festival has grown in popularity, it’s become a huge benefit to the local economy. In 2016, the event infused as much as £100 million into the local economy, remarkable for a four-day event in rural England. Sponsors like Bentley and Guinness, lend major brand influence to the festivities, and just recently BetBright reached an extension of its sponsorship deal with the Cheltenham Racecourse – which is significant given that betting activity remains a major part of the action for racegoers.

The home of the Gold Cup
The main appeal of Cheltenham is the racing. There’s a full schedule for each of the four days, and each day is also capped off by a particularly prestigious event. Day

Cheltenham Gold Cup
The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the highlight of the meet.

one (Champion Day) sees arguably the most significant British hurdle race of the year in the Unibet Champion Hurdle. Day two (Ladies Day) brings about the always-thrilling Queen Mother Champion Chase. On day three (St. Patrick’s Thursday), spectators can witness the Ryanair Steeple Chase. And the final day, Gold Cup Day, is marked by the Gold Cup itself: the biggest prize at Cheltenham. It’s a very full slate that will afford you the opportunity to see some of the best horse and jockeys in Europe.

Pump Room
The town’s fortunes were made when King George II visited the Pump Room in Cheltenham.

Plenty to do Besides Horses
There’s enough going on at the Festival for non-horse lovers, too. The town of Cheltenham is resplendent with Regency architecture, including the It’s also known for Regency buildings, including the Pittville Pump Room, a remnant of Cheltenham’s past as a spa town. There are on-site restaurants and bars (some with views of the tracks), there’s a Guinness Pavilion, and the people-watching can be almost as much fun as the races, especially on the special theme days. On Ladies Day, spectators dress to impress in the combination of chic and costume-like attire that has become emblematic of major races. And on St. Patrick’s Thursday, as you might guess, many attending the festival make wonderful use of the Guinness Pavilion!

Where To Stay

National trust properties
Sprinkled throughout the Cotswolds are charming National Trust properties that you can rent — Diston’s cottage is only 18 miles from Cheltenham.

Cheltenham is located in the Cotswolds, one of the most picturesque regions of the UK. The town itself, as well as neighboring Gloucester has many places to stay, but charming cities like Bristol, Bath, and Oxford are only short drives away, and offer you the chance to stay somewhere without worrying about race crowds or hiked room prices. Just be advised that if you want to attend the Cheltenham Festival, the town fills up quickly so find your room and get event tickets as early as possible. Prices for event tickets in particular will only get more expensive the closer we get to mid-March. But if you’re interested in traveling for a unique and fascinating equestrian event, this is certainly one to keep in mind!

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