Cheltenham Countdown: Advice for a Rookie

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Seven days. Plane tickets booked, race tickets in transit, plans in motion (anybody traveling from Sandown to Marlborough Saturday night?), friends invited (all have said yes, that’s a first), races being analyzed and re-analyzed, favorites soaring, favorites suffering (what, My Tent Or Yours has a puncture in his hoof…). Yes, Cheltenham looms.

Around here, we obviously are consumed by Valdez in the Arkle. Our first runner at the Festival. The plan hatched during my first visit to Cheltenham, 2002. Hatched but not uttered. Well, perhaps, to my friend Richard Hutchinson after my second Stella in his cottage in Bradford on Avon, maybe to Pete Fornatale as we de-briefed after landing a major betting coup, well, major for neophytes to the British jump scene (we felt like Barney Curley) and certainly to George Baker (the trainer) the first day I met him at Paul Webber’s so many years ago.

“I’ll run a horse here one day…”

It was indeed a long way off, but it was brewing. The first year, I was bunking at the Hunter’s Lodge, the hostel at the stable, galloping Pelagos for Bruce Miller, watching Istabraq pull up and listening to the crowd salute their champion for the final time, learning who Best Mate really was, watching Tony McCoy will his way to victory…yes, that year, 2002, Cheltenham had left an indelible mark.

Watch highlights from the 2002 Festival.

I can’t remember asking Richard for advice, but I’m sure he gave me some, on our way to the Barbury Castle Point-to-Point Sunday or Stratford Races Monday before the Festival.

So here we are, a dozen years later and I’ve asked Richard for advice again.

The greatest National Hunt fan is good with advice. He’s been to every jump track between American and Britain (and Wales of course) and he makes plans, analyzes his plans…

Here you go – cut it out and put it in your pocket. Hmmm, I guess it isn’t 2002…save it on your iPad and go racing.

Go to bed early night before, don’t over indulge.

Get up early, coffee, food and two Advil.

Buy the Racing Post.

Wear comfortable clothes that will keep you warm.

Get to the track, latest 11:00 a.m.

Walk around, get a feel for the place.

Buy a bacon and sausage baguette from the mobile stand by the Centaur building.

If you’re into it, go to the Guinness Village and have a pint. 

Go to paddock at 12:15 and listen to the interviews.

Go to the bathroom before racing.

Walk around the betting ring 15 minutes before a race.

Watch each race in a different place, in front of the screen by the paddock, on the lawn after the last, on the lawn after the last facing the crowd, by the last fence, in the Centaur building, by the Chronicle bookies on the rails.

Get in a good spot to watch the winner come into the winning enclosure after the big race, listen for the music to start.

Stop and watch the people, keep a smile on your face, don’t over-bet…much talk about bankers by the tipsters, there is no such thing at the Festival.

Enough just do it…book your ticket for your second visit, not that you will need convincing.