Warm bars likely to be hot favourites at Cheltenham racecourse
Tens of thousands of racing fans will be wrapping up warm when they flock to Cheltenham today for the start of the annual festival.
With snow, frost and an icy wind forecast, the warm bars of the Prestbury Park racecourse will be more packed than usual as the biggest date on the National Hunt racing calendar begins.
On the course itself, there will be hopes of a winning festival for West-based trainers, including Somerset’s Paul Nicholls, who will be looking to continue his run of form in the festival over the previous few years, and from the likes of Wiltshire’s Alan King and Gloucestershire’s Nigel Twiston-Davies.
For the first time in years, Ditcheat-based trainer Paul Nicholls will be without the four-time World Hurdle winner Big Buck’s, but said he still had a ‘strong team’ to take up the M5 from Somerset.
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“The horses look great and they have been running really well. We have had a fantastic time and it is good to be in form. You want to be having winners and we have had
a lot in the last three weeks. They look good and are going well and so I am very, very happy. I am really looking forward to Cheltenham. There is no pressure, like there was with Kauto Star, when the expectation is so big. It is a little bit different now. We are going in to the races not thinking we are going to win any of them, but with chances and I can’t wait,” he added.
Off the course, the pubs, bars, limo drivers, B&B owners, hoteliers and bookies of Cheltenham are preparing for an invasion – largely from across the Irish Sea.
The Fiery Angel, in Hewlett Road, had already been picking up trade yesterday before racing starts today.
Barmaid and chef Julie Champion said the four days of race week were busier than Christmas and New Year.
She said: “We are really looking forward to and it can be a great time of year for us.
“We tend to get some of the same people come year after year and so it is good to be seeing old friends. It is a great boost and tends to help us through the next few months,” she added.
Thousands of Irish racing fans come for the week – St Patrick’s Day is on Sunday – but last night business leaders in Cheltenham called on locals around Gloucestershire to come into the town as well.
For while the town is generally gridlocked with traffic in the morning and after the last race in the evening, from lunchtime until teatime, Cheltenham’s central shopping area is said to resemble a ghost town – because everyone stays away.
“There is still the perception that the town is a no-go area during race week because it becomes gridlocked,” said town centre manager Martin Quantock. “It does get busy prior to the races and afterwards, but while 60,000 people are watching the horses, between around 1pm and 5.30pm, the town becomes absolutely deserted.
“If people want to do their shopping in peace, it is a great time. You will find the car parks are two-thirds empty, the sales assistants are queuing up to serve you and they would feel absolutely welcomed,” he added.