Cheltenham Racecourse, located in the Gloucestershire area of England, is primarily known for its horse racing events, with the most notable being the annual Cheltenham Festival. However, the racecourse is also utilised for various other events and activities throughout the year. Cheltenham’s position in the United Kingdom as one of the main locations for numerous different festivals outside of horse racing, including jazz and literature, means that many of the venues within the town are often called to action, with the racecourse having been used for it in the past.
Racing, of course, will always take centre stage. For that reason, you can only really attend the course for other activities at times of the year when the course itself is not being used for the running of horse racing events. In spite of the fact that Cheltenham is predominantly a jump horse town, meaning that it is mainly used for horse racing during the winter, the course actually began life as a flat racing venue.
That being said the course only actually hosts 16 days of racing each year, giving plenty of time for it to be used for other things. In recent years, the course has also been used for other sports, with darts and snooker being the most obvious examples of this, as we’ll look at in more detail here.
Life Outside Of Racing
It goes without saying that Cheltenham Racecourse will always be a horse racing venue first and foremost. The Cheltenham Festival is one of the most prestigious meetings in the Jockey Club’s calendar, so it is little surprise that everything else plays second-fiddle.
That being said, there are numerous times during the course of the year when racing alone isn’t happening regularly enough to keep the racecourse in business, so other things happen in order to keep the coffers full and the staff with something to do with their time. Here is a look at some examples of that:
Conferences and Exhibitions
The racecourse has extensive conference and exhibition facilities, including multiple suites and conference rooms. These spaces are often utilised for corporate events, trade shows, exhibitions and conferences. The venue offers modern amenities and can accommodate a large number of attendees, which makes it an ideal location for companies to host their events.
One such example is the Business Growth Show, which is the country’s largest business growth exhibition and conference, offering people the chance to start new business relationships or grow existing ones.
If you thought that Cheltenham Racecourse was all about the horse power then you’d be absolutely right, albeit it in a different manner when it comes to the Young Driver Event that is hosted there. This involves driving lessons for people aged between ten and 17, with the youngsters getting to drive a Vauxhall Corsa or similar type of car, all under supervision. It is the biggest driving school for young people in the UK, offering a realistic road layout as well as a viewing area for family members to head to whilst their young ones jump behind the wheel.
Cheltenham Racecourse occasionally hosts live music concerts featuring popular artists and bands. These concerts are often held in the outdoor areas of the racecourse, taking advantage of the expansive grounds and scenic surroundings. In 2023, for example, Alfie Boe hosted a concert at the racecourse, performing favourites from the likes of Les Miserables, as well as his own songs. His concert was in the Centaur, but other areas of the racecourse have also been used for such musical extravaganzas. A 32-piece orchestra with live vocalists and DJs was used for the Classic Ibiza event, for example.
You name it and there is a good chance that either the specific artist or else ones from that genre will have played at Cheltenham at some point or another. Take the The Studio Orchestra’s performances of the works of Hanz Zimmer, say, or the manner in which the UK’s touring soul spectacular Soultasia plays out at Cheltenham. Wychwood Festival, meanwhile, might sound like a horse racing meeting, but it’s actually a music festival that features more than 100 artists across four different stages, with the likes of Travis, Melanie C, the Happy Mondays and Sam Ryder having appeared in the past.
Festivals and Fairs
The racecourse hosts a range of festivals and fairs throughout the year. These can include food and drink festivals, craft fairs, agricultural shows and other community events. The large outdoor spaces and facilities at the racecourse make it suitable for hosting such gatherings. Given Cheltenham’s position in the United Kingdom as the Festival capital of the country, it perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise that there is more going on there than just racing every March. With workshops and events aimed specifically at young people, it is worth keeping an eye to see what’s on.
The reality of Cheltenham Racecourse is that it is set up to welcome as many as 250,000 people during the course of the horse racing Festival, meaning that the facilities are just too good to sit empty and the likes of fairs are the perfect use of said facilities. Of course, these are often not as big as major musical acts performing there, so are usually done in an ad hoc manner rather than in a way where it is easy to specify the sort of event that you can be expected to be able to attend. With that in mind, it is worth regularly checking in with the racecourse itself.
Weddings and Private Functions
The racecourse offers its facilities for weddings and private functions. The scenic backdrop, spacious grounds and versatile event spaces make it an attractive venue for couples looking to celebrate their special day. Whilst those that have a relationship with horse racing as a sport will probably get the most out of it, there is no questioning the fact that it is a stunning place to host a wedding. The Centaur is the most popular venue at the racecourse for that sort of event, being a large and flexible place that can cater for more that 800 people seated, should you be that popular.
Indeed, if you’re even more popular and don’t necessarily require your function to have everyone sat down then you can fit as many as 2,500 people inside The Centaur. The backdrop of Cleeve Hill is an amazing one from a visual point of view, whilst the dedicated Events Manager will help to make everything run nice and smoothly. Weddings are the obvious option on the private function front, but there are countless other reasons why you might want to find an impressive location for what you’re doing, with Cheltenham Racecourse very much able to cater for pretty much anything.
If you’re the sort of person that owns a caravan or motorhome then Cheltenham Racecourse might just offer you the ideal place to spend a few nights. Situated on the edge of the spa town, the Campsite is a desirable place from which to explore the area as well as the rest of Gloucestershire. There are plenty of hard-standing pitches, meaning that you can enjoy your time there even if the weather turns bad during your stay. There are economy pitches without electricity, which are obviously cheaper than those that require electricity and other amenities.
The reality is that this isn’t a purpose-built campsite, but you can still enjoy the sort of facilities that you’ll have come to expect from places you can take your caravan up and down the country. If the weather is good then you can break out the BBQ, whilst dog walks straight from the site make for really enjoyable ways to waste some time. Mainly, though, it is the easy access to Cheltenham itself that most people are going to be keen to take advantage of. It is obviously a popular place to stay during the likes of the Literature Festival, so you’ll need to book early.
Yes, horse racing is the most important thing that takes place at Cheltenham Racecourse. The good news for fans of all sorts of sports is that it isn’t just the gee gees that you can expect to enjoy there during the course of the year. This can include activities like cross-country runs, charity races, other equestrian events and even dog shows.
In recent years, things such as A Night A The Darts have begun to take place at The Centaur, with some of the world’s best throwers of the arrows turning up for their chance to win in front of a usually raucous crowd.
If you’re a fan of snooker then you’ll be delighted to know that the British Open is played at Cheltenham Racecourse. Once again it is The Centaur specifically that gets the green baize tables located in it, with the sport’s biggest stars heading along to Gloucestershire for their chance to earn the title of the best player in Britain. It might not be the sort of green that people are used to seeing at Cheltenham, nor the sort of balls if we’re being totally honest, but the snooker can offer an exciting alternative to those that like the venue but aren’t keen on horse racing itself.
The course is also used for motorsport events such as rallying, motorcross and car shows.