Speaking about the ‘best’ of anything is always going to be a subjective matter. When it comes to things that you enjoy, there is never likely to be any objectivity involved, so what one person might see as being brilliant another might think is terrible.
As far as the Cheltenham Festival is concerned, Gold Cup Day will be the pinnacle for some, offering a chance to watch one of the best races in the National Hunt calendar live and in-person. For someone else, though, the busyness of that day would make it an appalling thing to attend – although Festival organisers have reduced the overall capacity of late to enhance enjoyment for race goers, possibly ahead of the addition of a fifth day.
Anyone that has ever been to the Cheltenham Festival will have their own take on what the best day is. Indeed, if you spoken to ten people you’d probably receive ten different opinions, offering suggestions about why one day is better than another or what you need to do in order to make the most of your day at Prestbury Park.
As with so many things in life, events are what you make of them and you tend to get out as much as you put in. With all of that in mind, we’ll attempt to look at the pros and cons of each day during Cheltenham’s most famous meeting.
The first day of the Cheltenham Festival is always one that is filled with excitement and joy. Having waited 12 months, if not longer, to see some top-class racing in action, the Gloucestershire course is abuzz with anticipation on the morning of the first day.
There are seven races to look forward to, with the highlight being the Champion Hurdle, which comes roughly at the middle point of the events. Of course, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is the race that kick-starts the action and the famed ‘Cheltenham Roar’ is well worth hearing.
If your experience of the Festival is based off watching it on the TV then you’d be forgiven for thinking that everyone packed their bags and went home after the Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, given that that is when television production companies tend to end their coverage.
The day actually ends with the National Hunt Steeple Chase Challenge Cup, which gives you a chance to have a look at the amateur riders that might well blaze a trail in the racing scene in years to come. Wit that in mind, it is worth sticking around to see what happens.
Ladies Day (Festival Wednesday)
Another seven races keep visitors entertained on the second day of the meeting, which is Ladies Day. That doesn’t mean that men aren’t allowed, but rather that the focus tends to be on the women in attendance. In fact, in recent years the official name for the day has changed to Festival Wednesday but people still always know it as Ladies Day.
The result is that you can expect some brilliant outfits, gorgeous hats and people that have dressed to the nines to take advantage of what Prestbury Park has to offer. It is also, fittingly, the day that puts the Queen Mother Champion Chase front and centre, ensuring that the entertainment value is high.
For some, Ladies Day appeals because it is when you can watch the Cross County Steeple Chase, which is an event that is more like the steeplechases of old and run over three miles and six furlongs.
As it is the second day of the Festival, any kinks that might have been there from a service point of view have been ironed out, whilst you also get to miss the madness of the final two days. Given that horses like Sprinter Sacre and Altior have won the Champion Chase in the past, it goes without saying that the action on offer is top-class.
St Patrick’s Day
There is something of the Goldilocks phenomenon about St Patrick’s Day. If you’re someone that finds Ladies Day a bit too quiet and Gold Cup Day far too intense, St Patrick’s Day might well be the ideal one for you to head to.
It is when the Irish invasion reaches its peak, so you can expect plenty of craic and Guinness to be flowing freely. There is often something of a party atmosphere on St Patrick’s Day, though one that lacks the intensity of the Festival’s closing day on Friday, which makes it ideal for many.
As with the other days of the week, there are seven races for you to enjoy, culminating in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup. The Ryanair Steeple Chase is the feature race of the day, fitting in the with Irish theme, but there’s little question that it is as much about what is taking place off the track as on it that makes this day such a great one to attend.
For some, this would make it the best of the days, whilst for others the drinking and partying would mean that they don’t focus on the racing enough to enjoy it. It is worth noting that this is generally the cheapest day for tickets and the one most likely to have late availability.
Gold Cup Day
The entire week at Prestbury Park builds up to the moment that the Gold Cup gets underway, with the blue riband event being one of the most important in the National Hunt calendar. As a result, getting a ticket for Gold Cup Day can feel a little bit like winning one for Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, such is the extent to which they feel rare. There are plenty of them to get, though, given that Gold Cup Day is the busiest of the week. Whether you think this is a good or bad thing will be entirely down to personal choice.
Obviously the Gold Cup takes centre stage, but it isn’t the only race that is run on the Friday that is worth watching. There are two other Grade 1 offerings as well as the Grade 2 Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Steeple Chase and the Premier Handicap County Handicap Hurdle, so race lovers will have more than enough to keep them occupied.
In many ways, the final day of the week is also the one of the most discerning racing fans, so the atmosphere can feel a little bit more serious than on St Patrick’s Day, for example. Whether that’s what you’re after will determine whether or not you think it’s the ‘best’ day to go.
Where Are Your Tickets?
Whilst the races are obviously really important at a horse racing Festival, which day is the best to go will be dictated as much by what you’re hoping to experience as what’s happening on the track. The result of this is that the area of the course where you’ve bought your tickets for can be all-important, which each part of Prestbury Park offering something different.
Again, what you want to get out of your time at the races will dictate whether you think you had the ‘best’ time or just a mediocre one, so it’s absolutely worth considering.
If you consider yourself to be something of a casual punter that enjoys the cut and thrust of the betting ring then you’ll want to look for tickets for the Best Mate and Tattersalls Enclosures. Meanwhile, the Guineas Grandstand is often one of the favourites for Irish punters heading over each year, so a ticket in there for St Patrick’s Day is one that will ensure an unbelievable atmosphere is enjoyed by all.
Those of you that have a bit more money to spend might want to look towards the Final Flight Bar, offering brilliant views of the finishing line.
Obviously Prestbury Park has its fair share of packages for those that like to live the high life, so it is absolutely worth looking into one of those if you want to enjoy a calmer, more sedate Festival experience. You’re less likely to be able to enjoy the on-course atmosphere, but to many that won’t matter and will make the day even better.
Of course, just because you’re in a box or one of the suites doesn’t mean that you can’t go and enjoy the likes of the Shopping Village or other areas of the course, so don’t worry too much.
Ahead of the Festival in 2020, Cheltenham Racecourse decided to introduce a new area called ‘The Park’. Considered a ‘must-see’ destination by many, it boasts a Ferris wheel, street food and a ‘Love Ireland’ bar that is limited to 18 to 28 members.
You can expect live entertainment from bands and well-known DJs. This is very much where the party is at, so if you’re heading to Prestbury Park with the idea of having a great time in mind then there’s no question that this is where you’ll want to be. It can turn a good day into a great one.
As you might imagine, though, the vibe here is less about concentrating on the racing. If you are the sort of person that takes the racing serious then you won’t want to go to The Park during your time at the course. Combining St Patrick’s Day and a ticket here might well be the idea of heaven to some people and absolute hell for others.
That is why we said at the start that, ultimately, this is very much a subjective consideration and there are a whole wealth of different things that you’ll need to take into account before making your decision about the ‘best’ day to go.