10 things we love about the Cheltenham Festival

Another busty day at Cheltenham for the bookies
Another busty day at Cheltenham for the bookies
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Chris Wilson with 10 things we love about the Cheltenham Festival

CENTAUR BAR

A pint of Guinness and a look at the form

A pint of Guinness and a look at the form

The unrivalled meeting place after racing, when the joint sways merrily along to good, live music. The dancefloor will be matted by used betting slips and ripped-up newspapers by then, but Mustang Sally will never have sounded more uplifting.

CELEBS

From members of the Royal Family to bit-part players in the Bradford Alhambra's sell-out production of Snow White, Cheltenham is a smorgasbord of the A- to the Z-list of celebrity. Following Zara Phillips' every move in the Cotswolds has now become a ritual for many, if you like that sort of thing.

WHISPERS

Fashion plays a big part at Cheltenham

Fashion plays a big part at Cheltenham

Steve the Cabbie, Tony McCoy's chiropodist, that chap from Cirencester who drinks paint. Everyone has a tip at Cheltenham. It's just a pity they never win.

FRY-UPS

Stamina is as important as unflinching optimism at Cheltenham, so early-morning sustenance is a must. Festival newbies should check out the Beehive, in Montpellier, where you'll get a full English and transport to the track for 15 quid.

GUINNESS VILLAGE

The Duchess of Cornwell enjoying Cheltenham Festival

The Duchess of Cornwell enjoying Cheltenham Festival

It might come in a plastic glass, but the Vitamin G served in the hubbub of noise and colour that is the Village is up there with the stuff pulled from any hostelry in Ireland. The queues will be long but, as Arthur Guinness has always reminded us, good things come to those who wait.

FASHION

Or, rather, the lack of it, sets Cheltenham apart from its more aloof brethren in jumps racing. Yes, there will be tweed - lots - but this is a gig where anything goes. Savile Row or Sports Direct? The choice, happily, is yours.

SCENERY

Teddy Roosevelt once remarked of the Grand Canyon: ''You cannot improve on it''. It's a line which resonates deeply with those in thrall to the sweeping vistas of Cleeve Hill and the punishing gradients of Cheltenham's famous incline.

BETTING JUNGLE

Teetering uneasily on their little boxes, the bookmakers look like futuristic demi-Gods as they tower over the scrums of punters, their giant boards blinking red and orange in the descending gloom. It all feels a little ridiculous, but the raw scrimmage between layers and players is an essential Cheltenham staple.

THE START

The battle cry when the tape snaps free for the first race on the Tuesday is quite unlike any in sport. The thunder comes deep from within. This is not a roar of celebration, but one of anticipation.

THE FINISH

And then, suddenly, it's all over. But not really. The bookmakers have already got their prices up for next year. The hotels have already been rebooked. The journey has already started. There's no such thing as an end of Cheltenham, only a new beginning.