Record crowd froze to the big occasion at Cheltenham Festival
They had to wait a while – mainly for the weather to go from Siberian to merely freezing – but the chilly Cheltenham Festival got under way yesterday, to the delight of tens of thousands of racegoers.
More than 56,000 brave souls – a record on the first day since the festival moved to four days – attended a snowy opening day, and were rewarded with some great races, victorious favourites and West winners.
Racing was held back more than half an hour to allow the ground to thaw, and the cross country course, which was to host one race later on, was eventually declared unfit for racing. It was the coldest start to the Festival for a generation, with racecourse chiefs admitting their experiences during Monday night were ‘beyond anything we had ever seen before’ as a Siberian wind brought a wind-chill temperature of minus 12C.
The cold penetrated even the most wrapped-up festival-goer; the wind seemed to seek out chinks in the layers, turning fingers grey, cheeks scarlet and noses blue. The normally fevered atmosphere was muted at first, with many staying in the steamy warmth of the bars and indoor galleries before heading out at the last minute to watch the race, or see the winners in the enclosure.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Wednesday, May 22 2013
Never has Cheltenham’s decision to build a vast indoor arena, the Centaur, seemed so wise. With its big screens, bookies’ stands, food stalls and bars, yesterday it provided the full Cheltenham Festival experience with the added bonus of being warm, indoors and out of the wind. It was packed.
Sisters-in-law Georgina and Jackie Conway had set up ‘base camp’ at the prime table closest to the big screen. They and 100 people from two pubs run by their family in Worcester had come down on two coaches for the day.
“We come every year and we try to get this spot every year, but today in this cold weather, it’s even more important to get it,” said Jackie. “We come for the day out, for the beer, for the horses and for the craic. It’s great. We do go to other race meetings occasionally, but Cheltenham is an annual thing and we’ve been coming for 24 years. Once you get a spot like this, you keep it – we’ve got a base camp now and as long as one of us stays here, we can go off and place bets and get drinks and go outside,” she added.
Outside in the main stand, hordes of punters were glad of the pastel yellow scarves being handed out by an internet bookie on the way in to the venue, and the Irish were once again there in numbers.
Out on the course, the bookies took a pounding, with favourites coming home first in a succession of races. Hurricane Fly won the big race, the Champion Hurdle, regaining his crown to the delight of the Irish fans, while odds-on favourites Simonsig – trained by Nicky Henderson on the Lambourn Downs near Swindon – and Quevega meant the bookies had to pay out big money, despite the short odds. One bookie, Paddy Power, reckoned he paid out 4.3 million Euros after Hurricane Fly’s win alone.
With 220,000 people expected to flock to the festival this week, every effort was made to ensure racing went ahead, despite the plunging temperatures. An inspection at 10.30am yesterday will be repeated at 8am this morning as a precaution, with temperatures overnight expected to plummet once again to -5C. Huge frost-proof covers turned the green expanse a charcoal colour, with more than 50 acres of covers laid down and whipped off just before racing began. The same will happen today.
“It was minus 12 in the wind chill just before midnight according to our weather station, and it was still minus nine at 5am,” said clerk of the course Simon Claisse.
“That enabled the frost to get under the covers a bit. We will look at everything that we could possibly do to ensure that the meeting goes ahead today.
“I remain optimistic about racing going ahead but you never quite know what is happening with this weather. Our experiences last night were beyond anything we had ever seen before,” he added.
Police said the first day had passed in good spirits, with only one arrest – for a suspected theft – by the time racing had finished.
Superintendent Neil Mantle said: “Nearly 60,000 people have passed through the racecourse gates today and we’re pleased to report that only one arrested has been needed.
“This is thanks to not only our police officers but all the staff at the racecourse who are working together with the same aim of facilitating a safe and enjoyable festival.
“We’d like this good start to the week’s festivities to continue into the evening for those heading out to celebrate their wins in the town centre.”
Those socialising in the town centre will see that horses are not just appearing at the racecourse.
Following on from the successes of previous years, mounted police officers will be out and about in the town for the whole of this week, providing additional reassurance to the large numbers of visitors.
by Tristan Cork from Prestbury Park