Horses For Courses: No room at inn for 2011 Cheltenham Festival

Ruby Walsh on Kauto Star celebrates winning the 2010 Gold Cup.
Ruby Walsh on Kauto Star celebrates winning the 2010 Gold Cup.
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FULL, full, full, full, £300. Full, full, full, £299.

The 2011 Cheltenham Festival is just around the corner but it’s going to cost you if you want to stay!

After around 15 years of following racing and eight professionally, 2011 will be my first year at the Festival thanks to an invite from our friends at Racing UK on the opening day.

But getting the invite is actually the easy part with sorting out transport and accommodation especially, the hardest.

I am sure the frustrations have been felt by many, many others!

Around 200,000 racegoers will pack Prestbury Park – 50,000 on each of the four days – and with enthusiasts coming from all over the world, that means an awful lot of hotel rooms.

And that’s not great news when you consider that Cheltenham as a town has a population of around 110,000 – barely more than Harrogate – and indeed barely that bigger in size.

Abundance

Okay, given the sporting attraction of the town, naturally there are an abundance of hotels, but when all’s said and done there’s not enough to get one for less than £300 if wanting to stay the first night of the Festival!

In the end, my predicament was solved with a return train on the same day which given the likely chaos and crowds in Cheltenham means a 7.30am departure from Leeds and an 11pm arrival back.

It also means no Tuesday evening knees-up into the early hours with a who’s who of racing – though with work on Wednesday that is probably a good thing!

Going and coming back the same day or not, the whole prospect has got me excited like a kid at Christmas as for racing enthusiasts the four-day event is indeed comparable to December 25.

It’s probably better – with wall-to-wall top class National Hunt races and essentially the horses you have followed all season all battling it out in their respective divisions to be crowned the best.

The Festival has always got the pulse racing and that’s without even going – so what it will be like actually being present, the opening day bound to be laden with an electric atmosphere?!

How’s this for the amount of drink that will be sunk: 20,000 bottles of champagne, 30,000 bottles of wine, 240,000 bottles of beer and lager and 220,000 pints of Guinness.

And that’s just me!

My only previous visit to the racecourse was on the New Year’s Day fixture of 2010 which was busy in its own right but one suspects a week on Tuesday will be a different ball game together. Plenty from Leeds and Yorkshire I’m sure will be joining me – let me know on Twitter or Facebook if so – but my overall feeling is that somewhere, someone in the tourist trade is missing a trick as there are bound to be thousands of others like myself who wanted to stay at least one night and were either priced out or for whatever other reason couldn’t.

Checking out the facts of the situation, Cheltenham Tourism estimate that around 10,000 beds each night are filled during Festival week so 40,000 or 50,000 if you include Monday night which is supposed to be one of the best in preparation for the big event itself.

But while that is obviously a serious amount of beds, the bottom line is you’ll get nothing at this relatively late stage for less than a few ton, unless you stay 30-plus miles away in somewhere like Worcester.

I’m no hotelier or supply and demand expert but you can’t tell me that with 200,000 racegoers going there is no demand for cheap and cheerful budget rooms over those four days and why are there not more of these hotels is my question?

Enough to meet the demand anyway.

No-one is saying you are going to get a Lenny Henry £18 job on Cheltenham’s doorstep but somebody would surely make a killing if opening a mega £50-a-night job or even slightly more than that.

Obviously, there are several Premier Inn and Travelodge-types around the Cheltenham area but they are all full so why aren’t there more?

Sod it, I’m off to set one up!

“But that’s only to fill four days a year,” would be the obvious response to that idea.

But remember Cheltenham essentially race all year round and while I am obviously biased, bearing in mind I was born there, it is impossible to deny the town’s attraction as a year-round tourist destination – even without the racing.

Nightlife, good shopping, a class element, fine scenery, few places offer a better UK experience and add in the attraction of Prestbury Park and racing enthusiasts are practically in heaven.

It’s just a pity more cannot experience it overnight during those famous four days.

One Minute, ridden by Pat Cosgrave to victory in the Irish EBF/ROA Racing Post Owners Jackpot Novice Stakes at the John Smith's Cup meeting at York last month. PIC: Richard Sellers/PA Wire

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