At 1:30pm on Tuesday afternoon in the UK, a roar will go up from 65,000 spectators packed into Cheltenham racecourse as the 2018 National Hunt Festival gets underway.
Punters will be hoping that hot favorite Getabird gives them a winning start in the Supreme Novices Hurdle. Bookies will be praying that 2018 isn’t a repeat of 2016 when a series of favorites won and they were left contemplating collective losses put at £60m.
Over the course of the four days, it is estimated that around £150m will be bet—plus far more throughout the UK in betting shops and online. But Cheltenham is about more than the horses and the betting. The festival is a huge exercise in entertaining, catering and logistics, and requires an army of staff over the four days. The festival is also a shot in the arm to the local economy. Let’s look at all the facts and figures…
It is estimated that the Cheltenham Festival is worth an annual £100m to the local Gloucestershire economy.
This year, prize money of £4,590,000 is on offer at the festival—more than £1m a day. Hot favorite to take home a large slice of it is Irish businessman J P McManus, who is odds-on to be the leading owner over the four days.
The most valuable race is Friday’s Cheltenham Gold Cup. At the moment, Might Bite is the favorite to land the £625,000 first prize.
The hardest workers at the Cheltenham Festival? No question: it will be the on-course cash machines. In 2016, it was estimated that £2.3m was withdrawn over the four days.
The maximum capacity of the racecourse on Gold Cup day is 70,000. This year it is estimated that the average attendance will be 65,000 people a day.
A large slice of Ireland migrates to Cheltenham every March. During the festival 20,000 customers will use Ryanair, with the airline laying on 30 extra flights over the four days.
105,000 people will use Cheltenham Spa railway station, and there will be 80,000 movements between the town and the racecourse on the shuttle bus service.
10,000 cars will be parked on the site every day; there will also be 100 helicopter arrivals.
So many punters will need a lot of bookmakers to take their bets; 250 men and women with satchels will be on the course every day.
The National Hunt Festival was first held at Cheltenham in 1904. This year, 5,000 bundles of birch will be used to make the fences and 12,320 yards (just over 11,000 metres) of running rails will surround the track.
The course will have 24 marquees, including the longest triple-deck temporary structure in Europe. In total, there will be 2.5 miles of internal walls and 5 furlongs (1,000 metres) of temporary bar counters.
There will be 28 races run at the festival, 22 fences jumped in the Gold Cup and the longest race will be run over four miles.
The food and drink
Catering at Cheltenham is big business, with 65,000 hungry—and very thirsty—racegoers coming through the turnstiles every day. The statistics are impressive…
- More than 8,000 gallons of tea and coffee are drunk over the four days
- Five tonnes of cheese, nine tonnes of potatoes and five tonnes of salmon are eaten
- 45,000 bread rolls are eaten and the same number of afternoon teas are served
This—and all the other food—is washed down with 20,000 bottles of champagne, 265,000 pints of Guinness and the locally brewed Arkell’s real ale.
It is little wonder that the festival is supposedly worth so much to Cheltenham and the surrounding area. All the cheese used is produced within 50 miles of the town. All the salmon is cured or smoked within the same radius, and 70% of the fruit and vegetables come from the Cotswolds region. Widening the net slightly, all the seafood is British, landed either at Orkney or Brixham in South Devon.
Nothing would happen at Cheltenham without an army of support staff, with 50 staff coaches arriving at the racecourse every day.
The catering team at the festival is 3,500 strong. It includes 750 students from 20 local colleges, 350 specialist chefs and 350 managers to oversee them, so there is roughly one catering worker for every 15 racegoers, working in 12 restaurants, 34 temporary kitchens and 65 mobile catering units.
In total, just under 6,000 staff are employed over the four days, with 900 members of the press accredited to report on it all.
Finally, according to the Jockey Club, 1.27 tonnes of sultanas are consumed over the four days of the Cheltenham Festival. What they are used for is unclear – our guess is Waldorf salad or spotted dick pudding.