If the demand for hotel rooms in the local area is any guide to a sporting event’s popularity, the news that plans for a “fan village” near Cheltenham racecourse during the Festival this week have been ditched should, on the face of it, give the meeting’s organisers some cause for concern.

A local entrepreneur planned to use shipping containers, parked within walking distance of the course, as somewhere for racegoers to rest their heads after a hard day at the track (and, for a fair proportion at least, a harder night on the town). But only 16 of the 300 beds had been booked by the middle of last week. For now at least, the scheme has been scrapped.

Dig a little deeper, however, and the lack of demand is not quite as alarming as it might seem. Racegoers were being asked to sleep four-to-a-crate, which sounds cosy enough even for the closest of friends, and also to book for a minimum of five nights, for £950. A raging case of festival fever is one thing; the level of delirium required to pay £190 a night to bed down in a metal box is clearly quite another.

But the simple fact that anyone can see a potential market for sardine-style accommodation in Festival week is also, in a sense, a sign of how far the event has come in the past 30 years. In much the same way that the Economist’s Big Mac Index can track the relative value of currencies, the gouging on Cheltenham hotel rooms when race week rolls around plots the meeting’s rise over the past three decades to sit alongside the Open, Wimbledon and the British Grand Prix as one of British sport’s marquee events. As the Racing Post pointed out in January, four nights at TripAdvisor’s third-worst hotel in town was priced up at £280 in mid‑February, and £3,600 this week.

The latest estimate of the Festival’s value to the local economy is £274m, a rise of nearly 200% in just seven years, and its importance to horse racing as a whole – which is still the country’s second-biggest sport by attendance – has also grown exponentially over the past 30 years. In the early 1990s it was a three-day meeting, with 19 races, which National Hunt devotees knew all about but more casual sports fans could easily overlook. Now, it is a four-day, 28-race juggernaut that few can entirely avoid.

As a result, it has joined next month’s Grand National – and, more arguably, the Derby and Royal Ascot on the Flat – as one of the only annual points of contact between horse racing and the general public in the country where it was born. That, in turn, brings closer scrutiny of an event that is not just an advertisement for the 250-year-old sport but also increasingly fundamental to its long-term health.

The basic truth that racing over jumps is more dangerous for the participants, both equine and human, than it is on the Flat is one point that cannot be ignored. The British Horseracing Authority has invested significant amounts of time, effort and cash into efforts to reduce the fatal injury rate in National Hunt racing over the past 15 years, with considerable success. Nonetheless, the likelihood remains that at least one or two of around 400 horses that will go to the track this week will not return to their stable that evening, because the element of risk involved when horses are racing at 30 miles per hour or more can never be eliminated entirely. If you believe that humans should not use animals for entertainment, under any circumstances, then the Cheltenham Festival will never be your thing.

And Cheltenham is also, quite unashamedly, a racing festival that revolves around betting. About 10,000 races are run in Britain each year at a total of around 1,500 meetings, but the four days at Cheltenham this week will account for more than half of the top 50 individual races annually when ranked by betting turnover.

Betting in the ring at Cheltenham racecourse
Cheltenham unashamedly revolves around betting. Photograph: Julian Herbert/ALLSPORT

It is a sign of the pent-up demand for Cheltenham’s uniquely competitive brand of racing that the meeting’s first contest, the Supreme Novice Hurdle, was the third-biggest betting race of 2022 after the Grand National and Cheltenham Gold Cup. The Triumph Hurdle, which opens the card on Gold Cup day, came in at No 4, and the opener on Wednesday was No 5. The Derby, Flat racing’s most prestigious and famous race, was down in seventh place.

In what are, without doubt, more censorious times when it comes to betting and gambling, this too could easily come to be seen as something to gloss over wherever possible. The government’s white paper on reforms to the gambling laws is imminent, and the extent to which the – to my mind, at least – excessive deregulation in Labour’s 2005 Gambling Act will be addressed remains to be seen. The impact on the betting industry, and thus on racing, is potentially immense.

Quick Guide

Greg Wood’s Monday tips



1.30 Greenrock Abbey
2.05 Bo Zenith

2.40 Rakhine State 

3.15 Galice Macalo (nb)

3.50 Time Leader 

4.25 South Omo Zone


1.40 Despereaux

2.15 Dancingontheedge

2.50 Mardoof 

3.25 Golden Sovereign

4.00 Western General 
4.35 Estate Italiana (nap)

5.05 Ingennio


1.50 Hermes Du Gouet

2.25 Bolsover Bill 

3.00 Kenny George 

3.35 Midnightreflection

4.10 Ramore Will 

4.45 Martin Spirit 


5.30 Come On John

6.00 Timewave

6.30 Captain Dandy

7.00 Hoornblower

7.30 Frame Rate
8.00 Visibility
8.30 Los Camachos  

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But while it is entirely possible to watch and enjoy the Cheltenham Festival without betting on it, it is a bit like ordering a vindaloo while asking the chef to take it easy on the heat. The Festival is also the best chance that racing gets all year to draw a clear line between betting – where thought and effort can be rewarded, and the bookies occasionally beaten – and the mindless, fixed-margin gaming, on slots and casino games, that simply drains away a punters’ money, bit-by-bit.

After all the trials have been run and the form is in the book, Cheltenham is a festival of chances and opinions, judgment and luck, and learning to both recognise and appreciate the difference. And as the leading author, pollster (and poker player) Nate Silver once put it, what good is a prediction if you are not prepared to put money on it?