The horse racing world descends on Gloucestershire this week for the most prestigious jump racing festival in the sport. With the Cheltenham Festival getting underway tomorrow, we wanted to take a look at what actually goes in to putting such an event on. We got chance to put a couple of questions to Abi Thomas, Partnership Account Manager from The Jockey Club based at Cheltenham Racecourse to find out more about the annual four-day festival.

When does planning for the Cheltenham festival begin?

During the current one!

We’re always looking at ways we can improve the event, whether it’s for our Equine Athletes, Owners, Trainers, Jockeys, Partners or Customers. Internally we try and optimise as much as possible from an operational perspective too. It’s really important that we utilise every opportunity during the event to make notes of what could be done differently to constantly improve the experience, and there’s no better time than when it’s happening.

Trainers will be eyeing up races at The Festival for their horses months, sometimes years in advance so it really is the highlight of the jumps season. Everyone wants to win at Cheltenham.

 

Galopin Des Champs -Paul Townend wins The Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase (Grade 1) Cheltenham 17.3.2023 ©Mark Cranham-focusonracing.com

It’s such a unique event, giving prospective Partners the opportunity to experience it first hand and see and feel the potential benefits is an opportunity not to miss.

Tickets and Hospitality for the next Festival will go on sale the week after this year’s event so on Monday 18th March and then from there the planning begins.

At Cheltenham our season starts in October and runs through to May with 16 racedays throughout, and each and every event is another chance to review and refine processes and trial new ideas. From January delivery for The Festival ramps up with only ten weeks between the New Year and the event itself, so January is when we hold our annual Partners event, bringing them as up to speed on all of our racing, operational, marketing, PR and catering plans for the up coming event and offering them all a chance to network and collaborate together also.

The Cheltenham Festival is one of The Jockey Club’s marquee events alongside The Randox Grand National Festival and The Betfred Derby Festival, so for many of our Partners we continue to work with them year round on their activations and client engagement.

Cheltenham
ITV racing presenters Charlotte Hawkins (right) and Mark Heyes pose for a selfie in front of the Boodles shop during day three of the Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse. Picture date: Thursday March 17, 2022. PA Photo. Steven Paston/PA Wire for the Jockey Club.
How many people does it take to put on the festival? From planning, setup and staff who work on the actual days of the festival, how many people are we talking? Can you give us a breakdown?

For the 2023 Cheltenham Festival we employed just under 6,000 staff to put the event on during event week. This includes everyone from security, catering, our red coats, grounds staff as well as the core team.

This year for the build process we have welcomed over 2,000 contractors to physically put the site together.

The core Cheltenham team who work year round on creating and delivering the event, along with the other racedays and conference and events at the racecourse is just over 100.

The Cheltenham Festival is worth £274 million to the local economy, welcoming over 230,000 customers each year.

Rachael Blackmore celebrates winning The Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle on Honeysuckle on day one of the Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse. Picture date: Tuesday March 14, 2023. PA Photo. David Davies/PA Wire for the Jockey Club.
Is there a department that 99% of people won’t know exists, but is vital to putting the festival on?

YES! There are lots, but one to pull out particularly are the expert veterinary professionals who are on hand to give world leading care and attention to all our equine athletes while they are on site.

Every horse goes through a veterinary assessment when they arrive on site in our stables. This is done in a similar way to footballers having medicals before they participate, we do the same, putting the welfare of our participants at the forefront of everything we do.

There will also be two farriers on site for all shoeing requirements!

Jockey Paul Townend celebrates on Galopin Des Champs after winning the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase on day four of the Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse. Picture date: Friday March 17, 2023. PA Photo. David Davies/PA Wire for The Jockey Club.

How would you describe Cheltenham Festival week to someone who’s never experienced it before?

The pinnacle of the sport, often referred to as the Olympics of jump racing. Four days of exhilarating live sport, fashion, culture and the Irish!

If someone wanted to work for The Jockey Club or at one of your events, what advice would you give them?

Ensure you have a good coat and comfortable shoes!

 

Thanks so much to Abi for taking the time to talk us through some of the planning that’s required for a huge event like Cheltenham Festival. We’ll have more coming from The Jockey Club later in the year.

 

To read more from our Insight series, click here.