what is it?
Nothing less than the high-point of the racing calendar, it's the week where every thread in the National Hunt game aspires to end up. On a cityscape of the racing year, it's the Eiffel Tower – the most anticipated, most watched and by an ocean the most gambled-upon four days in the diary and one of the occasions that draws in non-racing fans as well as the regulars.
Where is it?
Prestbury Park, a mile outside the old Cotswolds town of Cheltenham in southern England. Set in a bowl beneath a bulbous bruise in the earth called Cleve Hill, it's actually anything but prime land for a racecourse. It's much hillier than you'd imagine and a couple of the fences are placed in, shall we say, esoteric locations. Indeed, it's often said that if you were starting from scratch to imagine a track to hold the championship races of the year, only a maniac would come up with this place. But once you walk through the gates at around midday during the festival, it's impossible to look out over the scene and imagine anything other than a racecourse existing in it.
So why go?
In purely sporting terms, to watch the best of the best. It's that simple. To watch Master Minded and Kauto Star and Binocular and Kasbah Bliss, the four short-price favourites for the biggest races of the week. To see Ruby Walsh and Tony McCoy and Robert Thornton (attractive odds at around 9-1 for the leading rider prize), to catch Paul Carberry and Barry Geraghty winkle out winners in the best environment they come across all year. And to see what prizes the Irish horses can bring home, with most hopes this year sitting on Willie Mullins' shoulders.
Beyond all that, however, you go for the fun of it all. For the drink and the talk and the poker at night, for the breakfast and the Racing Post and the Morning Line in the morning and the once-more-onto-the-breach in the afternoon.
Ticket sales are well down this year so there are more bargains to be had both on that front and with accommodation than before. Usually by now, every hotel room as far away as Swindon would be gone but shopping around will work wonders this year. Flights to Birmingham (€93) and Bristol (€63) aren't as overpriced as they've been in the past either.