10 top tips for your first raceday at Cheltenham Racecourse

If you've never been to a raceday at Cheltenham Racecourse before, you're in for a treat! With advice on everything from what to wear to how to pick a horse, SoGlos shares 10 top tips for first-timers.

By Chloe Gorman  |  Published
Heading to the races for the first time? SoGlos has teamed up with The Jockey Club to share everything you need to know.

A day at the races is exhilarating, whether you're an avid racing fan or a first-time visitor - and Cheltenham Racecourse offers a horse racing experience like no other. 

If you've never been to a raceday before, SoGlos has teamed up with The Jockey Club to share 10 top tips to make the most of your time.

Learn the lingo

From a furlong (one eighth of a mile) to a front runner (a horse which likes to lead), there's a lot of horse racing terminology to brush up on to make the most of your day at the races.

See what the going (condition of the racecourse) is like, check out each horse in the Parade Ring (the area of paddock where betters and spectators can see the horses before racing) before heading into the jungle (where bookmakers operate) to place your bet. Put your money on the jolly (the favourite) or take your chances with a green (an inexperienced horse) and you could walk away with a monkey (£500) or a pony (£25).

Dress for the occasion

The Jockey Club recently removed dress codes at all of its racecourses, including Cheltenham, but that doesn't mean you can't dress up for your day at the races.

Comfortable shoes are a must and a warm overcoat is highly recommended, too. For a stylish flourish, a hat is a great accessory - either a wide-brimmed fedora with feathers or a classic flat cap both go down well at Cheltenham. Mini skirts and stiletto heels are generally a no-no and things like football shirts won't be permitted.

For expert advice from the Cheltenham Festival style ambassadors, check out what to wear to the Cheltenham Festival for more outfit inspiration. 

Arrive on time

The gates will open around two hours before the first race, giving you plenty of time to familiarise yourself with the racecourse and its facilities, pick up that crucial racecard and secure a great spot on the grandstand. 

The racecard contains a programme of all the events taking place that day, including the times of each race; runners and riders; what silks the jockeys are wearing; and each horse's form. Head to the Parade Ring around half an hour before a race is due to start to check out the horses that are about to compete.  

Know what to look for

Racegoers can check out the runners for themselves before putting on any bets at the Parade Ring. Keep an eye out for the horses that look alert and at ease in their surroundings, as they're likely to perform well. A sleek and shiny coat, good muscle definition and bright eyes also indicate that a horse is in tip top condition, so these are good signs to look out for, too. 

Most horses are Thoroughbreds, meaning they've been bred for their athletic ability. In terms of descriptions, a progressive is a horse whose performance is improving; a sprinter is a horse which performs best over short distances; a stayer prefers distances of a mile and six furlongs; while a banker is a horse that's considered very likely to win. 

Understand form

If you don't want to rely on your eyes to choose a winner, check out your preferred horse's form on the racecard. The form gives punters a snapshot of the horse's recent performance.

Reading from left to right, form includes numbers between one and nine to indicate where it finished in recent races, as well as letters including C (the horse has won on this course before), D (the horse has won over this distance before) or BF (beaten favourite), as well as F (meaning it fell), BD (brought down by another runner), and U (unseated its jockey) for jump races. 

Place your bets

If you've never had a day at the races, you're in for a treat whether you've got money riding on it or not - but backing a horse is certainly a rite of passage for novice racegoers. 

If you're hoping to win some cash, take a look at The Racing Post beforehand to see who's been on good form; keep an eye out for big-name trainers and jockeys; and if in doubt, there's no harm picking the favourite on at least some of the races - especially if you put down an each-way bet. Just make sure you only gamble what you can afford to lose. 

See how to pick a winner at Cheltenham Festival for more top tips.

Keep an eye on the colours

Jockeys wear silks with different colours and designs to signify who owns the horse they're racing on. No two jockeys may wear silks of the same design and colour, to make sure they're easily identifiable by commentators during the race.

Once you've backed your horse, make a note of the jockey's colours so you can keep an eye out for them during the race. 

Wait for the weigh in

You picked a winner, hooray! It's nearly time to celebrate - but don't be surprised if the bookies don't pay out straight away. Jockeys and all their kit must be weighed before and after the race, to make sure the horse has carried the correct weight. Bookies will only pay out on winnings once the jockey has been weighed in. The racecourse commentator will announce 'weighed in' over the tannoy, then you can claim your winnings. 

Don't miss the chance to see the celebrations at the Winners' Enclosure too - expect jubilant scenes as the winning horses, jockeys and trainers are celebrated and presented with their trophies. 

Watch out for feature races

Feature races, such as The Boodles Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival, tend to be the most exciting and anticipated moments of any race day.

Expect big names, big bets and thrilling action, so make sure you've bagged a good spot in the stalls! 

Enjoy fantastic food and drink

While the racing is the main attraction on any raceday, Cheltenham Racecourse also offers a fantastic array of food and drink to accompany all the action. From toasting your winnings with a glass of Champagne to sipping on a pint of Guinness, there are plenty of bars in the enclosures and public areas of Cheltenham Racecourse. 

Food options span traditional fish and chips, pies and pasties; light bites, sandwiches and coffees; handcrafted burgers and barbecue; stone-baked pizzas; and even mac and cheese in the enclosures and public areas, right up to world-class hospitality from Michelin-starred chefs, including the brand-new Core on Course by Clare Smyth, in the restaurants. 

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