The Cheltenham Festival: When did a day at the races become too much of a good thing?

Until relatively recently, Cheltenham was a three-day event, climaxing on Thursday with its main attraction, the Gold Cup. It had a perfect rhythm

Share
Related Topics

You can have too much of a good thing. Really? I've never quite understood this rather Puritanical piece of homespun philosophy. If you like something, why wouldn't you want to do it until the end of time?

I remember being told at school that the 18th century poet and satirist Alexander Pope had, carved above his door, the legend "Excess in Everything", and this has always struck me as a rather good modus vivendi. As I have got older, however, it becomes increasingly less sustainable, and I now, for various reasons, have little more than a passing acquaintance with the good things of which I almost certainly had too much.

This week, more than any other, I feel it deeply. I have attended horseracing's Cheltenham Festival every year for the best part of two decades, but this year there's no champagne with old friends in the Arkle Bar, no sense of being a foot soldier in a ragtag army of punters doing battle with a common enemy, no revelling in the grandeur of the most natural amphitheatre in the world of sport, no sure things, no dashed hopes, no long way home. I will miss my friend's horse running on Thursday. He has a chance, too, having thrillingly won a race at last year's Festival (my liver probably deserves a respite after taking enough punishment in the aftermath of that triumph).

But Cheltenham itself is an example of how you can indeed have too much of a good thing. Until relatively recently, it was a three-day event, climaxing on Thursday afternoon with its main attraction, the Gold Cup. It had a perfect rhythm, and three days of fast and furious competition ensured that every race was of the highest quality, and was quite enough time for everyone to drink as much Guinness as they needed to, and lose as much money as they could afford to. But eight years ago, in a quest to maximise its financial potential, the Festival was extended to four days, and it now finishes on a Friday.

This was a perfectly understandable move - racecourses face the economic challenge of matching their huge overheads with the opportunity to do business only on a limited number of days in the year - but, for my money, it has acted to dilute the intense flavour of the Festival. By the time Friday comes along, there is the palpable sense of jaded palates among many of those who are there for the whole trip. And there's no arguing that the equine excellence is spread just a little more thinly these days.

I appreciate that, for most people, these are highly esoteric distinctions. Horseracing exists in the national consciousness primarily when it's the Grand National or Derby day. In any case, most of the population are to be found at work during weekdays: Cheltenham is full of people on mobiles telling their office "I'm on a course" or "I'm at a meeting". It's vignettes like this I shall miss, too. Have I had too much of a good thing? I sincerely hope not. Oh, and talking of good things: Riverside Theatre in the Ryanair Chase on Thursday.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Dom Joly owns a pig. That thinks it's a dog.  

I'll bow out. Let Wilbur, the pig that thinks it's a dog, bring home the bacon

Dom Joly
 

Forget charging by the page - with books, heart matters more than heft

Katy Guest
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'