10 things we love about the Cheltenham Festival
Chris Wilson with 10 things we love about the Cheltenham Festival
The unrivalled meeting place after racing, when the joint sways merrily along to good, live music. The dancefloor will be matted by used betting slips and ripped-up newspapers by then, but Mustang Sally will never have sounded more uplifting.
From members of the Royal Family to bit-part players in the Bradford Alhambra's sell-out production of Snow White, Cheltenham is a smorgasbord of the A- to the Z-list of celebrity. Following Zara Phillips' every move in the Cotswolds has now become a ritual for many, if you like that sort of thing.
Steve the Cabbie, Tony McCoy's chiropodist, that chap from Cirencester who drinks paint. Everyone has a tip at Cheltenham. It's just a pity they never win.
Stamina is as important as unflinching optimism at Cheltenham, so early-morning sustenance is a must. Festival newbies should check out the Beehive, in Montpellier, where you'll get a full English and transport to the track for 15 quid.
It might come in a plastic glass, but the Vitamin G served in the hubbub of noise and colour that is the Village is up there with the stuff pulled from any hostelry in Ireland. The queues will be long but, as Arthur Guinness has always reminded us, good things come to those who wait.
Or, rather, the lack of it, sets Cheltenham apart from its more aloof brethren in jumps racing. Yes, there will be tweed - lots - but this is a gig where anything goes. Savile Row or Sports Direct? The choice, happily, is yours.
Teddy Roosevelt once remarked of the Grand Canyon: ''You cannot improve on it''. It's a line which resonates deeply with those in thrall to the sweeping vistas of Cleeve Hill and the punishing gradients of Cheltenham's famous incline.
Teetering uneasily on their little boxes, the bookmakers look like futuristic demi-Gods as they tower over the scrums of punters, their giant boards blinking red and orange in the descending gloom. It all feels a little ridiculous, but the raw scrimmage between layers and players is an essential Cheltenham staple.
The battle cry when the tape snaps free for the first race on the Tuesday is quite unlike any in sport. The thunder comes deep from within. This is not a roar of celebration, but one of anticipation.
And then, suddenly, it's all over. But not really. The bookmakers have already got their prices up for next year. The hotels have already been rebooked. The journey has already started. There's no such thing as an end of Cheltenham, only a new beginning.