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Gloucestershire Business News

They're off! Cheltenham welcomes army of punters for Festival Week

Some 260,000 people are expected at Cheltenham's Prestbury Park racecourse this week for the Cheltenham Festival which starts tomorrow.

Paddy Power are predicting (and hoping) that it'll be the biggest betting week in sporting history - expecting more than £1billion in bets across the bookmaking industry.

That amounts to 300,000 bets an hour this week, with more than 70 per cent of punters betting on Paddy Power ambassador Ruby Walsh - who's finished as the leading jockey at Cheltenham on 11 occasions.

This year the Festival prize money totals a record £4.6 million with £625,000 for the winner of the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup due off at 3.30pm on Friday March 16, Gold Cup Day. 

Hotels and restaurants will be full but Cheltenham's other traders traditionally see a lull from lunchtime so the borough council is providing free car parking from 1pm up to Friday this week to try to encourage shoppers to visit the town.

Councillor Andrew McKinlay, cabinet member for development and safety, said: "Cheltenham benefits greatly during race week, it's a great atmosphere and visitors love coming here.

"But we do recognise that it can be a quiet time in the town centre and we hope that the free parking will encourage those who aren't watching the races to come and enjoy what the retailers and businesses have to offer.''

Kevan Blackadder, director of Cheltenham Business Improvement District (BID), said: "We had good feedback from our businesses last year that free parking in the afternoons had made a real difference. Too many locals stay away from the town centre during Race Week, but it's a great time to come into town.

"It's good to see that the council is again supporting this initiative, which I'm sure will help more businesses make the very best of the opportunities that Race Week brings."

Ian Renton, regional director, The Jockey Club South West, said: "I love The Festival - it is the best four days of the year for all of us.

"We work to this point 12 months a year. Immediately the Festival has finished one year, we start thinking of how we can do little improvements to make it even better the following year.

"It is tweaks this year. One of the introductions we have brought in is a bit more of a crackdown on the tout activity.

"We work very closely with Cheltenham Borough Council and the police. A public space protection order has been brought in which actually makes it an offence for a tout to operate either in the town or on the racecourse.

"We hope that will assist in our racegoers getting a little bit less nuisance from touts than in the past. It is not going to solve everything, but it is a step in the right direction.

"Friday, Gold Cup Day, is sold out. In previous years, we have sold out quite early. We tried to reduce the sales a little early doors this time, so we only sold out about a week ago and hopefully everybody who wants to come to Cheltenham on Friday is already booked in.

"That means a crowd of 70,000 on Gold Cup Day and we are looking for good crowds on the first three days as well. Everything has gone incredibly smoothly and the team here has worked very hard to get the sales where they are. We hope for a total of around 260,000 people attending The Festival next week.

"Hospitality sales have gone very well - we have moved forward from last year. We have introduced a new restaurant, The Theatre, this year, with a Pan-Asian menu, and it looks fantastic. We are in good shape.

"We still have the biggest three-tiered temporary structure in Europe in operation for The Festival - it is pretty massive - 185 metres long and overlooking the racecourse. It is a brilliant building for people to enjoy the racing."

Stagecoach West has launched a huge operation with an extra 80 double decker buses and additional services to ensure everything runs smoothly throughout Cheltenham Festival Week. Some 90,000 people will use the buses.

All available staff are working and the bus company is operating a dedicated shuttle bus service from Cheltenham Railway Station, stopping at Cheltenham town centre outside of WH Smith, and on to the racecourse.

These buses will be running frequently through-out the morning, with the first bus departing the railway station 9am and the town centre at 10:00 am. The last shuttle bus to the racecourse will depart at 1pm.

The shuttle bus service will leave the racecourse from South Car Park, stopping at Cheltenham town centre and the railway station from 3.30 pm until 7.30pm.

For more details visit: 

During Festival Week racegoers consume:

• Three tons of smoked salmon and two tons of beef

• Some 14,000 staff lunches are served and 20,000 portions of chips

• 46,000 bread rolls are eaten throughout the Festival

• 220,000 pints of Guinness, 30,000 bottles of wine and 18,000 bottles of champagne are drunk throughout the four days

Picture credit: Cheltenham Racecourse - The Jockey Club

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