You may not quite be able to hear the famous roar from the grandstand as the racing calendar’s most famous four days deliver their usual muddy drama, but that shouldn’t prevent you capturing a little of the atmosphere of the Cheltenham Festival next month.
For the right pub, the event can provide the best trading week of the year, a rare opportunity to entertain customers for extended hours during the week.
Make no mistake, the audience is there. An Ipsos MORI out-of-home panel survey last year revealed that horse racing is one of the top three sports for attracting regular, weekly viewers in a licensed venue.
And the prize is there, too. Put yourself on the map during Cheltenham week, and the local racing crowd could be making it a date for up to 10,500 races every year.
At Brighton pub, the Golden Cannon, sales typically double during Cheltenham Festival week as people leave work early to call in and enjoy the atmosphere — and a buffet that licensee Phil Reeves lays on to keep them there longer.
The Cannon, part of Sussex’s Regency Corporation group, subscribes to Sky’s racing package and aims to offer “the experience and excitement of being at the races for those who can’t actually go”.
With horse racing coverage on screen for an average eight hours a day, 361 days a year, it attracts strong daytime trade to the pub, particularly around meetings such as Cheltenham.
“When I came here I did my homework and discovered no other pub around here offered live sport, let alone horse racing,” Reeves says. “It’s a neat fit because we have a bookies across the road and people will have a flutter and then come in, enjoy a pint and watch the race.
“Horse racing creates a sense of community in the pub — we even have our own racehorse syndicate and horse called Cannon Fodder!”
With multiple TVs, the Cannon also appeals to football and rugby fans. “Showing the football at the same time as racing is crucial to our offer,” says Reeves.
Following the races
The Cheltenham Festival runs from Tuesday, 10 March to Friday, 13 March, and pubs with a subscription to Sky’s Racing UK channel will be able to screen all 27 races live, with build-up from 9.30am to 1pm on all four days.
Channel 4 will be showing five races a day on terrestrial TV.
How to be a victor
Sky’s top 10 tips for winning racing coverage at your pub:
- Appoint a member of staff to manage and control what’s shown. Pubs with two screens that subscribe to Sky’s Racing Pack can simultaneously show both Racing UK and At The Races to guarantee a race every few minutes.
- Know the week’s TV schedule and highlight midweek coverage to your weekend customers.
- Promoting early is important. Organise a preview event to tip potential favourites and have a countdown to the start.
- If you have a horse racing area, dress it differently to the rest of the pub. Agree who controls the sound and when it’s turned up.
- Table service can help avoid queues at the bar and your customers won’t miss any of the action.
- Encourage staff to chat with racing fans about the day’s racing and upcoming events, as well as promote activities you’re running.
- Run tipping competitions and racing quizzes to tap into people’s competitive spirit.
- Treat your customers to a day out at the races. Use places on the trip as competition prizes or as a staff incentive.
- Tailor promotions to racing. For instance, a ‘Derby Barbie’ barbecue for summer races, a ‘Ladies’ Day’ for Ascot and offers on a race sponsor’s drinks.
- Customers who like racing are more likely to bet, so put your gaming machines where a TV screen can still be seen.
Our no-nonsense guide to form
Tipster Mike Bennett casts his well-trained eye over the likely runners and riders:
In this most unpredictable of years, perhaps it will be a friendly invasion from just across the county border that proves most profitable. The mighty Somerset training trio of Messrs Hobbs, Pipe and Nicholls will all be sending their equine stars on the short journey north-east in search of glory.
For Philip Hobbs, this season has seen a renaissance. A little quiet since the days of Champion Hurdler Rooster Booster, he goes into day one of the Cheltenham Festival with a huge chance in the gruelling four-mile National Hunt Chase with the consistent Sausalito Sunrise.
The following day will see David Pipe saddle the likely favourite for the big novice prize, the RSA Chase, as King’s Palace bids to defend his unbeaten record over fences.
And later that afternoon, eight-times champion trainer Paul Nicholls starts his campaign with a double-barrelled assault on the Queen Mother Champion Chase via Dodging Bullets and Al Ferof. With former title-holders Sprinter Sacre and Sire de Grugy to prove they’re still the forces of old, the Nicholls pair could well dominate the finish.
But it’s the festival’s biggest event, the Gold Cup, that will provide the final-day highlight.
Nicholls has dominated in recent years with Kauto Star and Denman, and this time he has another favourite in Silviniaco Conti. The chestnut is the Mr No-Nonsense of steeplechasing, always up in the vanguard, jumping and galloping his rivals into submission.
If he’s to succeed he’ll have to fight off the teak-tough Many Clouds. And if he fails, what a story the Oliver Sherwood-trained eight-year-old’s victory will be. It was Sherwood’s brother Simon who was jockey when Desert Orchid roared up that famous hill to claim the 1989 Gold Cup amid deafening cheers and deliriously chaotic celebrations. The Cheltenham Festival is, indeed, an emotional rollercoaster.
Enjoy the ride!