Izzy Phillips: The Magic Of Cheltenham In November

Another Sunny Day

Our columnist Izzy Phillips looks back on a fabulous few days at Cheltenham for their November meeting and talks all things fashion, racing and she even managed to bag a few winners across a meeting bathed in sunshine from start to finish...

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The Cheltenham November meeting is a unique blend of fashion, fun and high class racing. It doesn't quite have the prestige of the Cheltenham Festival but it’s often many racing fans' favourite meeting at Cheltenham. It’s a personal favourite of mine and one I have frequented for years. I’d been looking forward to it all week gearing myself up for a full weekend of racing having tickets for both the Saturday & Sunday. I spent my Friday getting ready. Firstly, I got the car cleaned (no idea why as it gets immediately dirty in the car park but I think it’s just become somewhat of a racing ritual now). The next job was to go around and gather all the car park picnic food. I like to avoid getting food on the course mainly because I find I get so busy in between races that I don’t actually have time to eat. So, I got a nice selection of classic picnic bites and a bottle of bubbly to have in the car before. Then I dashed home to get packed and finalise my outfits

Saturday started with an early morning wake up to get ready and get on the road. I’m a firm believer of ‘early bird gets the worm’ and that’s never more true when faced with race day traffic. The early start meant it was an easy drive. Once in the car park it was time for the picnic snacks. I love the vibe of the car park on arrival - everyone walking in and filing off the train. A few like minded people standing by their cars with a drink and a snack making the most of the social occasion. It was such a stunning sunny day meaning you could see the stands glistening in front of Cleeve Hill. After a few nibbles it was time to walk in and you could feel the buzz of the crowd.

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On arrival we went straight to the Big Buck's bar to meet some of the In The Saddle Podcast crew. It was so lovely to get everyone together! We were all discussing our best bets of the day. I'd said I was sticking with Banbridge. Then Katie Midwinter and I went for a browse in the shopping village. This was the best shopping village I'd seen at Cheltenham. There was something for everyone as well. I did spend a while admiring the stands of my personal favourites of Holland & Cooper and Fairfax & Favor. I actually ended up loving some of the unique products from retailers I'd not heard of before. I managed to control myself and only buy the one hat which I wore immediately to go with my outfit. After some panic of almost losing my phone I watched the first with Katie. We both had Scriptwriter so the day was off to a flyer and the hat was paid for! 

I went with a no bet in the next and instead waited for my bet of the day - Banbridge. I was certain after watching his performance at Gowran Park that he’d rout this field (especially with Monmiral out) and he did just that! Banbridge was one of my take away performances of the whole meeting - he's now around a 12/1 shot for the Arkle and Turners Novices' Chase. His winner’s enclosure song seemed to suggest the same with Cheltenham ringing out Tina Turner’s - Simply the Best. I was pinching myself at this point with two bets and two wins. I’d also convinced myself now that me and Katie would win if we teamed up with our bets as we’d both had Banbridge and Scriptwriter. I now also felt I had to stand on the same step in the stands to ensure I had another winner. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts at getting a winner by following my rituals I finally had another in the last with Queens Gamble.

I mentioned that Banbridge was one of my standout performances of the day, well Queens Gamble (10/1 for Champion Bumper) was the other. The way she quickened away from the field was impressive and I was so pleased that with Luccia coming out Queens Gamble ended up favourite.

One thing I've noticed this weekend is just how many racing rituals I have. I fancied Queens Gamble but I was fully prepared to split my bet with her and the favourite to follow my Grandad’s advice to ‘always back the favourite in the bumper’. Luckily I didn’t have to split my money on this occasion meaning that the win for Queens Gamble was all the sweeter.

Banbridge was an impressive winner of the Arkle trial
Banbridge was an impressive winner of the Arkle trial
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It was time to head off now and get to the hotel. We were staying at Hatherley Manor about twenty minutes from the racecourse. We dropped off our stuff then went for a meal in their gorgeous dining room. I ended up having roast beef with seasonal vegetables and it was cooked to perfection. It was lovely not to have to drive all the way back and have an evening relaxing watching racing replays and studying the cards for the next day. 

The hotel was even more beautiful by daylight. I always drive to the races so having a lie-in on race day still seems a novelty. Once we were ready it was back to the dining room for a full cooked breakfast before checking out and setting off. Following our big breakfast we didn’t need a picnic but did have a glass of bubbly again before going in. Again the sun was beaming down and although it played havoc with the ground, in turn creating a disappointing three runner Shloer Chase, it was lovely to be comfortably warm. It was somewhat reminiscent of a Spring day rather than a winter one.

Sunday was family day and that was so clear to see. I mentioned in my first article some of my earliest and fondest racing memories with my siblings when we were only little, and it was lovely to see families creating those same memories at Cheltenham. Children were truly catered for with lots of activities. The most popular by far were the face painting and balloons in just about every animal imaginable. It was so sweet to see children popping about with their giant inflatable giraffes, T-Rexs and (of course) horses. 

After a second with Indigo Breeze in the first race and a no bet in the Shloer Chase it was time for my bet of the day. From studying the form the night before Dad and I were certain that although some runners were being pulled out that these were perfect conditions for Does He Know. He was due to run at Sandown the week previous before the abandonment due to ground. However, they say everything happens for a reason and this was perfect for Does He Know. He was back in familiar territory with a decent course record at Cheltenham on Good ground. He proved us right and stayed on to get home for David Bass and Kim Bailey.

Does He Know sticking his tongue after an impressive weight-carrying display on Sunday
Does He Know sticking his tongue after an impressive weight-carrying display on Sunday

Another who I knew would like good ground was I Like To Move It for the Nigel Twiston-Davies team. I have to be honest, I was concerned about the amount of weight he was carrying so I split my bet with Dads Lad for Willie Mullins. I Like To Move It is such a superstar; the weight made no difference at all as he ended up winning by five-and-a-half lengths.

The best part about I Like To Move It winning is that each time he does Cheltenham blasts out the Real2Real banger that is the horse's namesake.

The song has become synonymous with a scene in the film Madagascar and with it being family day it was quite poignant to see a few of the balloon animals bobbing to the beat as he returned. What was lovely was that on family day one of National Hunt’s great families got an ever popular winner with all the children encouraged to gather in the winners enclosure for photos. 

After this I went back to the shopping village for another ‘browse’. I did end up buying hat number two. I couldn’t help it! All of the products are just so beautiful and I just felt like they are so unique I may walk away and never see another hat like it again (at least that was how I justified the purchase). Each year we always go to the Injured Jockeys Fund stand to get their yearly calendar and was delighted to be served by Lady Oaksey. She spoke with such love and admiration of how she’d collated the images for this year's calendar and in particular why she’d chosen an image of Coneygree. It’s lovely to have that story now when looking at the calendar next year.

That was it - the sun sets on another incredible Cheltenham November meeting. Apart from the steep drink prices I think a lot of racecourses have much to learn from the Cheltenham November meeting. For me, it strikes the right balance between racing fans, families and social gatherings. The events are always well run with stewards in the best places and a general safe and comfortable feeling about the course. There were no end of bars and it was easy to get a drink quickly in between races. Every hospitality outlet is staffed and manned well. They seemed to consider every little detail - even down to the winner’s enclosure music. The initiative to combine both enclosures for the Sunday is also great value for families with all race goers able to make the most of the Club and Tattersalls enclosure for £25 (as well as free parking). If there was ever an advert for racing it’s this race meeting (and I promise I'm not just saying that because I had a few winners & bought a couple of hats). If you were considering attending the meeting next year I could not recommend it more!

It's a family affair for team Twiston-Davies after I Like To Move It wins the Greatwood.
It's a family affair for team Twiston-Davies after I Like To Move It wins the Greatwood.
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