Cheltenham Fesitval guides under the microscope
The Cheltenham Festival spawns a wide range of commercial offshoots.
There’s a bit of a hike in the cost of staying in and around the Spa town in mid-March. For pubs and restaurants a good Festival can make the difference between calling it a day or continuing to trade for another year.
Further afield there are a host of preview nights staged by pubs, clubs and racecourse. And, er, racing websites offering special Cheltenham Festial content.
Then there are the Festival guides published by the leading racing media. This year there seems to be more than ever.
For the most part, the content of each guide follows a well trodden path. Each race is looked at in detail, with key factors highlighted, major contenders profiled, trends analysed and verdicts given.
Further content looks as key trial races, gets the views of trainers and jockeys, takes account of the Irish raiders and supplements the thoughts of each book’s main author with other racing experts.
The longest established is the Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide 2019 published by Weatherbys (£15.95), which is now in its 20th year.
The author of this paperback book of over 270 pages is Paul Ferguson, who is joined not only by the Guide’s first compiler, Paul Jones, but also Ed Quigley, Ben Linfoot, Jane Mangan and Rory Delargy.
It probably has more words than any of the other guides, and therein lies the problem. Great chunks of small type desperately needing paragraph breaks make you think twice about reading, no matter how valuable the commentary is.
Indeed, it’s a book crying out for an editor to pare it down and make it less of a challenge to read.
The race-by-race analysis is interspersed with feature articles. For example, there’s a two part piece on those searching for their first Festival winner. This would have been better as a single article.
Paul Ferguson is a trends man which means that references to specific race contenders in the detailed race-by-race assessments are scarce and primarily left to Messrs Delargy, Linfoot and Quigley. They provide round-ups for each day and, as a result, the book is somewhat disjointed.
There is however the pleasant surprise that the last 70 pages or so are devoted to Aintree’s Grand National meeting, again concentrating on trends. Ironically, this is the part of the books which seems to work best.
In comparison, the Racing Post Cheltenham Festival Guide 2019 (£12.99) is a paragon in terms of presentation and readability.
It calls upon over 25 Post writers to provide features and predictions in its 212 pages. There’s about a fifty-fifty split between the articles, such as trainer interviews, thoughts of different tipsters, bookmaker Q&As, and analysis of RP ratings and time figures.
The bulk of the race-by-race coverage is by Paul Kealy who provides profiles of the leading contenders, albeit that deadlines mean some key players mentioned will no longer be turning up at Prestbury Park. This is complimented by 10-year tends.
Visually, the Post guide is the most accomplished, and an annoying design element of previous years of including some content in very narrow side-columns has been abandoned.
In almost very respect, it comes out tops of the guides we looked at.
The slimmest of the paperback guides is the Racing TV Cheltenham Betting Preview 2019 (£15.99), although it still runs to 164 pages.
It has been compiled by Matt Tombs and concentrates on going through each of the Festival races. Tombs strikes a decent balance between trends and mentions of fancied runners, but there’s an annoying habit of using some idiosyncratic sub-headings which mean you can’t get into a rhythm from one race to the next.
What makes the Racing TV guide attractive are the contributions from Lydia Hislop, Tom Stanley and Johnny Ward, who divide up each day’s main races between them. It’s here that you get thorough assessment of the runners and thoughts on who might win.
A different format is the Racing Post Weekender Cheltenham Festival Ultimate Guide.
As a newspaper, it enjoys a later press time. That means it has almost all the entries in racecard format, and provides Racing Post Form.
And, like the Post guide, it draws on its regular contributors to select their best three horses in each race, with a short piece on their thinking. Major races contain extensive horse-by-horse profiles, and 10-year trends are a prominent feature.
There are also supporting feature articles to complete the package. At £3.50 it’s the best value and is also the easiest read.
Finally, the Irish Field has produced its magazine format Cheltenham Festival Annual (£5.99).
This is much more a feature-led publication, and only the pages devoted to each day’s key trends are primarily concerned with helping to find winners. Otherwise, it’s a good read for the journey to Cheltenham, rather than pre-Festival homework.