An interview with Andy Clifton of Cheltenham Racecourse

Andy Clifton is Communications Manager for Cheltenham Racecourse. Today I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to catch up with Andy and ask him a few questions about his role, Prestbury Park and the Festival.

JP: What do you enjoy most in your job as Communications Manager for Cheltenham Racecourse?
AC: The best part of my job is being involved in the buzz of the build up to The Festival, a sporting event of the highest class. I am also fortunate to be in and around the winners enclosure as the great champions are led in after the big races, a true privilege. 

JP: What was the first Festival you attended?
AC: My first Festival was 1987, when The Thinker won The Cheltenham Gold Cup after it was delayed by a snowstorm! Since then, the only Festival I’ve missed was 1990 (plus 2001 when Foot & Mouth claimed the meeting), so 2010 will be my 22nd Cheltenham Festival.

JP: When will you start preparing for the 2010 Cheltenham Festival?
AC: We started on the day after the 2009 Festival. Preparations start to reach fever pitch from early in the New Year.

JP: What are the chances of the Gold Cup being held on a Saturday?
AC: We never rule anything out, but at the moment it is nothing more than a slim possibility at some point in the future. 

JP: What are your views on the Festival being extended to five days?
AC: I think that is unlikely in the foreseeable future. We don’t want to dilute the quality of a great event. It is more likely that all four days will extend to 7 race cards, if there are appropriate races to add to the schedule.

JP: Is there any possibility of horses having to qualify for Championship races in future Festivals?
AC: That is something that has been put forward for discussion by Racing Enterprises Limited, but it remains to be seen how that idea is viewed during the extensive consultation process with owners, trainers, the media, customers and other interested parties.

JP: What horse are you most looking forward to seeing at Cheltenham this year?
AC: I think that Zaynar will be very exciting in whichever race he lines up in, as will Diamond Harry, but I’d have to be unoriginal and say Kauto Star defending his Cheltenham Gold Cup crown. He is the best chaser I’ve seen in my lifetime. 

JP: What is your highlight of Festival week?
AC: From a professional point of view, getting through to Friday evening with no major dramas. From a personal point of view, The Cheltenham Gold Cup has been the highlight of my year for almost 25 years.

JP: What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen during Festival week?
AC: A friend of mine, slightly the worse for wear after a long day at the races, falling into a bush while trying to climb into his lift back to the hotel. 

JP: What’s the most exciting race you’ve witnessed at Cheltenham?
AC: Denman’s defeat of Kauto Star in 2008 genuinely had the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end.

JP: Who is your favourite Gold Cup winner?
AC: I wish I’d been able to see Arkle in action, but sadly I was only 6 weeks old when he won his final Gold Cup, so that was never going to happen.

JP: It’s great to see improvements made to the course and facilities every season. What further improvement are in the pipeline?
AC: We are always trying to react to the needs of the customers and there are lots of subtle changes each year, but any significant building work is likely to have to wait for a year or two until the economy becomes strong again.

JP: Can you give an update on the proposal for Cheltenham Town to have their football stadium on the racecourse?
AC: It is still a possibility, but with Cheltenham Town’s performance this season I’m not sure how many people will be queuing up to fund such a project.

JP: I know there are five months to go but who would you like to see win the 2010 Gold Cup?
AC: Kauto Star, or failing that, whichever horse I’ve backed!

JP: Festival 2010, will be the 30th held under Edward Gillespie’s charge. Are there any plans to mark the occasion?
AC: Edward is a modest man and I’m sure he’d be embarrassed by any attention. He has taught me that it is the horses, jockeys and trainers who are the heroes of Cheltenham, not the staff who put the race meeting on. However, with over 5,000 people working at The Festival, it is a huge team effort.