Raising the stakes at the Cheltenham Festival

The quaint and cultured town of Cheltenham is well-known amongst Jump Racing fanatics as the home of the Gold Cup, the main race on the Friday of the Cheltenham Festival, following the raucous and rowdy celebration of St. Patrick’s Day the day before. The Cheltenham Festival is the undisputed flagship race of steeplechase horse racing in the United Kingdom, where the absolute cream of the crop – both horses and jockeys – compete every year for a significant amount of prize money (second only to the Grand National in Liverpool) and of course, prestigious bragging rights. The illustrious history of horse racing in the United Kingdom has cultivated a very knowledgeable and sophisticated fanbase. Jump racing enthusiasts don’t just limit themselves to enjoying the races unfold; they stand by their favoured jockeys and horses by wagering their hard-earned money over the course of the four days. Indeed, with such large amounts of money exchanging hands throughout the duration of the event, it’s only inevitable for some of the biggest gambling companies in the world to take notice and get in on the fun. Back in September 2011, publicly traded online gambling firm bwin.party, the driving force behind PartyPoker (with its newly revamped Sunday Majors tournament series) added 60 UK and 25 Irish race tracks to its horse racing lineup for fans to bet on races at the Cheltenham Festival, Grand National meeting, and Royal Ascot. Speaking of poker, the massively popular card game has also staked its claim as a worthy pastime amongst the locals and tourists in Cheltenham. With the increasing number of players heading to the pubs and bars in town craving for some real poker action, the arrival of a new poker league back in July 2012 was the start of a poker mini-boom that started in Cheltenham and looks to spread to the greater Gloucestershire area. According to co-founder Dennis Parsons, the Fair Play Poker League was the brainchild of a group of friends who just want to share a fun night out with the Cheltenham community. The vibe is decidedly casual and easygoing, yet the actual poker playing is taken very seriously. There are six venues in Cheltenham that host poker games for the league; the Bayshill in St. George’s Place on Mondays, The Irish Oak in Lower High Street on Tuesdays, Bar 50 on Suffolk Road on Wednesdays, The Beaufort Arms on London Road on Thursdays and Saturdays, Saracens Sports Club in St George’s Street on Fridays and The Spectre on the Hight Street on Sundays. Much like the noble sport of jump racing, poker is now on solid ground as a firmly established sport for Cheltenham locals and visitors alike.