March 2009
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Horse meet

I’m going to the Cheltenham Festival next Friday for the Gold Cup.

I’ll admit this isn’t my usual scene, but it’s for my Dad’s birthday present and, really, what kind of son would I be if I didn’t tag along?

I’ve been to the races exactly one time before and I did enjoy it, but I’ll openly admit to being totally clueless where horses are concerned.  Here’s what I know: the ones with the best names probably run the fastest.

I’ve studied the form guide and I think Snoopy Loopy is a dead cert.  Get a bet on now at 66-1 before everyone realises.

The only other tip I have so far is for getting there by train.  It looks like there’s no such thing as a day return to Cheltenham Spa.  I guess it’s just not a popular enough destination the 51 weeks of the year that it doesn’t have a racing festival to warrant such a thing.

However, you can get a day return to Birmingham from almost anywhere – and if you’re travelling from the North or East, there’s a good chance you’d have to change trains there anyway.

For my dad, a return ticket from Leicester straight through to Cheltenham Spa costs £34.50.  However, a day return to Birmingham New Street is £9.40, and then he can go from Birmingham to Cheltenham for £19.40.  Total: £28.80.

That’s a saving of more than five quid over doing it the "proper" way.  As there’s no direct route from Leicester, he’d always have to change in Birmingham so it’s a no-brainer.

For me, Stoke to Birmingham costs £12.20.  A ticket straight through would be £42.50, so I save £10.90 by splitting the journey.

Admittedly, there are some direct trains from Stoke to Cheltenham, but the time difference is only 5 minutes (1:44 vs 1:39) and on this occasion I’d choose to meet my family in Birmingham anyway.

As far as I can tell, these are all flexible tickets with no commitment to travel on a specific train.  The Birmingham-Cheltenham leg is good anytime after 9.30am and although the other tickets can’t be used between 3.30pm and 6pm, that’s not going to a problem with the last race at 5.15pm.

I can stick the tenner I’ve saved on a long shot, but as it’s Friday 13th I will accept there is a small chance it might not win.