10am: Thousands of people are set to descend upon Prestbury Park today as the Cheltenham Festival kicks off to much fanfare.
More than 235,000 people are expected over the next four days.
Ian Renton, the Jockey Club’s regional director for the South West, said he is delighted the weather has been forecasted to be fair for the rest of week.
Last year, freezing temperatures forced races to be delayed, with the going too hard.
Preparations for this year’s festival have gone better than before.
Mr Renton said: “It’s fantastic that we can head into this year’s Festival with much better weather than we had last year and this has meant we’ve been in much better shape to make the final preparations than we were 12 months ago.
“We’re looking forward to a great four days racing and the weather will certainly play a part in that. We’re slightly ahead on ticket sales than we were last year but tickets are still available in all enclosures on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
“We are sold out in Tattersalls and the Best Mate enclosure on Gold Cup Day (Friday) but there are still some available in the Club Enclosure.
“Although it was my first Festival in charge of Cheltenham Racecourse last year, a lot of the preparations had been made as we start so far in advance but I was able to take stock after last year’s meeting and make a few adjustments so racegoers can have the best customer experience possible.
“We’ve added more bars this year and there are also more loos available to racegoers. We’ve also worked hard on a pilot wifi infrastructure which will hopefully ensure that all Festival racegoers have access to free internet access across the racecourse and there has also been a significant uplift in the quality of facilities for hospitality clients.”
12pm: Tens of thousands of people arrived in Cheltenham ready for the jewel in horse racing crown.
They include William Westecott, 29, with his dad Chris, 60. William said: “It is a great carnival environment in Cheltenham every year. I love coming here and prefer Cheltenham to the other races because I’m a national hunt supporter.
“Jump racing is more exciting than flat ground racing and I will definitely be enjoying myself over the next four days.”
Chris said: “We really enjoy coming to Cheltenham every year, the atmosphere, the excitement, and the racing make for a great festival.”
Steve Gibson, 32, from Cambridge said: “We feel welcome at Cheltenham every year. The crowd is looking bigger than last years already.”
1pm: People are just starting to the grandstand in anticipation for the start of the first race at Cheltenham Festival 2014.
The anticipated Cheltenham roar is expected to be louder this year with the fair weather drawing more people than last year which was much colder.
Alison Edwards from Battledown, Cheltenham said it was her first visit to Prestbury Park on the first day of the festival even though she’s been coming for 20 years.
The hotel owner of Portland apartments said: “There’s a real buzz about the first year, everyone’s really excited for the rest of the festival and I’m really enjoying myself.
“It is actually the first time I’ve been here on the first day. It is amazing, there is great atmosphere.
“There is a huge crowd and Cheltenham comes to life.
“It is also a really good time for friends to come together as a big group to enjoy ourselves.
There’s a real buzz today and the weather this year is brilliant compared to last year. I can’t wait for it to start.”
Grant Spence, 26, stock controller and show and event coordinator for Oxfordshire company said he expects more people this year compared to last.
The company from Burford has a stall just behind the grandstand and has done for the last six years.
Mr Spence said: “It feels warmer this year and a lot busier. There are more people out and I don’t feel so cold which is a first.
“We come every year because there’s a great atmosphere and it is local to us. Everyone seems pretty happy.
"It’s one of the nicest shows to come and work at."
The announcers have just said that the going is good to soft and good in some places.
1.35pm: A massive cheer went up as Cheltenham Festival kicked off minutes ago.
With huge crowds flooding the grandstands, many were left cheering as Vautour came first in the opening race.
3pm: Margaret Mansbridge came down from Witney with husband Colin for today’s festivities.
First time at the festival, the pair have already won with champagne fever and Volaaur in the first race.
Margaret said: “The day has been great, we are more than enjoying it really . Its our first time at the festival, there’s a huge excitement throughout. We will stay for the rest of the week.”
William O’Connell was at the festival with partner Gwen Blackburn and son William Jnr and daughter in law Inga.
The O’Connells have struck a rich vein of form winning in the first two races.
They won the first and second place in the opening race and their horses were best second and third position in the second race.
William senior has not missed the festival since 1999. He said: ”Its great fun, I love it and I try to never miss it.”
Gwen said: “It’s my first time here and its one of the nicest racecourses I’ve seen.”
3.45pm: Carolyn Bawdin flew from Rome, Italy to meet up with close friends Richard Handley from Tewkesbury.
Carolyn has been making the trip for the last 35 years.
She said: “It’s a great atmosphere, fantastic organisation and a huge roar whenever the first race goes off.
“I arrived on the weekend, have been around Cheltenham and it’s a lovely town.”
Richard said: “I used to live in Cheltenham and the town comes to life during the festival.
“It is absolutely brilliant and different from anything else. “
Alan Cousin from Cousins of Cheltenham has had booming sales of his tweed collection.
Mr Cousins who has been bringing his designs to the racecourse for 34 years.
“We’ve had a really good start with this fantastic crowd.
"The weather has been absolutely splendid and we couldn’t ask for anything better."
“It’s still slightly chilly but some of the racegoers who might be slightly more dressed up and find they might need a coat to be a little more cosy.
I think it is a bigger crowd this year, certainly because we have been incredibly busy today.”
4.25pm News has just come in that the horse Our Conor has been humanely put down. The horse had fallen at the third hurdle in the St James Champion Hurdle.
A spokesman for Cheltenham Racecourse said: "He was attended by vets immediately and they did everything possible to save him.
"After extensive treatment for a back injury, the decision was made to humanely put down the horse."
6pm: The attendance today was a record 57,098, 814 more than last year, it has been announced.
6.15pm: Gloucestershire Police confirmed one man has been arrested in relation to handling counterfeit money at the Festival.
He was detained by police officers, who are investigating.
Altogether, there were three instances of pick pocketing and two of suspected counterfeit currency.
A spokesman for the police said the festival had got off to a "peaceful start".
Superintendent Jim McCarthy said: "Nearly 60,000 people have passed through the Racecourse gates today and we’re pleased to report that only one arrest has been necessary.
"This is thanks to the combined efforts of all the staff at the racecourse who are working together with the same aim of facilitating a safe and enjoyable festival.
"We’d like this good start to the week’s festivities to continue into the evening and for those heading out to celebrate in the town centre, please stay safe, drink sensibly and be considerate to local residents."
6.35pm: Ian Renton, regional director of Jockey Club Racecourses South West, said: "I am really thrilled with such a strong crowd figure today.
"To be up 814 on the previous highest attendance for the opening day is really terrific.
“There was a great result in the Stan James Champion Hurdle with Jezki winning for J P McManus, Jessica Harrington and Barry Geraghty. We are all looking forward to three more days of The Festival.”
7pm: The going has changed.
Simon Claisse, regional director of Racing, South West & clerk of the course, Cheltenham, said: “The going is now Good, Good to Soft in places on the Old Course.
“The Cross Country, which we are using tomorrow, remains Good to Soft, Soft in places.”
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