Racing Post and former Timeform journalist Richard Austen relives racing history being made in a series of races at the Cheltenham Festival from 1981 to 1991. Starting with his own boyhood connection to the top-class hurdler Birds Nest, he reveals the epic and moving stories behind some of the most celebrated horses in Festival history and others, equine and human, who beat the odds to play leading roles on one of the greatest stages in sport.


With a Foreword by John Francome, At The Festival is guided by vivid testimonies from the leading players and the author’s own position as an eyewitness and an informed but sometimes partisan racegoer. The book describes what it takes to achieve Festival success and what it means to those who have done it, in the face of danger and sometimes of tragedy.


The first of 12 self-contained chapters focuses on the Golden Age of Hurdling, which culminated in the 1981 Champion. On the same afternoon, the highly eccentric Derring Rose (‘the horse who preferred to go backwards’) won the Stayers’ Hurdle by 30 lengths and Prince Charles ventured forth as an amateur jockey in the Kim Muir.


There are starring roles for some of the sport’s great characters, including Brod Munro-Wilson, David Nicholson, Charmian Hill, John Mulhern, Richard Holder and Sirrell Griffiths.


At The Festival casts major new light on the famous 1986, 1989 and 1990 Gold Cups but the Festival experience is about far more than just the Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle, so this book also tells the stories behind an unforgettable duel in the Foxhunter, two Triumph Hurdles, one of the best ever renewals of the Arkle, an Irish hero in the Stayers’ and a triumph for the underdog in the County Hurdle.


Cheltenham’s success is founded on the knowledge that the stories played out there can become racing legends. Stories such as these.


Published 5th November 2015


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At The Festival – Racing to Glory at Cheltenham in March


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At The Festival has been named in The Independent’s Christmas 2015 list for “The best 9 books in sport”

Brilliant! I cannot believe how much effort, research and skill has gone into this book

– John Francome

He writes with rare skill, combining poetry and precision. This book has the power to delight racing fans and inform others of the richness of experience they are missing.

– Lydia Hislop

A compelling account of some of the Festival's greatest races. Older fans of the Festival will adore it; younger converts will lap it up.

– Graham Cunningham

I thoroughly enjoyed it and I cannot believe that any racing enthusiast would not enjoy the book.

– Peter Savill

If you love Cheltenham you will love At The Festival. Racing is blessed with some very fine writers but I doubt there will be a better book this year.

– Ian Carnaby (The Irish Field)

I have just finished At The Festival and loved it - in fact I think it is one of the best (maybe THE best) racing books that I have read.

– Dinah Nicholson

AT THE FESTIVAL: A MASTERPIECE. Every so often, one finds a rare gem which can be hailed a masterpiece, a book whose worth and majesty increase with every reading and repeated re-readings. In his magnificent At The Festival, author Richard Austen has truly created one worthy of the highest of accolades. A book which I opened as soon as it popped through my letterbox on Tuesday and couldn’t put down until the wee small hours of Friday.

– Alastair Nicolson (European Bloodstock News)

Within the pages of this marvellous book Richard Austen provides such an authentic account of Cheltenham’s enduring magic that it might almost be mid-March already. At Cheltenham dreams come true and heroes tread the earth and Austen has distilled its essence into the most potent brew. ... At heart Austen is a fan, and his eloquent enthusiasm adheres to every page, rubs off on the reader, who by the last page will feel as we all do when there are five minutes to post-time on the festival’s first day, roused to a place of fever pitch by the glory of it all. The book’s subtitle is Racing to Glory at Cheltenham in March; if this book were a horse it might win a Gold Cup, you know.

– Steve Dennis (Racing Post)


Richard Austen’s passion for horseracing in general, and Cheltenham races in particular, began as a child and soon intensified dramatically when Birds Nest, a horse bred by his grandfather, emerged as one of the most striking characters in what is now recognised as the golden age of hurdling. Richard’s first day at the Cheltenham Festival was as a fifteen-year-old in 1981 and, after that, attending the meeting became a compulsion that has never diminished.

Within weeks of leaving school, he was writing articles on the sport for the Gloucestershire Echo. Since graduating from York University (chosen because of the density of racecourses in Yorkshire) he has worked full time as a racing journalist, initially with nearly ten years at Timeform and since 2002 for the Racing Post. He was one of the chief essay writers on the prestigious Timeform annuals for 16 years, co-editor of the acclaimed Timeform book Favourite Racehorses and is currently Spotlight Editor of the Racing Post.




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Published 5th November 2015.


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