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  Thursday, 14 March, 2002, 11:22 GMT
The fashion stakes
Punters keep a close eye on the action at Cheltenham
All eyes are on the horses... not the hats
BBC Sport Online's Sophie Brown reports from the Cheltenham Festival

National Hunt is often seen as Flat racing's poor relation - and when it comes to the sartorial stakes, jump racing is indeed furlongs behind.

Flat racing's premier meeting at Royal Ascot is almost as much a celebration of fashion as it is of top class racing - the same cannot be said of the Cheltenham Festival.

Even the most vivid imagination could not envisage Jeff Banks mingling among the throng at the Gloucestershire course, picking out photogenic specimens of high fashion.

Overhear an admiring comment about a coat and you will find that it has been aimed at a horse rather than a human.

Of course, the fact that it is mid-March on the exposed Prestbury Park as opposed to mid-June on Ascot Heath has a lot to do with it.

Forget bijou hats, floating chiffon and strappy sandals - ear-muffs, padded anoraks and sensible shoes are the required dress here.

Zara Phillips looks on on day two at Cheltenham
Zara Phillips stands out in understated pashmina
The problem is not scruffiness - Cheltenham does not have a dress code with tie and jacket the norm in the members' enclosures.

It is just that the racegoers look as if they might have been wearing blinkers when they got dressed that morning.

Tweed jackets are popular with the men, along with garish ties and socks, coloured shirts with white collars, coats with velvet lapels, yellow cords - all topped off with a flat cap or a trilby.

For women, the headscarf has thankfully become an endangered species.

But while the Ascot female seems to dress in order to stand out from the crowd, her Cheltenham counterpart appears to want to blend in - the enclosures are often a sea of fake fur mop hats.

The jumps crowd tend to be a down-to-earth bunch who don't see the point of buying new clothes unless their old ones have worn out.

Hence the same sheepskin jackets, wool coats and Barbours turn up year after year.

But Cheltenham need not be ashamed of its lack of sartorial style.

The Festival is not about fashion, it is about passion - for top quality, exhilarating jump racing.

The fact is that Cheltenham cannot produce a catwalk to match those of the top Flat meetings.

But the people coming here do not want to see a clothes horse - they want the genuine article.

Cheltenham stages its big jump race meeting from 12-14 March

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Links to more Cheltenham Festival stories are at the foot of the page.


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