RECORD crowds are expected at Chester Racecourse today as the Roodee gears up for what is hoped will be its most successful May festival.
It is the first year the three-day meet has been held from Wednesday to Friday - traditionally it begins on a Tuesday.
The move has already proved popular with racegoers with the County Stand already sold out.
Well over 50,000 people are set to converge on the racecourse, the oldest in Britain, for some of the best flat racing of the year. Richard Thomas, chief executive at the racecourse, said: "The decision to switch the May Festival from a Tuesday-to-Thursday meeting to a Wednesday-to-Friday one has already proved a success.
"Advance ticket sales are spread more evenly across the three days.
"The remaining Tattersalls tickets for Wednesday are expected to be sold soon, so racegoers wishing to be in that enclosure should either book early or arrive early at the course on Wednesday."
The event attracted a host of top sporting stars last year including Michael Owen, David Beckham and Roy Keane.
Liverpool FC midfielder Dietmar Hamann's horse, Caldy Dancer, took the honours in the Joseph Heler Cheshire Cheese sprint.
Chester's May meeting is one of the biggest in the racing diary as well as being a prestigious social event. Over the three days, 17,500 bottles of champagne will be drunk and 10,000 lunches and afternoon teas served.
The racecourse has had to increase the number of food and drink outlets by a third to cater for racing fans, more than 1,000 of whom are booked into the racecourse's new Express By Holiday Inn hotel.
The feature event at Cup Day today is the £120,000 totesport Chester Cup which, for many local racegoers, is the highlight of the May Festival. Twenty-two horses remain in the race.
Thursday remains Ladies' Day with the MBNA Europe Bank Chester Vase, one of the two big Derby trials of the May Festival, the highlight.
And the Roodee will play host to a new event as Friday becomes City Day. All eyes will be on the runners in the Jardine Lloyd Thompson Dee Stakes, the race won twice since 1999 by the subsequent victor in The Derby including Kris Kin last year.
Mr Thomas added: "The final touches are being made to the racecourse, and we are confident that we will put on an excellent show for our racegoers.
"With little rain forecast before Wednesday, the official going is good to firm which gives plenty of horses an excellent chance of performing to their best." Dee Stands tickets remain available for all three days, but these are also likely to sell out on each raceday.
Ticket prices range from £5/6 for the Open Course on all days up to £47 for the Long Room during the festival. For more information phone 01244 304600.