The Jockey Club has resisted the temptation to extend the Cheltenham Festival beyond four days, a statement from the organisation has confirmed.
Some stakeholders closest to the March extravaganza wanted the action to be spread over five days, which would increase ticket sales and bolster betting turnover.
But the Jockey Club, who oversee racing at Prestbury Park and a catalogue of other UK racecourses, have decided to stick with tradition and retain the four-day schedule for the foreseeable future.
Following extensive consultation and analysis into the best future format of The Cheltenham Festival we’re announcing today that it will continue to be staged over four days.
— CheltenhamRacecourse (@CheltenhamRaces) October 17, 2022
The organisation had been running a consultation period for the past six months or so, surveying racehorse owners, trainers, jockeys and staff alongside broadcast partners and other commercial entities on the possibility of adding a fifth day at Cheltenham.
However, a certain level of discontent amongst racing’s key players – and concerns over what a fifth day would do the surface at Prestbury Park – have ultimately won the day.
The Jockey Club’s representative, Ian Renton, revealed that a fifth day would bring ‘financial benefits’ and enable racing to try and attract a different, weekend audience on a hypothetical Saturday of Cheltenham.
Alas, other concerns saw the plan shelved.
“It would be challenging from a turf management perspective, without further work on the track, and on balance we still feel 28 races over four days is the right format,” Renton confirmed.
He also said that the Jockey Club will instead focus on improving the facilities at Cheltenham Racecourse and ‘investing in new on-course activations’.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
An idea had been floated that the Cheltenham Festival schedule could be rejigged, from four days of seven races to a five-day itinerary of six races – that would add two more to the card, but add an extra day in which 70,000 or so punters could cram into Prestbury Park on the Saturday.
It’s believed that such a proposal had support from many within racing and the Jockey Club themselves, with ticket sales hitting record highs in 2022.
But some – including AP McCoy, notably – were vehemently against the idea, with the 20-time champion jockey claiming that the four-day festival had already ‘diluted’ the magic of the meeting.
The Jockey Club’s investigative findings have revealed that many inside the sport agree with McCoy’s assertion, and so the current four-day schedule will remain beyond 2024.
Concerns over field sizes – there were single-digit entries for some big races, including just four in the Turners Novices’ Chase, at the 2022 edition – will have also played a part as stakeholders sought to avoid a further dilution of prize money and prestige.
Originally established in 1860, the Cheltenham Festival took place over three days for decades, however that changed in 2005 when a fourth day was added for the first time – organisers were criticised for ‘cashing in’ on the meeting’s increasing popularity.