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Do We Need A Five Day Cheltenham Festival?



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WHAT THE CHAIRMAN OF CHELTENHAM RACECOURSE SAID..

I wouldn’t rule anything in but I wouldn’t rule anything out...

This was the response of Martin St Quinton, newly appointed Chairman of Cheltenham Racecourse when ITV Racing anchor Ed Chamberlain quizzed him on the possibility of extending The Cheltenham Festival from the customary four days in March to 5 days.

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The possibility has certainly riled plenty of National Hunt racing enthusiasts on social media as well as some high profile racing personalities. Very few have supported the idea.

"LESS IS MORE"?

Matt Chapman echoes the widely supported notion that “less is more” in his column for The Sun believing that The Cheltenham Festival is already diluted, in terms of quality horses participating and that new races like The Ryanair Chase (introduced as part of the new 4 day Festival in 2005) have perhaps undermined races like the Champion Chase and Gold Cup.

TOO MANY ODDS ON FAVOURITES?

However, a Guardian newspaper sports blog published this week approached the subject from a betting perspective and made the interesting point that since the Cheltenham Festival extended to four days, the number of odds-on favourites has increased. 

Therefore, the idea that top class horses are taking on other top class horses at The Festival are diminishing as horses are increasingly up against more average opposition.

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Not only that, the odds are shortening. In recent Festivals, favourites have gone off at odds of 1-4 and 2-9 and not all of those were victorious.

A fifth day would ultimately increase the possibility of more championship races having very short priced favourites as greater opportunities are increased elsewhere: trainers would be able to avoid talented and proven horses but still enter high quality races.

MORE HANDICAPS

Top Irish trainer Willie Mullins is also against the idea as the extension would probably mean more handicap class races which would ultimately devalue The Cheltenham Festival. Eddie O’Leary also weighed in for Gigginstown Stud who argued against it but warned that if customer feedback favoured an extra day, then it would inevitably happen.

On social media, punters and racing enthusiasts have been almost unilaterally against the idea, claiming that the clamour for more ticket sales and other possible extra revenue being created as more important than the damage to horse racing itself.

SO WHY DO IT?

So what could be the reasons for extending The Cheltenham Festival?

Clearly, money has to be at the centre of any proposals. There can be no denying that the extension of an extra day would doubtlessly push back The Cheltenham Gold Cup, the flagship championship race of the week, to be staged on the Saturday.

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It doesn’t take a genius to work out the financial potential of having the most prestigious steeple chase in the world broadcast to a potentially much greater audience.

The introduction of a Mares Chase in 2021 has also helped increase speculation as this new race will also mean the removal of one of the current Cheltenham Festival races. Most likely victims are the Fred Winter Hurdle or Kim Muir Chase although the reputation of the National Hunt Chase after last year’s much publicised event is also under scrutiny.

Nevertheless, changes to major horse racing events in the past have all met with success. The Royal Ascot Meeting now enjoys the extra Heath Meeting day on the Saturday and this has turned out to be their most popular day of the meeting.

The Epsom Derby famously ditched their traditional Wednesday slot in favour of a Saturday scheduling and this has proved successful down the years in terms of attendance.

And of course, nobody can deny that the increased popularity of The Cheltenham Festival has significantly occurred since the introduction of the four day Festival in 2005. Martin St Quinton and his team will no doubt carefully assess the situation between now and the summer and make the right decision.

In the meantime of course, this year’s Cheltenham Festival is just 9 weeks away and whilst the argument for a five day festival rumbles on for now, it won’t be long before the attention is rightfully geared towards the horses and action of 10, 11, 12 and 13 March. That’s four days in case you’re wondering. For now.

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Matt is Howtobet4free's resident Horse Racing expert, writer, tipster and a huge Cheltenham Festival fan. He occasionally dabbles in Golf, Football and anything else you can gamble on!

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