Cheltenham consulting on five-day festival – and it could come as early as 2024 | Horse Racing News

Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)

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Cheltenham Festival: attracted over 280,000 people this year

Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)

By James Stevens

The Jockey Club has taken the first official step towards extending the Cheltenham Festival to five days, with an ongoing in-depth consultation process – and any change could be implemented as early as 2024.

Cheltenham chief executive Ian Renton told the Racing Post the course is seeking insight from senior owners and trainers to get a “rational view” on whether to extend jump racing’s biggest event.

The world-famous event, which runs from Tuesday to Friday in mid-March, attracted over 280,000 spectators this year and is the Jockey Club’s biggest source of income.


Commentary: The Jockey Club must beware of the danger of strangling the golden goose (£)


Cheltenham have a timetable for the process and Renton hopes a final decision on an extra day will be made in the autumn, with the consultation process over the next few months comprising opinion polling of a wide range of participants with the reassurance that “everyone would do so to be heard”.

If a fifth day is desired, it could come as early as 2024, which would coincide with the centenary of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the festival’s iconic race.

Renton said: “There has always been a lot of speculation about a fifth day in recent years – it pops up around the festival every year. We recognize the increasing speculation and we should go out and ask people’s opinions on this. So we started this process and we’re asking a number of people for their opinions.

“We’re going to continue doing that over the next few months to get people’s opinions so we can be much more rational in assessing how people are feeling and what might come out of that, whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing.” We want to listen to everyone’s views and we will not take any decision lightly.

“Right now we’ve started with the owners and coaches in particular and I think we’ll expand that into a broader survey that could include the ROA or our annual members. Everyone has an opinion and is listened to.”

Harry Trump (Getty Images)

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Ian Renton: "We want to hear all opinions and will not take any decision lightly"

Ian Renton: “We want to hear all opinions and we will not take any decision lightly”

Harry Trump (Getty Images)

Renton said it was “too early to say” what the current general consensus was, but a number of leading jump coaches have expressed support for the idea in the press.

Nicky Henderson, the second-best coach at the gathering, had nothing negative to say ahead of the festival this year, while Philip Hobbs previously said he was “excited” about the idea.

But a fifth day is cause for concern as field sizes are already worryingly low. The 2022 Cheltenham Festival drew 405 runners, the lowest bar in the pandemic year since the game was extended from three to four days in 2005. The average number of runners per race has fallen from 19.5 to 14.5 over that period.

Renton added: “We’ve always said if there could be a change at the earliest 2024 if we’re looking at that for a possible year of changes. We would make a decision well before the 2023 Cheltenham Festival, and I’d like to think that a decision could be made for 2024 from this autumn and we’ll see what the opinions say.”

This year’s Cheltenham Festival was hailed as a success by Renton, particularly the feel-good atmosphere at the course, which saw crowds return to the gathering for the first time since 2020. The fundraiser for the appeal of the Red Cross in Ukraine was also praised and is estimated to have raised well over six figures.

The Jockey Club’s formal review of the 2022 meeting will begin next week, with maximum capacity expected to address a key area. Over 73,000 racegoers attended St. Patrick’s Day Thursday and Gold Cup Friday, but Renton
described this as “stretching,” suggesting numbers could be reduced for 2023.

“Basically, we like to be incredibly self-critical and yes, people have had a fantastic time here, but we look at those who haven’t and how we can improve each area – no matter how small,” he reflected.

“At the moment part of the criticism has been the queues for the toilets and bars and we will see what we can do there. We will be looking at reducing the maximum attendance on Gold Cup Day and all of these things will be discussed over the next few months.

Mike Hewitt (Getty Images)

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The price of a pint was a hot topic of conversation at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival

The price of a pint was a hot topic of conversation at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival

Mike Hewitt (Getty Images)

“I felt like we were at our maximum capacity on Thursday and Friday, which is pushing our infrastructure to the limit. I think we have to accept that we should aim for a viewership that can handle any weather.”

Increased Guinness prices of £7 a pint and early bird tickets for next year have been criticised, but Renton defended the price increases as they reflected additional utility costs across the UK.

He replied: “We’ve been trying to keep ticket prices the same for a very long time, but our costs have increased significantly from 2019 to today, which has been a small increase.

“[With] the 7 pound pint of Guinness, I think now we realize the cost has gone up and if you go to many sports grounds you will find similar prices.

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