There was a sense that magic had returned to English horse racing when the Cheltenham Festival got underway in March this year.
After two years of having the horse racing calendar decimated by the coronavirus pandemic, with races across the country called off or held without spectators, Cheltenham Festival in 2022 was a big success and a sign that things are returning back to the way they were, perhaps even better than before.
The numbers flocking to the racecourse for the four-day event were the highest yet, and that excitement increased when the Grand National took place a month later, and it’s been a purple patch for horse racing as a whole.
Cheltenham Festival betting was at a high, and all in all, the event was one of the best ever for the showpiece of the national hunt, and now there are plans to extend the festivities to a fifth day, and this has somewhat split opinion among racegoers and those who work within the industry as a whole.
The idea is, according to many reports, to reduce the number of races taking place on each day (from the current seven), and split it across more days with the addition of two more races.
Clearly, such an idea is pretty much a way of trying to make money from the event as a whole, and Racing pundit Lydia Hislop is just one of many who are firmly against the idea, stating vehemently;
“I think it’s an awful idea,”
“I just don’t see a way in which it can benefit the sport; even if it’s two further races, you’re short-changing the customer who did have seven races a day.”
“You’d be travelling to Cheltenham with all the expense that is involved in that and having less for your money, and I just don’t think it can be tolerated.”
“That’s in the scenario of two extra races; if we go to, as would be inevitable, I think, a seven-race a day model, you’re stretching the definition of what we all thought the Cheltenham Festival was beyond destruction,” Hislop added.
The chief executive of the Jockey Club, Nevin Truesdale, has been a little bit more diplomatic when it comes to his thoughts on the matter;
“There are many pros and cons to a fifth day,”
“You have to look at this sport in five years’ time and ask, how are we going to make sure we stay relevant and accessible?”
“One of the very few big festivals without a weekend day is Cheltenham. You, therefore, have to look at five days as a serious proposition, certainly based on the ticket sales we’ve seen this year. However, I can absolutely see there are very valid ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ arguments.”
And that may well be the key argument against re-jigging the festival. Why, after such a successful 2022 event, would there be a need to change things?
There are some who see the Cheltenham Festival as something of a cash cow and, as such, wish to milk it for all its worth, but there’s a danger that in doing so, you elect to mess with tradition and could alienate the very people you claim to be looking to appease.