Five-Day Festival

There’s speculation that a fifth day could be added to the Cheltenham Festival calendar from 2023. The Jockey Club announced on Monday that a decision had not yet been made.

The reported extension would see the famous meeting running from Tuesday to Saturday. The Cheltenham Gold Cup would still take place on the Friday.

The festival currently holds 28 races over the course of four days. The plan would require that only two were added. That would make it a five-day meeting with six races on each day.

The prospect has been debated for a long time but has recently triggered reactions from various racing professionals.

Nicky Henderson said, “Plenty will say they don’t want to see it, but I’m for it overall. From racing’s point of view it will create the money and that’s too valuable, we can’t say no to it. It’s a long enough week for us as it is, but assuming I’m still alive I’d have runners.”

Alan King disagreed: “I don’t think it’s necessary. You’d dilute the quality, I’m surprised. Personally I’d prefer they didn’t. I don’t know enough about the facts but I’m a great believer in if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. They might come back with a better idea. Punchestown’s a great festival, but there’s a lot of fairly moderate races.

In 2005 a further day was introduced; the Festival became a four-day event having only been three days in past years.

At the time of this change, Paul Nicholls said: “My view is four days is enough, end of story. Four days is plenty.”

Jonjo O’Neill takes the view, shared by a few, that it came as no surprise – “It was only a matter of time, wasn’t it? It’ll give us more chance to get winners. What can you say – it is what it is.”

Tom Scudamore considered both sides of the argument, “As a jockey you want as many days as possible because it gives you more chances of riding winners. But with my racing hat on, I don’t want it diluted.

The matter re-emerged at the beginning of 2021 when Cheltenham Racecourse chairman, Martin St Quinton said, “I wouldn’t rule anything out”.

This has been followed up by a Jockey Club spokesperson: “We will always explore every option to improve the festival and support British racing, but we have made no decision to extend the length of the festival.”

There are a few considerations that make this such a hot topic: the finances, the quality of the racing and of the event as a whole, whether the ground could handle it and whether it would be too much for racing staff.

And there are questions that might need to be addressed out of Gloucestershire: since 1969 the Saturday following Festival week has been Midlands Grand National day, Uttoxeter’s biggest and best day. It isn’t yet known what would become of this.

Not to mention, Kempton, the racecourse with the best winter ground that until recently the Jockey Club was minded to demolish to make way for residential development. There is a great meeting there that Saturday, with a number of races for runners that were balloted out of Cheltenham races.

However, the pandemic also has a huge effect on decisions like these. The Jockey Club estimated they had suffered losses of around £90 million in 2020 alone. This gives the financial argument some bite.

What are your thoughts on a five-day festival?