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After a six-month consultation with a vast array of stakeholders – including owners, trainers, jockeys, broadcasters, racing fans, racing staff, commercial partners and the local community – Cheltenham Racecourse has binned the idea of a fifth day of racing at the Cheltenham Festival. The 2023 Festival will therefore take place over the traditional four days, from 14 to 17 March, with 14 Grade One races across four seven-racecards including:
Ian Renton, Managing Director of the Jockey Club’s West Region, explained the rationale for retaining the status quo, saying “While we explored the financial benefits and an opportunity to reach new audiences, we also found a number of counterpoints to this. For example it is clear that 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”.
Many racing fans will be pleased with this outcome as the proposed extension to the Saturday would have entailed a poorer racing experience for the weekdays, with six races per day instead of seven. The commercial objective of increasing revenue has also been tempered as the Jockey Club acknowledged that commercial sponsors would be less interested in hospitality on the Saturday when there are plenty of other competing sports in play, and the costs of weekend working for staff would be higher.
Leading trainer Nicky Henderson agreed and said the decision to keep the Cheltenham Festival at four days was “logical”, declaring: “I was one of the ones in favour of the (five days) idea, but I think the more you think about it they’ve made the right decision.” Willie Mullins, the Festival’s winning-most trainer, echoed Henderson’s sentiments, adding: “I think it is a good decision to keep it compact and tighter and I’m very happy that is the decision they have come to.”
The Cheltenham Festival attracted a record attendance of 280,627 in March this year, making it the UK’s third largest sporting event (overtaking Royal Ascot in the process), and the Jockey Club intends to cap ticket sales to 68,500 per day in 2023 to optimise the racing experience for racegoers.
The extensive consultation by the Jockey Club should now provide certainty for the Cheltenham Festival, and all the various stakeholders. The Festival was extended from three to four days back in 2005. It will now remain a four-day event for many years to come.
The course holds it’s first meeting of the 2022/23 National Hunt season this coming weekend and our racing experts Will Smith and Andrew Blair White will hopefully find some great value racing tips to mark the occasion.