'An act of self-sabotage not to' - views for and against a five-day festival
Few subjects in racing generate as much passionate debate as the make-up of the Cheltenham Festival. Would potentially extending the meeting into Saturday be selling out quality? Or is it to be welcomed as an opportunity for more people to experience the magic of the meeting, while providing a welcome shot in the arm for racing's finances? Two Racing Post reporters have their say.
Can cash-strapped British racing afford not to expand the festival?
Incoming Cheltenham chairman Martin St Quinton said back in 2019 that he felt the weight of responsibility for curating a "national treasure" in the shape of the Cheltenham Festival.
Few who read the Racing Post would disagree with that description and maintaining the balance of high-quality racing on the best possible racing surface is a high-wire act, even over four days.
Track husbandry in particular would be an important issue and although a return to six-race cards would mean running only two extra contests across the week, there is a question to be answered in terms of configuring either the Old course or the New course to sustain an extra, albeit shortened day.
The Jockey Club is very proud of its tradition but it also has responsibility for financing a wide range of vital elements to the wider racing community from its racecourse activities.
At a time when British prize-money is in danger of being left behind at all levels, can the sport as a whole afford not to consider an extra day at the festival, with its gate receipts, hospitality and betting turnover?
With no obvious sign that the government is willing to envisage wholesale change to the funding of the sport, a fifth day is one of the few self-help mechanisms available to British racing.
Every owner dreams of having a runner at Cheltenham or Ascot but sadly most horses are nowhere near that talented.
If we want those owners to be kept in the sport with the promise of even half-decent rewards through the various levels of racing, it would seem an act of self-sabotage not to pull this particular lever.
It turns out that the national treasure is also a key player in racing’s treasury.
Scott Burton, reporter
The Jockey Club should be careful what it wishes for
The Cheltenham Festival already has too many races, so adding any more and extending the fixture to five days would be another step in the wrong direction.
If the festival is to even come close to justifying the hype it generates season after season, the meeting must be the ultimate sporting spectacle.
The racing should be high-quality, competitive and engaging for punters and the overall experience should be top-class for casual fans and anoraks alike.
Winning at the meeting should be truly special. It shouldn't be easy, nor should every horse be granted their ideal set of conditions.
That said, it would be foolish to fail to acknowledge that the prospect of a five-day festival is very real from a commercial perspective.
It would make sense to make the sport more accessible by hosting a card on Saturday, while in theory an extra day would result in more ticket sales and increased betting opportunities.
Yet if the Jockey Club proceed, it shows it is willing to sacrifice the meeting's most important selling point – the fact it is supposed to be the place where the best meet the best.
A five-day festival would encourage the good horses – let alone the elite few – to dodge each other, resulting in smaller field sizes in novice and non-handicap events. This would only exacerbate issues within the current fixture list, which already fails to cater for the modern equine population.
The Jockey Club should be careful what it wishes for as small, diluted field sizes do not represent appealing betting heats nor do they satisfy fans of the sport.
Instead of milking the cash cow for all it is worth for short-term gain, the aim should be to develop the meeting to make it the best it can possibly be.
By safeguarding the product in this way, the industry can build towards a future which benefits all parties.
Maddy Playle, reporter
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