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Is the Cheltenham Festival better off being a four-day event?

One of the most significant changes to horse racing in the United Kingdom was expected to become official at the end of October 2022 when the organisers of the Cheltenham Festival were reportedly set to announce that the event would be held over five days and no longer four after 2024. In the end, the organisers decided against it but many sports fans will still be wondering why an extra 24 hours would have mattered.

To start with, the current setup allows for 28 races over the four days with the Cheltenham Gold Cup being the most prestigious race of all which takes place on the final day. Further proof of the extraordinary global interest that the Gold Cup commands can be found when looking at the latest horse racing bets given that the odds are already out despite there still being four months to go. As of late November, Galopin Des Champs is the favourite at a price of 3/1.

Of course, it’s worth mentioning that with over 120 days to go before the festival commences, a lot could change which is why punters should keep a close eye on the more up-to-date racing predictions in the lead-up.

In essence though, if this event were to go to a fifth day then the aforementioned Gold Cup would have to be moved as it is always held on the final day. Now, this extra day added onto proceedings may, to most casual observers, not seem like a notable change, after all, what’s the difference between watching a race on a Friday as opposed to a Saturday? The reality, however, is that it would alter the entire festival almost beyond recognition when you take into account that since 1860, the Cheltenham Festival has been held during the week and not the weekend.

A matter of tradition 

There are a host of different reasons for this but primarily, the festival hasn’t changed its dates so that it doesn’t have to compete with any other sports, like football and, in particular, the Premier League which takes priority in England on the weekend.

Needless to say, the suggestion of making it five days was met with concern given that there were fears that interest in the event would become diluted. On top of that, organisers weren’t sure that they would be able to maintain the same high standards of the racetrack’s manicured turf if another seven races were added.

What was behind the decision to make it a five-day event?

In short, the spectacle may not be as good, and fewer people would, in all likelihood, be watching, so what was the point? Perhaps it won’t come as a surprise to learn that financial motives were the driving force behind the idea as another day of spectators would drastically increase revenue. As it stands, around 65,000 people on average attend the festival per day with a total of 260,000 passing through Cheltenham’s gates over the course of the festival.

On one hand, the encouraging news is that this festival is going from strength to strength and is currently the most popular jump racing event of the year. With this in mind, you can, to a certain degree, understand why there was a rush to capitalise on the ever-increasing foot traffic. But when the idea in the shape of a vote was put to all of the members who attend the festival, the response back was unequivocal: don’t try and fix what isn’t broken.

Indeed, since it was going to come at a cost to a tradition that has been in place for 161 years, it was decided at the eleventh hour that the Cheltenham Festival would remain a four-day affair.

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