The recent suggestion that Cheltenham may become a five-day festival from 2023 has certainly got the racing world talking and essentially split down the middle. On one side, the people who are mad keen to get the extra revenue into racing’s depleted coffers. The other side, those that feel that such a dilution from the original three days is already too much and will lessen the fixture’s value further.
It does appear that adding Saturday then making each day a six race card would initially be a no-risk certainty to raise untold bundles for racing. Cheltenham are no doubt already confident that they can fill that weekend fixture from the huge potential new audience that is opened to them. The money an extra day would generate from gate receipts and other racecourse revenue, TV rights and betting would be a much-needed boost to racing’s funds post pandemic.
People that don’t want to see it happen are the hardcore dedicated purist racing fans. Sadly, they are in the minority when it comes to financial reward for extending the festival. Whilst they are the bedrock of racing in the UK and Ireland they are least likely to go to Cheltenham and spend the whole day or week in the Centaur watching the racing on a bog screen and knocking back as much Guinness as is humanly possible not giving a hoot about the cost. The cynics would say racecourses would rather coach loads of them than the ticket festooned binocular owning Annual Club member.
It’s unlikely that the hoteliers, publicans, restaurateurs et al of Cheltenham and surrounding areas would initially complain too much either. Though in the long term it is possible that the dilution of racing would affect them adversely, too. Back when the festival was three days it was a doable event. People would save all year for it. Once those three days arrived the money they had amassed would be used to eating, drinking and betting in a way that far exceeded their normal behaviour and spending habits. Working in the betting ring, the additional fourth day certainly appeared to lessen the betting frenzy that used to ensue but also added to the exes with less turnover. It’s that dilution again, people can only afford to set back a certain amount of money a year. Divide it all by four instead of three with the xtra costs of hotel and replenishment the betting money was bound to dwindle. Worst still for the aforementioned hospitality industry people might just give it a swerve altogether unable to justify the cost of attending at all.
I’ve known groups of lads that have been going to Cheltenham for two of the three then lattery four days for years. They’ll book two rooms in a hotel and a dozen of them would share quite happy to top and tail or kip on the floor. Yes, the fact that a £60 night room most of the year was all of a sudden, a bottle or carpet was taken into account. The alcohol numbed sleeping discomfort was put up with more of necessity because finding somewhere to lay your head was nigh on impossible. I suppose if they can choose between five days the accommodation plight might become easier, and cheaper.
The real worry is if an extra day is added, is that the focus on the Festival will become even more obsessive. Just how much sooner are those blasted Cheltenham Preview Evenings going to start?
Now that, doesn’t bear thinking about.