The Jockey Club is lining up an expansion of the Cheltenham Festival from 2023 onwards, with plans to include a fifth day of the National Hunt race meeting, according to The Telegraph.
In its present format, the event includes a total of 28 races, or seven per day spanning Tuesday to Friday. However, expanding the Cheltenham Festival would see the meeting revert to six races per day, with the addition of two new races.
Nonetheless, the UK newspaper report added that the Gold Cup would still be held on Friday.
A Jockey Club spokesman explained: “The last time this was discussed in earnest in public some key stakeholders in our sport expressed their desire for a fifth day.
“We always explore every option to improve the Festival and British racing but we have made no decision to extend the length.”
According to The Telegraph, the Jockey Club would argue that the decision to expand Cheltenham to a five-day festival is ‘not a straight financial one or as a direct result of the pandemic’, which cost the course’s owner a significant £90 million in 2020 due to the COVID-19 crisis, whilst the 2015 redevelopment of the Princes Royal stand to up the capacity to 6,500 for £45 million has also raised the appeal.
In addition, the commercial horse racing organisation is keen to ‘broaden its audience’, having enjoyed record streaming figures for the 2021 edition of the festival, according to figures cited by the Racecourse Media Group (RMG) in March.
Free-to-air broadcaster ITV also attracted a record average audience as 1.5 million tuned in to see Rachael Blackmore rode to victory in the Champion Hurdle.
The Cheltenham Festival was a three-day fixture until 2005 when the meeting added a fourth day, with the Gold Cup moved from Thursday to Friday and the Ryanair Chase introduced alongside the Stayers’ Hurdle on Thursday.
However, the changes were regarded as ‘controversial’, meaning the Jockey Club ‘will be treading carefully’ when proposing a fifth day.
Similarly, Royal Ascot added a regular fifth day in 2003 – a move which, if mimicked, could ‘bring in a much younger crowd’.
Other benefits include bringing in additional income, although some revenue will be lost from racegoers switching from midweek fixtures to Saturday.
Should an expansion go ahead, it will also likely have a significant boost to the local economy in the hosting town of Cheltenham, the local economy of which benefits from an estimated £100 million per year as a result of the current-four day event.