Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Cheltenham: Never on a Saturday

Telegraph Sport: where the debate really gets started

Quevega will bid for a sixth OLBG Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham
Quevega will bid for a sixth OLBG Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham

Rumoured moves to extend the Cheltenham Festival, which starts next Tuesday, from four days to five must be resisted.

The showpiece meeting was extended from three days to four a decade ago – and that has stretched the event to its limits.

But it is believed Festival chiefs now covet a Saturday slot – motivated, no doubt, by the added bonus of the extra revenue that would generate.

If Cheltenham is to conclude on a Saturday, the extra day should be forgotten with the Festival starting on the Wednesday.

There used to be 24 races over three days, with 27 now run over four days. A five-day Festival would require a minimum of 30 races.

But all that will do is further dilute the quality of racing.

As well as that, in these harsh financial times, four days of Cheltenham – either at the track or following from afar – is a push for many people.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that people tend to be more choosy in terms of attending the meeting.

Instead of going for all four days, a more attractive – and realistic – option is attending the opening two or closing two days, with many just going on the Friday, which features the Festival's showpiece race, the Gold Cup.

But the Cheltenham Festival boasts several top class races – including the Champion Hurdle and Queen Mother Champion Chase – unlike Aintree which is much more reliant on one; the Grand National.

The Cheltenham Festival still possesses a special kind of magic – it is vital that is protected.

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