On Monday, racing celebrated unexpectedly as it was learned that the Cheltenham Festival would not be extended by a fifth day.
The meeting’s most successful rider in history, Ruby Walsh, called it “a great thing” after the Jockey Club decided not to continue the event after 2024. Champion trainer Paul Nicholls called the decision a victory for “common sense.”
Many in the business had anticipated that the event would be extended into the next Saturday after the Jockey Club held a six-month survey that led to the decision. Additionally, it was believed that the Jockey Club would favour the addition of a fifth day.
Walsh claimed the Jockey Club had made the choice to retain the festival at four days in order to put the health and success of the sport before money despite the organization’s insistence that the ultimate decision on whether to expand the festival would be based on the consultation.
In spite of the fact that having a fifth day makes financial sense for the Jockey Club, he remarked, “To me, that’s a great thing. This is Cheltenham and the Jockey Club saying no to God knows how much income. They’re turning down financial gain for the benefit of the sport.
“By keeping it to four days, the whole experience for punters, fans and racegoers is enough. They’ve definitely read the room on this, and you’d have to give them credit for doing so, but you’d also hope that now racecourses will realise the people in the sport want the best for it. You’d hope more might listen when the sport is being spread too thin.”
If an additional day were added, questions had been raised regarding the competitiveness of the races at the festival, and it was unclear whether sponsors would sign on and whether ITV’s main channel would air the event on terrestrial television.
Some in the sport, including Nicky Henderson, had backed the extension, citing the potential for increased revenue and increased viewership from racing on a Saturday.
However, the trainer agreed remaining at four days was the correct call, and said: “Early on I was quite keen on the idea of an extra day but I do think they’ve come to the right decision in the end. I can see both sides of it and I’m not going to rattle on about why I did think it was a good idea, but at the end of the day one of the key things was whether the ground would take an extra day and that’s vital. There were pros and cons but everybody seems happy with it this way.”