Updated: Feb 21
Seen by many as the pinnacle of the national hunt season four days in March, when the racing world fixates on a big hill in Gloucestershire, is the Cheltenham Festival
In my younger and more naive days I often wondered why organisers opted to host the festival from Tuesday to Friday and neglected perhaps the biggest betting day of any week, a Saturday? Was it perhaps to avoid clashing with football? My thinking was that any racing we then saw on the Saturday often seemed somewhat redundant and substandard compared to what we’d witnessed the four previous days.
I don’t have the figures to hand in regards to attendances at meetings the Saturday after Cheltenham but I imagine with the buzz well and truly still in the air it’s enough to get crowds still high off the Cheltenham air to venture out to a meeting. The passion created by the festival is something that seems to trickle down to other courses across the country and benefits all who welcome it with open arms but with some suggesting (for many years) that we should adopt a five day festival is it potentially overkill and why do we need it?
From a personal point of view having a five day meeting would be fantastic, more eyes on the sport generating more interest is always a good thing but just like those extra few chocolates at the bottom of the tin on Christmas night are we in danger of being stuffed and bloated?
Big time trainer Phillip Hobbs has been open about his support of increasing the meeting to five days stating “Personally I’d be keen on it. A five day festival would probably only need two more races and that gives us all more of a chance of having a Cheltenham Festival winner.” I respect such a great trainer as Hobbs but surely this attitude takes away from the horses and connections who find themselves in the winners enclosure that week? Is it perhaps indicative of society whereby everyone at sports day deserves a medal but surely when all is said and done those who finish first past the post should be heralded as the best in that set division? Many a time we’ve seen top class horses avoid one another and take different routes. Take superstar mare Quevega as an example who farmed the Mares Hurdle for so many years yet most of us often wondered how she’d fair against some of the more feared opposition in the likes of the Champion or Stayers Hurdles?
In fact I’d be more inclined to bring the festival to a more clear and concise set of 24 races that should cover all bases.
See below a list of all the proposed races that, in my opinion, ensures every division, distance and grade are included and also involves the more novelty style races that racing enthusiasts love. Chase 2mGrade 1 (Champion Chase)HandicapNovice2m4fGrade 1 (Ryan Air)HandicapNovice3mxHandicapNovice3m2+Grade 1 (Gold Cup)xx Hurdle2mGrade 1 (Champion Hurdle)HandicapNovice2m4fGrade 1HandicapNovice3mGrade 1 (Stayers Hurdle)HandicapNovice Additional Races2mBumper (Flat Race)2m4fMares Hurdle3mVeterans Chase3mCross Country3m2fFoxhunters Chase (Amateur/Hunter)4mStayers Chase (Novice)
With the above in mind is there a base left uncovered? Are people going to be devastated that we don’t have races over 2m2f and 2m6f? The only thing I could be persuaded to include is the Martin Pipe to ensure Conditional Jockeys get their day in the sun, maybe at the expense of the Stayers Chase but is there something I’m missing that’s glaringly obvious?
To me Cheltenham should showcase the top horses do battle and ensure it does it’s upmost to avoid the question “who is the best” being left unanswered.
by Rory Paddock