As one of the biggest fixtures in the UK and Irish horse racing calendar, the Cheltenham Festival is understandably a profitable week for bookmakers, and a time of excitement for punters and fans of the sport.
There has been a ‘lot of noise’ in recent years about the potential for the festival to be expanded by one more day, making it a five day event, with the Jockey Club last year stating that it would ‘explore every option’ to improve the event. As it stands, 28 races take place during the four days, with seven per day.
The Jockey Club’s main motivation for the expansion was its experience at last summer’s Royal Ascot event, the final meeting of which on 19 June saw a younger crowd in attendance.
Although sports such as football are now massive betting markets, horse racing is perhaps the sport which is most intrinsically linked with betting, and so the financial wellbeing of horse racing is also heavily tied to the financial wellbeing of the gambling industry.
It is therefore in the interests of many betting industry stakeholders to observe developments in horse racing, as continued strong public interest in the sport is ultimately beneficial towards their own revenue streams and engagement with consumers.
Discussing the potential development on Irish Racing.com, Ed Quigley quizzed Vincent Flanagan and Stephen Harris as whether there is a danger of the quality of Cheltneham becoming ‘diluted’ if it was further expanded.
“If there was an extra day, two days, three days – it could go on for three weeks or two months, it doesn’t matter as long as you don’t dilute the quality of the championship races,” Flanagan remarked.
“If you look at the Dublin Racing Festival – its two days, but in amongst those top races that they have, they supplemented with a load of handicaps and there’s no reason Cheltenham couldn’t tod the same, or have hunter chases or cross country races, and keep the championship races.
“I don’t see any reason why it can’t go five days, but it’s how you do it.”
Early on in the discussion, Quigley observed that there is no real need for the Jockey Club to boost its revenue via a fifth day, with the festival often being one of the most lucrative events of the year for horse racing and betting.
2021 saw Oddschecker record over 31,000 customer registrations during this year’s edition of the festival, an increase of 93% on the previous year, whilst Scientific Games (SG) reported a ‘record breaking’ number of bets, totalling over 70 million wagers and representing a 53% uplift on 2020.
“Cheltenham is billed as the Olympics, and as it starts to become a commercial free for all and a day out, is it taking away the gloss of what it used to be,” QUigley noted.
“Only 17 years ago it was a three-day festival, and you hear a lot of people say from a racing perspective they enjoyed it a lot more back then.
Harris, meanwhile, noted that he could see the benefits of both sides, but leant more towards changing the schedule to have six races per day spread over five days, with the Gold Cup taking place late on Saturday, similarity to the Grand National.
He said: “That’s the root we’re inevitably going down. We don’t need any more races, although we could definitely reintroduce the handicap – it was a cracking betting race.
“As a wider point I’m very much against more racing. We’re getting ourselves into a mess with too much racing. The standard mid-week is appalling, and the betting interest has fallen off a cliff and the exchange turnover has disappeared as well, partly because of affordability but also people are losing interest.”