CHELTENHAM BOARD CONFIRMS FOUR-DAY FESTIVAL IS HERE TO STAY
NATIONAL HUNT CHASE REVIEW AND NEW MARES’ RACE ALSO ANNOUNCED
Four-Day Festival Confirmed
Cheltenham Racecourse today announced that The Festival, due to be held from March 11 to 14 in 2008, will remain a four-day meeting.
The Cheltenham Board met on Tuesday, May 15 and considered a number of subjects concerning The Festival following the completion of the third year under its four day-format. As a result of those discussions, several important decisions were reached.
Edward Gillespie, Managing Director of Cheltenham, said: “From the outset, we stated our intention to review every aspect of The Festival once we had experienced three years of a four-day meeting.
“In March this year, we had one of the most successful and exciting meetings for many years and it has become clear that the four-day Festival has firmly established itself with racegoers, racing professionals and off-course television viewers alike.
“The five new races have all proved successful and provided additional opportunities for horses that were not catered for previously. Encouragingly, the median rating of runners at The Festival has been maintained, demonstrating that the quality of the meeting has not been compromised.
“Additionally, two of the new races have already qualified for promotion to Grade 1 status, namely the Ryanair Chase and the Brit Insurance Novices’ Hurdle and these upgrades are due to be considered by the British Horseracing Board Jump Racing Committee at the end of this month.
“Prize money at the four-day Festival is now well over £3m, with sponsors contributing in excess of £1.5m, more than double the sponsorship figure for the last three-day Festival in 2004, which must be good news for Jump racing as a whole.
“In addition, the overall attendance is up by around 40,000 people compared to 2004.”
National Hunt Chase
Following discussions with the BHB, the Cheltenham Board also reviewed the make-up of the race programme and announced that the conditions of the National Hunt Chase would be reviewed and further discussed with interested parties over the next few weeks.
Cheltenham’s Director of Racing, Simon Claisse, explained: “The National Hunt Chase has had its critics in recent times, but the successes of Butler’s Cabin (won in 2007), Silver Birch (fourth in 2004) and Hot Weld (won in 2006), who between them won the four biggest long distance chases of the season this spring, highlighted the importance of this race in the calendar.
“However, we do recognise that changes should be made in order to help restore the race, which was once the most important contest in the whole meeting, to its former glory.
“To that end, we are suggesting three significant changes: that the distance of the race be reduced to 3m 6 1/2f; that the race be returned from the New Course to the Old Course (and swapped with the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Chase on the Wednesday); and that there should be qualification conditions for the horse and rider.”
These proposals will be discussed with owners and trainers and an announcement regarding changes to the conditions of the race will be made later in the summer.
New Mares’ Race on Gold Cup day
It had always been Cheltenham’s intention, assuming the successful introduction of a four-day Festival, to have a seventh race on totesport Gold Cup day from 2008. Discussions with owners, trainers and breeders have produced an extremely strong lobby for a Mares’ race at The Festival and this view has been endorsed by the Board.
The new race will be a Grade 2 weight for age 2m 4 1/2f hurdle, with a value of approximately £100,000. The BHB Race Planning Committee is proposing to introduce a stronger series of Pattern races for Mares during the earlier part of the season, leading up to the new contest at The Festival. This race will be the sixth on Gold Cup day and will be named in honour of the late David Nicholson, Jump racing legend, staunch supporter of British Breeding and a recent inductee into the Jump Racing Hall of Fame.
Summing up the changes, Edward Gillespie commented: “We take nothing for granted here at Cheltenham and are always looking at ways to improve The Festival, both for racegoers and for the owners, trainers, jockeys and horses who provide the drama on the track.
“I’m confident that these measures will help The Festival to maintain its place as the sport’s most significant, competitive, keenly anticipated and popular occasion.”