It’s no surprise that Ladbrokes have given their full backing to the idea of moving the World Hurdle race to a Saturday, but the Cheltenham Festival just needs to go one small step further to solve its scheduling problems.
With national hunt racing’s most eagerly anticipated meeting almost upon us racegoers are still pouring over the form books and running the rule over all the runners and riders vying for jump racing glory, but it remains to be seen whether or not the stands will be filled to capacity this time around.
There is usually a massive Irish contingent at the Gloucestershire course as thousands vacate the Emerald Isle to lend their support to their home-grown horses during the four-day meeting. However, given the dire state of the Irish economy – and Irish racing in particular – it will be no surprise to see numbers drastically down this year.
This is yet another reason why UK horseracing cannot continue to rely on its existing hardcore punters and why the suggestion to move the Festival from Tuesday-Friday to Wednesday-Saturday is a good one.
Cheltenham is a huge event in the sporting calendar but one that tends only to be visited by died in the wool horseracing fans. So there can be no better way to open it up to the public at large than by moving one of the Festival days to a Saturday.
The idea being mooted is to move the Thursday race card, which is when the Ladbrokes-sponsored World Hurdle takes place, to the Saturday. By moving that day’s racing to the Saturday numbers, betting and revenue would be boosted considerably – as is the case with the Royal Ascot meeting – for what is widely considered to be the weakest day of the meeting.
However, the problem with this plan is that it dilutes the Festival which currently builds to a crescendo culminating with the Blue Riband race of the whole meeting – the Gold Cup. If the Crown Jewels on the Friday are followed by a weaker day’s racing the next day, the Saturday programme would end up being a major anti-climax.
But never fear. A solution is at hand. Why not make Cheltenham a Thursday-Sunday Festival? Not only do you then get two days racing on the weekend, thereby luring in Joe Public and a mountain of cash, but you also get the final day flourish of a Gold Cup climax.
I should work for Racing For Change.