The Jockey Club is reportedly considering expanding the Cheltenham Festival to include a fifth day by 2023, as the organisation looks to ‘explore every option’ to improve both the event and the sport of horse racing, according to The Telegraph.
Should the Festival be expanded, it will join Ireland’s Punchestown Festival and the recently concluded Royal Ascot event, the latter of which has had a five day schedule since 2003.
The primary rationale for the expansion has been driven partly by recent experiences at Ascot, which saw a younger crowd attend the final fixtures on Saturday 19 June.
This could potentially be highly beneficial to the Cheltenham Festival and horse racing in general, as the Jockey Club is eager to widen both the event and the sport’s general audience.
A possible expansion of the Festival has become particularly attractive following the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost racing an estimated £90 million in 2020, whilst the 2015 redevelopment of the Princes Royal stand to up the capacity to 6,500 for £45 million has also raised the appeal.
In an official statement, the Jockey Club remarked: “The last time this was discussed in earnest in public, some key stakeholders in our sport expressed their desire for a fifth day.
“We always explore every option to improve the Festival and support British racing, but we have made no decision to extend the length.”
Should an expansion go ahead, it will likely have a significant boost to the local economy in the hosting town of Cheltenham, the local economy of which benefits from an estimated £100 million per year as a result of the current-four day event.
Additionally, a widening of the popular event’s schedule would also be likely welcomed by both betting operators and broadcasters.
Oddschecker revealed that it had recorded 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 in 2020.
Meanwhile, ITV Racing drew in an average of 1.1 million viewers for the first day of the festival alone, with a total of 1.5 million tuning in to watch Rachael Blackmore’s victory in the Champions Hurdle.
Additionally, the Racecourse Media Group (RMG) secured a year-on-year growth rate of 60% across all four-days, averaging up to 500,000 streams on individual races.