There has been an “outpouring of joy and relief” from racing fans at the news that the Cheltenham Festival will not be extending to include a fifth day.
The “unexpected” decision from The Jockey Club comes after an extensive review process, which analysed, among other considerations, the commercial benefits of adding two more races to the meeting – currently at 28 – and switching to six races per day, with an extra afternoon of racing on the Saturday in March.
Explaining their reasons for keeping the Festival at four days, Ian Renton, managing director of The Jockey Club’s west region, said: “While we explored the financial benefits and an opportunity to reach new audiences, we also found a number of counterpoints to this.
“For example, it is clear that it would be challenging from a turf management perspective, without further work on the track, and on balance we still feel 28 races over four days is the right format.”
Racing pundit Kevin Blake expressed his delight at the decision, tweeting: “Justice. Sweet justice.”
Blake later told Sky Sports Racing: “It’s very unexpected. The way this had been positioned it seemed inevitable, despite consistent views from the racing public that we didn’t want it.
“The commercial case for increasing to five was clear and it seemed like they might win out.
“There’s been an outpouring of joy and relief and I’m certainly in that camp.
“It might seem perverse that something we love we don’t want more of, but not only do we not need two more races, we probably need six, seven or eight races less if this is going to be a real National Hunt championship. It’s too diluted as it is.
“It shouldn’t muddy the waters that National Hunt racing isn’t in a great spot, with longstanding issues with the programme book and the polarisation of big owners and trainers.”
Sky Sports Racing’s Matt Chapman tweeted: “Can’t praise The Jockey Club enough for keeping Cheltenham Festival to four days.
“Most of us thought it would go to five but finally someone in racing has realised less is more.
“Thank you. Common sense has prevailed.”
If it was on 10 days in a row I’d be there 10 days
How top trainers have reacted
Nicky Henderson has backed the decision to keep the Cheltenham Festival over four days, despite having initially supported the calls for a five-day meeting.
Having taken part in the Jockey Club’s consultation process, Henderson – who has had 72 winners at the Festival – feels the fixture is so good as it is there is no real need to tinker any further with it.
The Seven Barrows trainer, who has won eight Champion Hurdles, six Champion Chases and two Gold Cups, says the “logical” decision has been reached.
“I think it is probably the right decision,” said Henderson. “I was one of the ones in favour of the (five days) idea, but I think the more you think about it they’ve made the right decision.
“It’s so good as it is. I saw some pros and cons to it either way. I’m really not desperately fussed, but having said that I sort of was leaning on it thinking if we had six races a day, you didn’t need to start until 2pm and then you don’t dilute the product.
“Bear in mind it is not compulsory to go, it is for us trainers but not for everybody else! I do see the logic and I probably would say yes, it’s the right decision.”
Willie Mullins, the Festival’s winning-most trainer, echoed those sentiments.
He said: “I think it is a good decision to keep it compact and tighter and I’m very happy that is the decision they have come to.”
On the logistical challenges a five-day Festival would have potentially brought, Mullins added: “There’s pros and cons. Five days would make it easier for us getting horses and staff over and back – I would imagine if they went to five days there would be less races per day, so it might have been easier.
“But I think the best decision has been made at this point in time for the meeting, it’s great they have come out and put everyone’s mind at rest about what is happening, so we welcome that decision.”
Gordon Elliott only celebrated his first Festival winner in 2011, yet has already notched up 33 at the meeting.
He was comfortable with a decision either way, saying he would be there however many days it lasted.
“To be honest, if it’s on four days, it’s on four days – we can’t change it,” said Elliott. “If it was on seven days I’d be there seven days, so it’s not going to change things either way. If it was on 10 days in a row I’d be there 10 days.”
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls, another major player at the Festival, said he was “delighted” the meeting would be staying as it was.