Cheltenham Festival: Racing Debate panellists Matt Chapman and Kevin Blake discuss the meeting’s possible expansion | Racing News

An expansion to a five-day Cheltenham Festival is inevitable and will dilute the quality of racing, according to Sky Sports Racing’s Matt Chapman.

The contentious issue has once again been raised ahead of this year’s Festival after leading trainer Nicky Henderson lent his support to the idea of extending the four-day meeting, arguing for the potential financial benefits for the sport.

In 2005, the Festival was given an extra day to take it into the current format, with 28 races spread evenly across the week.

Further changes would be expected to include adding two further races meaning each of the day’s cards would be reduced to six contests.

Speaking on the Racing Debate, Chapman said: “It’s not a case of if they want to, they are going to do it. Whatever the people say, Cheltenham will become five days within the next five years at the very least.

“We all know that the sport is going to benefit from the money and it’s not all about Cheltenham, it’s about other Jockey Club racecourses which it has to keep going.

“From the point of what Cheltenham should be, it makes no sense at all.

“The three-day Cheltenham Festival was the model. There were enough races to fill it and make it superb.

“The Triumph Hurdle was superb and there weren’t any of these ridiculous mares races we have to put up with now.

“We’ve already diluted it to four days and it’s only going to get diluted more and the experience on each day will be less with one less race.

“At some point will it become so diluted that actually it becomes a bit boring because you have to wait through five rubbish races to get a good one?”

Journalist Kevin Blake joined the show to give his view, agreeing that less is more in terms of quality and pleaded with the Jockey Club to think carefully about the wider impact of a possible expansion.

“It’s a ridiculous idea,” Blake said. “It probably will sell out so commercially it makes all the sense in the world for the Jockey Club but what are they supposed to be doing: Maximising profits or acting in the interest of the sport?

“Some would say both but you’d like to think that the interests of the sport would still rank highly in their decisions.

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Kevin Blake joined the Racing Debate to make his case for ‘harmonising’ the handicapping systems in Ireland and Britain ahead of this year’s Cheltenham Festival.

“The core fan base don’t want this and it’s been illustrated why all season long. We don’t have nearly enough good horses.

“We already have seven [races] too many, we don’t need two more.

“It all comes down to what you want Cheltenham to be. If you want it to be what I dare say it’s supposed to be which is the championships of National Hunt Racing then you need less racing.

“The three-day Festival was magnificent. We probably didn’t appreciate it enough at the time. If you go to five you’re just diminishing the value of your most important product.

“Cheltenham are in such a lucky to have all the focus of this entire sport on these four days and I just hope they realise how much responsibility they have for the overall health of the sport when making decisions like this.”



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