The 2018 Cheltenham Festival will, for the first time, move to 48 hour declarations. It's a move that will delight punters and journalists by offering earlier visibility of final fields for all 28 Festival races.
Moreover, the change has anticipated the scope for multiple declarations in that no horse will be able to declare for more than one race, with the exception of the non-novice Grade 1's. The only exception to this is if a horse is either balloted out or declared as a reserve which does not run.
The move has broad industry support, including from the Cheltenham racecourse executive, the British Horseracing Authority's Racing Group, and punters' lobby group, the Horseracing Bettors' Forum.
It applies to the 23 races which were not previously covered by 48-hour declarations. That is, all except the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase, Ryanair Chase, Stayers' Hurdle and Gold Cup.
In a further change, all handicap races at the Festival will now feature two reserve runners, with acceptance into the final field being conditional on a declared non-runner by 1pm the day before. This mimics the existing reserve arrangements for the Grand National.
A spokesperson for Jockey Club Racecourses, who own Cheltenham Racecourse, said, "This is a progressive move by the BHA which we believe makes sense on a number of levels. After listening to the views of everyone, [we] regard this as a sensible decision which will enhance the Cheltenham Festival experience for racegoers and provide assistance to the media."
Simon Rowlands, representing the Horseracing Bettors' Forum, added: "This move is welcomed by the Horseracing Bettors Forum, which received a fair amount of correspondence from the public around the time of the last two Cheltenham Festivals suggesting declarations be made 48 hours, or even longer, in advance."
And Richard Wayman, Chief Operating Officer at the BHA, concluded: "We have taken on board feedback from racing fans, the betting public and the media, and we’re pleased to introduce 48 hour declarations for all races at the Festival, which we believe will have a positive impact on the promotion of the event and be welcomed by the sport’s various customer groups.
“We appreciate that, in some circumstances, this could create an extra challenge for trainers but we want to ensure that the sport is in a position where it can make the very most of what are such an important four days in the British Racing calendar."
It remains to be seen what trainers make of the changes, and it looks likely there will be mutterings amplified in the media in the weeks and days preceding the great March showcase. But, for most ordinary folk, this gives more time to evaluate the final fields and formulate their wagering strategy. Good news indeed.