Cheltenham programme unchanged as Betfred extends Gold Cup sponsorship

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The programme for next year’s Cheltenham Festival will remain unchanged, with the usual seven races on the card on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, and Thursday’s racing featuring six races with a charity competition added on.

The announcement from Cheltenham chairman Robert Waley-Cohen came as a disappointment to leading trainer Nicky Henderson, who had hoped for a new race, a hurdling equivalent to the two and a half mile Ryanair Chase. There had been hints at the possibility of just such a race, which last year, the recently retired managing director of Cheltenham, Edward Gillespie had thought was “a shade of odds on to happen.”

Waley-Cohen told the Racing Post yesterday, “I know Nicky is keen to have a two and a half mile hurdle, but it is not the only candidate if we were to have an additional race.” Other possibilities that he has mentioned previously are a mares and fillies novice hurdle and a staying chase over three and a half miles. They’ll all have to wait for another year.

Meanwhile, Cheltenham director of sponsorship Peter McNeile was announcing that Betfred had signed an extension to their deal for Gold Cup sponsorship. He said, “Naturally, we are delighted to secure Betfred’s sponsorship of the Cheltenham Gold Cup for a further three years. Their support of the race, and the enthusiasm they put into promoting it last season made us keen to extend our partnership and it was clear from our first conversations on the subject that the Betfred team felt the same way. We are both now committed to raising the profile of this iconic event even further over the next three years.”

Totesport had sponsored the Gold Cup since 2004, and following Betfred’s takeover of the Tote last year; the race was run under their name for the first time this year. During the Tote’s occupancy, prize money for the race rose by 43%, and now stands at £500,000 each year. There were no plans to increase that immediately, although it may well do so before the new deal comes to an end in 2015.

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