The possibility of a five-day Cheltenham Festival is something that the racing world has debated over recent years. Jockey Club Racecourses, which runs the racecourse, yesterday took the first steps to making that a reality, albeit with day five taking place at Kempton, another course that falls under their management.
JCR have borrowed an idea that has worked well in flat racing, and will stage a handicap chase and a handicap hurdle open only to horses that have been balloted out of the Festival handicaps. With horses that have been trained to run that week, and prize money of £40,000 and £35,000 there should be no shortage of takers.
Trainer Philip Hobbs was quick to welcome the idea, saying, “I’m sure it must be a good idea. In fact, I think there was once discussion about Cheltenham staging a consolation day at the end of the Festival, but it never came off. It’s very frustrating when you get balloted out of a Cheltenham race, but you really need a horse rated over 130 to run there, so this should definitely help.”
Clerk of the course at Kempton, Barney Clifford, set out his goals for the two consolation races. He said, “I’ve been looking at this for 18 months and felt after we acquired this Saturday fixture we needed to build it up as it was getting lost amid the prestige of the Festival. What we’re doing will hopefully create a bit of theatre on the day. Last year there were over 150 horses eliminated in festival handicap hurdles and 80 in the handicaps over fences. These races give trainers an alternative if they don’t get into their first choice races at Cheltenham. If we can get 16 runners into both races I’ll be very happy.”
I think it’s an excellent idea, and hope it is well supported. It set me thinking whether there is anything else where jump racing could benefit from how flat racing operates. What do you think?