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Decision to keep Cheltenham Festival at four days was great news – but the meeting still needs work

THE last time I received this kind of shock it involved an embarrassing run-in with a herd of cows and an electric fence.

I can’t have been the only one who thought it was as big a certainty as Erling Haaland in the six-yard box that the Cheltenham Festival would be extended to five days?

The Cheltenham Festival will NOT be extended to five days

The Jockey Club had been making noises about adding an extra day, and several new races, to the meeting for a number of years.

The ‘Fez’ has become an absolute monster of an event since the turn of the century and earns the Jockey Club tens of millions each year. 

It was dollars to donuts in my book that racecourse chiefs would see the pound signs and stick two fingers up to those of us who were dead against the move.

The track carried out a consultation with thousands of stakeholders – yours truly included – to gauge whether anyone actually thought this was a good idea (spoiler alert, nobody did).

Low and behold, the Jockey Club listened and decided to put the sport ahead of their balance sheet. I applaud them.

It’s very unlike racing bigwigs to admit when they have got something wrong.

Usually, when our leaders drive down a cul-de-sac, they’d rather carry on and plough through someone’s garden fence than be seen reversing gingerly back up the road.

Sometimes less is more, and an extra day and additional races would only have served to water down British racing’s greatest product. 

But perhaps no-one made a better point than Willie Mullins, who observed that his liver probably wouldn’t have been able to handle a fifth day. Amen to that.

Chest the job

SHOUT out to Chester racecourse, who announced the other day that they will offer £10 admission to every meeting next year – including their flagship May meeting.

It is the first time a top track has conceded that ticket prices are too high and taken action, so they deserve credit.

This should just be the start, every racecourse in the country should follow Chestert’s lead and slash their admission prices.

Racing chiefs moan about attendances, or the lack thereof, but it’s hardly surprising when you’re asking punters to pay through the nose to get in.

And then when they are on course, you’ll do well to get any shrapnel back from a £20 note if you fancy fish and chips and a beer.

Sorry, that is a stupid thing to say. Of course, racecourses don’t accept cash these days. Silly me.

If track bosses are serious about encouraging fans back in their droves, an afternoon at the races really needs to become more affordable.

So yes, we should applaud Chester for cutting the cost of entry, but it can’t end there.

Hopefully this is just the first domino to fall as plenty needs to change if the sport is to thrive in the future.

It’s a physically and mentally exhausting week – unless, I suppose, you’re one of those morons who thinks it’s appropriate to snort Colombian marching powder at the races – and four days is more than enough.

And from a selfish point of view, won’t somebody please think of the journalists? We’ve got families and homes to get to.

I would even argue that the current 28-race programme could do with being scaled back.

It doesn’t need to go on an Atkins diet, per se, but trimming a little bit of the fat never hurt anyone.

There were a record number of odds-on favourites this year and more than a quarter of the races had single-figure field sizes.

That should never happen and is probably a consequence of having too much power in too few hands.

That’s a debate for another day. For now, let’s be thankful that the Jockey Club have seen the light.

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