Kim Bailey, who achieved the feat of saddling Champion Hurdle winner Alderbrook and Gold Cup winner Master Oats in 1995, said on Monday he believes it is “inevitable” the Cheltenham Festival will be stretched to a fifth day from its current four days.
The trainer’s comments came despite the British Horseracing Authority stating on Monday that the Festival’s four-day format will continue. The BHA had announced a new race, the Mares’ Chase, for 2021 but said that it would replace an existing contest not yet selected.
“It won’t happen overnight, but I am surprised it is not five days already. I think it’s inevitable,” said Bailey, who trains at Andoversford near Cheltenham. “Yes, it may dilute the Festival but there are pressures, commercial pressures, and I think it will happen.”
Any move to stretch the Festival to a Saturday would face widespread opposition. But there were also protests before it was extended from three days to four in 2005. The York Ebor meeting remains at four days, but Glorious Goodwood is five – as is Royal Ascot since it swallowed up the track’s Heath meeting in 2002. Ireland’s Punchestown Festival is five, while Galway is seven.
The BHA’s addition of a new race for mares in 2021, along with safety-inspired changes to next year’s four-mile National Hunt Chase, have been welcomed. Commercial interests may see an opportunity down the line to push for further new races and adding a Saturday to the mid-March “jumping Olympics”.
Oliver Sherwood, another Cheltenham Festival-winning trainer, said on Monday: “I’m against any such move if it came, against any watering-down of the Festival. It would be an absolute disaster. Leave it at four days. It must be quality over quantity.”
Told that the top Irish trainer Noel Meade had also voiced opposition to any extension, Sherwood added: “Perhaps we are old school, but we think it’s excellent as it is.”
Venetia Williams, who has a fine Festival record as a trainer, said: “I would not be a fan of any extension. It would mean spreading the action more thinly, and to risk reducing quality.”
Wednesday’s racing tips
Stormbomber (7.40) was heavily backed at Kempton nine days ago but came up against what could be a useful sort in Mutasaamy. The winner had to be ridden right out, so Stormbomber’s run into second place is form that can see him home in front this time at the same track.
Earlier, Marie Perrault partners Stay Forever (4.50) in an apprentice riders’ race at Salisbury. The partnership was successful at Sandown a fortnight ago when Perrault displayed skill with last-to-first tactics. The duo can win again.