Additional Day Results in Record Cheltenham Crowd

The Cheltenham Festival, Britain's most popular jump meeting, broke attendance records this year, the first time the racing was staged over four (March 15-18) rather than three days.

Over 231,000 people attended, compared with a capacity crowd of 195,000 for the old three-day format, and the media coverage was even greater than in the past, with some national newspapers having special sections devoted to the racing.

The festival was shown live on national television by Channel 4, though the broadcasting arrangements could change in 2006 with the BBC keen to win back the rights which are up for grabs.

Irish-trained horses won a record nine events, including the three biggest championship races -- the Smurfit Champion Hurdle with Hardy Eustace, the Queen Mother Champion Chase with Moscow Flyer and the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup with Kicking King.

Edward Gillespie, managing director of Cheltenham Racecourse, said the addition of five new races so that there were six races a day, was well-received.

"Owners and trainers have told us, through the entries, runners and their reaction, that the new races are appreciated and they have blended beautifully into the existing program," Gillespie said. "There will always be some fine-tuning to do; we will sit down and consider everything. People are saying to us we would love to have seven races, particularly on the Friday."

"We were up over 35,000 on last year's total -- a massive attendance. We did come into this year hoping that we could build the attendance on days one, two and three in the future but I think what we have learned that it might not be the right strategy," Gillespie continued. "What we should be doing is saying 55,000 people here works nicely and let's consider that. Maybe there will be some price adjustments. People have said, "We might pay a little bit more to enjoy the comfort that comes with a smaller crowd."