Ascot's Development Plan May Affect 2005 Royal Meeting

The huge redevelopment plan at Britain's Ascot Racecourse, involving an all-new grandstand and costing £180 million, has yet to receive planning permission but speculation continues to mount about which other British racecourse might host the 2005 royal meeting.

Cheltenham, the latest to enter the picture, is a surprise because it has not staged flat racing for many years. Cheltenham is the home of National Hunt racing and puts on the three-day festival in March, attracting audiences of 55,000 plus on each of the days.

Royal Ascot, run over five days in June and featuring six group I contests, has daily crowds of up to 75,000. Ascot has not decided whether to transfer the 2005 Royal Meeting elsewhere or run it using temporary facilities, but the former looks increasing likely.

Other courses which have admitted interest are Newmarket and York, while Sandown and Newbury are other possibilities. But none matches Cheltenham's capacity or experience of handling major meetings, while accommodation is another important factor.

Edward Gillespie, managing director of Cheltenham, commented: "Our bid is very much about Cheltenham the racecourse and Cheltenham the town --we are lovely in March but even lovelier in June."

Cheltenham management is confident of being able to provide suitable courses for all the existing Royal Ascot races which take place on turf.