Cheltenham Festival to honour The Duke

Last updated at 14:27 18 May 2007

The Cheltenham Festival will remain at four days, it has been announced.

The three-year experiment has delighted the executive and the the Cheltenham board have decreed The Festival will remain in its current format - with the addition of a seventh race on the final day.

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David Nicholson

Next year's festival (March 11-14) will include a new race, a Mares' Only hurdle, run on Gold Cup day, and will carry the name of the legendaty trainer David 'The Duke' Nicholson, who died last year.

The race will be a Grade 2 weight-for-age 2m 4 1/2f hurdle, carrying a value of approximately £100,000.

Edward Gillespie, Managing Director of Cheltenham, said: “From the outset, we stated our intention to review every aspect of The Festival once we had experienced three years of a four-day meeting.

“In March this year, we had one of the most successful and exciting meetings for many years and it has become clear that the four-day Festival has firmly established itself with racegoers, racing professionals and off-course television viewers alike.

“The five new races have all proved successful and provided additional opportunities for horses that were not catered for previously. Encouragingly, the median rating of runners at The Festival has been maintained, demonstrating that the quality of the meeting has not been compromised.

“Additionally, two of the new races have already qualified for promotion to Grade 1 status, namely the Ryanair Chase and the Brit Insurance Novices’ Hurdle and these upgrades are due to be considered by the British Horseracing Board Jump Racing Committee at the end of this month.

“Prize money at the four-day Festival is now well over £3m, with sponsors contributing in excess of £1.5m, more than double the sponsorship figure for the last three-day Festival in 2004, which must be good news for Jump racing as a whole.

“In addition, the overall attendance is up by around 40,000 people compared to 2004.”

Following discussions with the BHB, the Cheltenham Board also reviewed the make-up of the race programme and announced that the conditions of the National Hunt Chase would be reviewed and further discussed with interested parties over the next few weeks.

Cheltenham’s Director of Racing, Simon Claisse, explained: “The National Hunt Chase has had its critics in recent times, but the successes of Butler’s Cabin (won in 2007), Silver Birch (fourth in 2004) and Hot Weld (won in 2006), who between them won the four biggest long distance chases of the season this spring, highlighted the importance of this race in the calendar.

“However, we do recognise that changes should be made in order to help restore the race, which was once the most important contest in the whole meeting, to its former glory.

“To that end, we are suggesting three significant changes: that the distance of the race be reduced to 3m 6 1/2f; that the race be returned from the New Course to the Old Course (and swapped with the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Chase on the Wednesday); and that there should be qualification conditions for the horse and rider.”

These proposals will be discussed with owners and trainers and an announcement regarding changes to the conditions of the race will be made later in the summer.

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