The Jockey Club has announced that the capacity at Cheltenham Racecourse will be capped at 68,500 people for each day of the Festival in 2023. The news comes on the back of the event enjoying its highest ever total capacity of 280,627 in 2022, which included individual records for both Thursday and Friday of 73,754 and 73,875 respectively.
In preparation for next year’s meeting, the Jockey Club gathered information from people that attended the Festival in 2022 and have decided to react to some of the feedback that they received regarding people’s experiences there.
People that got replied to the Jockey Club over the Festival were quick to prize the top-class events that were on offer during the week, but the overall feeling that it was just too busy. This played out in how difficult it was for people to get around the course as well as in how long it took to get served whilst waiting for food and drink.
There was a strong desire for people to get back to the course after having missed out on attending the year before, which helps to explain why it was so busy. Even so, the Jockey Club is looking to improve the overall experience of all attendees.
What The Future Plans Are
Ian Renton, the Managing Director of the Jockey Club for Cheltenham and the West Region, pointed out that the lifting of the restrictions that had been put in place for racegoers during the global health crisis the year before had been lifted for 2022. He said,
“With Covid-19 spectator restrictions lifted, The Festival made a spectacular return in 2022, welcoming record crowds to enjoy a tremendous atmosphere and the very best of Jump racing. It was fantastic to attract capacity crowds on both Thursday and Friday to witness some brilliant racing in glorious sunshine.”
Renton did point out, though, that the huge attendances left the facilities on offer ‘stretched’, even in spite of the significant investment that had been made in the years prior. He said,
“Despite the financial implications of reducing attendance numbers, we will be capping daily capacity at 68,500 in the recognition of the importance of ensuring that The Festival remains an attractive and enjoyable experience for the long-term. Ticket sales for 2023 have been very brisk and I would advise those wishing to attend to book as soon as possible to avoid any possible disappointment.”
What It Means For Racegoers
The cap of 68,500 on each day of the Festival will mean that tickets are even more difficult to come by than usual, especially on Gold Cup Day. If you consider that more than 73,000 people were there in 2022, that is a drop of around 5,000 tickets that will be available.
It is little wonder, therefore, that Ian Renton was quick to encourage people to buy their tickets as soon as possible. Of course, the fact that that is normally true for Gold Cup Day doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s true across all of the days. Here are the attendance figures in 2022:
- Day One: 68,567
- Day Two: 64,431
- Day Three: 73,754
- Day Four: 73,875
As you can see, 67 people would have missed out on the opening day of the Festival in 2022, but on Ladies Day there would actually have been about 4,000 tickets unsold.
Whether the hope of the Jockey Club is that the reduced capacity will encourage people to turn up in higher numbers across all four days isn’t clear. There are around 5,000 people on St Patrick’s Day and Gold Cup Day that won’t be there in 2023, so it is entirely possible that they’ll look to one of the other days in order to get their Cheltenham Festival fix.
One thing that there is no doubt about is that the smaller numbers will make it a more pleasant experience for the people that are there. Whilst 5,000 or so might not seem like a huge number at a venue the size of Cheltenham Racecourse, it is important to remember that many people tend to congregate in the same sorts of areas.
Obviously bars and food stalls are extremely busy throughout the day, whilst it is not uncommon for people to want to head to the likes of the Parade Ring, if their ticket allows. It will now be easier to get around in 2023.
Is It A Pre-Cursor To A Fifth Day Being Introduced?
The idea of adding a fifth day to the Cheltenham Festival has been around almost since the fourth day was added, such is the extent to which racegoers can’t get enough of life at Prestbury Park.
In April of 2022, it was revealed that the Jockey Club had taken steps towards making such a thing a reality, beginning the consultation process with leading owners and trainers around the issue. Given the fact that the Festival is the Jockey Club’s biggest source of income, it initially seems strange that the organisation might limit its possible profit.
When you consider that they might be adding a fifth day, however, things start to make a bit more sense. There is some suggestion that a fifth day could be added for 2024, which would be the centenary of the Gold Cup. With this in mind, the idea of reducing capacity in 2023 before increasing it further in 2024 is a sensible one.
There will be hundreds of people that will be disappointed not to make the cut in 2023, so having what would essentially amount to a key target audience ready to buy tickets for the following year’s fifth day would be good business sense.
Renton said that the Jockey Club wants to take a ‘rational view’ on how people feel and whether it would be a good thing or a bad thing. It is clear that owners and trainers are in favour of a fifth day, with Nicky Henderson saying that he could think of ‘no negatives’ when asked about it ahead of the 2022 meeting.
The biggest obstacle to the addition of a fifth day could be field size, given that just 405 runners took place in races during the Festival this year. That is the lowest figure since it was expanded to four days in 2005.
For punters, the important question is about whether or not it is an enjoyable experience to be there. When you’re paying £7 for a pint of Guinness, having already paid a large sum to be there in the first place, the last thing that you want is difficulty getting around and a large queue for the bar when you get to your destination.
With this in mind, the reduced capacity will please many people, but it remains to be seen whether the demand for a fifth day is coming from racegoers or just the owners and trainers, who want more chances to race.