Cheltenham Festival a massive success but reasons to be wary of the future, says Matt Chapman | The Sun
THE BHA Board members must be looking at each other today and wondering – where were all the 18-24-year-olds at Cheltenham?
There's absolutely no doubt Cheltenham 2023 was a rocking success, particularly in ITV viewing terms, although officials at the track will be very conscious that was mainly due to the right horses winning certain races. More of that in a moment.
Crowd figures, however, were disappointing.
Jockey Club Racecourses elected to lower the capacity for the meeting to 68,500 each day in order to ease congestion and improve customer experience.
But both Tuesday and Wednesday's crowd numbers fell well below that, while Thursday's 62,429 – the biggest gate of the week before Friday's sold-out Boodles Gold Cup card – marked a 15 per cent drop on last year and was more than 6,000 under capacity.
Wednesday has been the quietest day for a number of years and only 50,387 people were on hand to witness Energumene record back-to-back successes in the Champion Chase, a 21 per cent fall compared to his first triumph in the race 12 months ago.
Now the BHA might think that on the back of such a great Festival we have all forgotten the chaos they have plunged the world of horseracing into in recent months, but rest assured we haven't.
Remember one of the main reasons new whip rules have come into play is to attract 18-24-year-olds to the sport. So why didn't they flood to Cheltenham?
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Yes, I know, what you will be saying now is give it time Matt, give it time. But how long?
I ask that because all sensible human beings know that a jockey using his arm one inch higher or one inch lower will make absolutely no difference to whether 18-24-year-olds go racing.
It's just utterly ludicrous.
That's what was claimed at the Asian Racing Conference, with the secret BHA survey that we still have never seen, and BHA refuse to show us.
The depths BHA has gone to in order stop anyone getting access to this miracle survey is quite extraordinary.
I sent yet another email today to BHA headquarters today – I can't wait for the reply!
Back to Cheltenham, and yes, it was glorious.
But just imagine if Constitution Hill hadn't won, that Honeysuckle didn't get her applauded end, that Energumene just scrambled home and Galopin des Champs had not been given an incredible ride by Paul Townend.
Once again, there was not much strength in depth for a lot of the races, and the field sizes were far from vintage.
I'm sure I'm not alone wishing for the old days where a Triumph Hurdle was just an incredibly competitive contest full up to the brim with challengers.
Two horses that deserve a very special mention from Cheltenham are Ahoy Senor and Hewick.
Both failed to finish in the Gold Cup, but both acquitted themselves with great credit.
In the weighing room after the big race Ahoy Senor's trainer Lucinda Russell's other half Peter Scudamore was a man with the look of what might have been on his face.
Ahoy Senor has such talent. Let's hope he puts it all together one day.
Hewick ran a stormer until coming down in the feature, and 'Shark' Hanlon has a right horse on his hands.
The sport needs people like the 'Shark'.
Cheltenham was awesome. Lest we forget the horrific way our sport is being run.
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Levy reform is still needed, staffing is at a scarily all time low, the whip row will return to haunt because no one stood up for the sport and prize money is a shambles.
As someone once said: Mutley! Do Something!
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