Chief of Cheltenham: People want to take pleasure in sports at its best right now.
According to the king of the track, Ian Renton, there are reasons for British racing to be optimistic, including the fact that tickets for the general enclosures for the final day of the festival in March are already sold out and another record-breaking crowd at Cheltenham on Saturday.
The largest attendance for the nine-race Cheltenham Trials day card since 2017 was 21,054 people, continuing the positive start to the year at Prestbury Park, where 38,374 people watched the action on January 1.
Even though Renton acknowledged that the sport still faces challenges in attracting a sizable crowd outside of the biggest events, he believes there are a lot of positives to be gained from the obvious demand for world-class jump racing in Britain.
“We were delighted with Saturday, especially after the massive effort of all involved to make it happen,” said Renton. “It’s immensely rewarding when you put on what on paper looks like a really exciting nine-race card and it lives up to expectation. It was one of those brilliant day’s racing outside of the festival.”
In comparison to 2019, racetrack attendances in the United Kingdom in 2022 decreased by 14.4%, despite a 6.4% increase in attendances during the festive season and the continued strong support for Cheltenham.
Renton said: “Generally crowds have been healthy and we’ve sold out on Gold Cup day earlier than ever before. Admittedly that’s after we reduced the capacity by 5,000, but I think there’s healthy support for top-class jumping.
“I think definitely we’re seeing it’s more difficult on the ordinary meeting on the ordinary day. I think there’s a desire for people to enjoy sport at its best at the moment.”
Last week, it was revealed that the price of a pint of Guinness at race meetings was £7.50, which was $1.50 more than at a recent snooker event held at the racecourse. This was not the first time that Cheltenham’s drink prices were criticised. Renton believes that a day at the races is a good value for money, especially for families, despite this criticism.
“I think we probably don’t make enough of under 18s being free, which makes a massive difference,” he said. “Despite what is sometimes said in the media, I think it’s extremely good value compared to many other sports. Outside the festival we’ve held admission prices unchanged this season and I think we provide extremely good value to attend some top-class racing.”
When Cheltenham topped the Racing Post’s Racecourse Prices Index on Sunday, its Guinness price of £7.50 was revealed to be the most expensive at any racetrack in Britain and Ireland. Additionally, Renton discussed the rise in the cost of food and beverages this season at Cheltenham.
He added: “We have put up the prices of food and drink. Some of that food and drink costs have gone up in the region of 17 per cent and we spend a lot of money on putting on the temporary facilities to provide bars at the bigger meetings. We have reflected that in the price, which we’re holding through the festival.
“It’s not cheap for a pint of Guinness but you’ll pay that in a pub in central London and you’ll pay that at an increasing number of other sporting venues.”
According to Renton, having only hospitality available for the Friday by the end of January is another reason to be optimistic because Gold Cup day has historically sold out in the middle of February.
“That’s really good and a sign of the continuing popularity of the festival,” he said. “We now need to encourage everyone to recognise how fantastic the first three days of racing are.
“There’s a small price increase, which averages around a £5 increase in most enclosures, at the end of the month, so anybody who wants to take advantage of the current prices should do so by Tuesday. As we get closer to the festival, with the reduced capacity we’ve brought in this year, there is the possibility other days will sell out as well.”
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