Cheltenham anoints new greats, but thin crowds hint at need for shakeup | Cheltenham Festival 2023

youBrilliant performances from new show jumps champions marked this year’s Cheltenham Festival, and both Champion Hurdle winner Constitution Hill and Galopin Des Champs, who survived all kinds of trouble to run out of an easy winner of the Gold Cup, promise to be fixtures at the meeting for years to come.

The precise days on which they should be drawing the crowds remains to be seen, and there is more on that to come. Galopin Des Champs is clearly a great new talent among the remaining Chasers and, if all goes well, he will be in line for at least two more Gold Cups. However, Constitution Hill is the potential wild card. He’s already established as a generational talent over hurdles, but he could still rise even higher among the all-time greats if his immense talent can spill over into a change to the chase.

The Arkle? Champ’s Chase? Maybe even the Gold Cup and an attempt to emulate Dawn Run in a one-on-one with Galopin Des Champs? In theory, anything is possible for Constitution Hill, and its sports owner, Michael Buckley, can still roll the dice. If you stick to the two-mile hurdles, the limited Grade One program could mean you watch your horse race just three times a year: at Newcastle in November, at Kempton at Christmas and at Cheltenham in March.

Constitution Hill remains a possible runner in next month’s Aintree Hurdle, over two and a half miles, which suggests his connections are already toying with the idea of ​​testing his limits sooner rather than later. And both Buckley and Constitution Hill trainer Nicky Henderson are old enough to remember Arkle and Mill House’s famous meeting in the 1964 Gold Cup. A meeting between the two horses remains a long shot, but we can always dream.

At this stage in their careers, and in a totally hypothetical race, many punters might as well opt for Constitution Hill, which is already very close to Night Nurse, the greatest hurdler of the last 60 years, on Timeform. grades without being asked a serious question.

But Galopin Des Champs also produced when it mattered, as the best champions always do. One small quibble with Simon Holt’s excellent comment on Friday’s race would be that he didn’t just go “over the top” of second last. He pretty much passed through the middle as well, and yet half a kilometer later he was once again at Bravemansgame’s side, with Paul Townend immobile and able to choose his moment to attack.

It takes a special horse, with an exceptional engine and unlimited strength and stamina, not only to survive such a mistake in a vital stage of a Grade One race, but to win it comfortably.

We expected to see one exceptional horse demonstrate his class at Cheltenham, but in the end, we were spoiled for two.

An under capacity crowd watches
Bridget Andrew celebrates winning the County Handicap Hurdle aboard Faivoir.
Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA

And yet, with the exception of Gold Cup day, which was sold out in January, attendance was very low for the first three days of the meeting. Strikes by teachers and train staff may well have had an impact, but around 25,000 race-goers went missing over the first three days, which should be cause for concern.

As Cheltenham managing director Ian Renton pointed out, last year was great as fans returned post-Covid. But there must be a suspicion that, at least for some of those race-goers, their experience at Cheltenham was not what they had anticipated from a top-tier sporting event.

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The rink acted on customer feedback after last year’s Festival and decided to cap attendance at 68,500 per day. However, the crowds for the first three days of this year’s gathering weren’t even close to breaking point.

Twenty-five thousand tickets at an average of £50 each equates to £1.25 million in sales, with most race-goers dropping much more than the ticket price once food, drink and and the bets.

Cheltenham is a well-managed track by any standard and will no doubt be working on this from first thing Monday morning. Does an inevitable parade of Irish-trained winners (there were 19 more this year) put some people off? Is the misery of going from the station to the track and, above all, the return trip in the afternoon too much for some?

But they have two outstanding horses to attract punters: three, in fact, if you give Champion Chase winner Energumene the credit he deserves. And better yet, they both won so easily there should be no need to touch up the whip in next year’s promo snaps.

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