JUST two years ago Cheltenham Racecourse was heavily criticised for having too many people at the Festival.

In the post-pandemic year of 2022, there were a record 280,000 people at the four-day meeting and this included sell-out crowds of almost 74,000 on both Thursday and Friday.

Shortly afterwards Cheltenham announced it was capping the crowd at 68,500 in future and prices went up accordingly.

In 2023 the total attendance dropped to 240,000 (from a maximum capacity of 274,000) and now this year it fell again to 230,000. So what has gone wrong?

There has been no shortage of people coming forward with reasons to explain the drop in numbers.

Obviously the ticket prices are an issue for many, as well as the cost of food and drink inside.

Already Cheltenham has announced its ticket prices for 2025 and they are the same as this year. It’s £86 each day for a Club badge (£102 on Gold Cup day) if you book now, rising to around £120 after May 17th. Children over the age of seven, I think, must pay full price.

Compare that with a €50 two-day ticket for the Dublin Racing Festival!

If you can afford it, the best value option may well be an annual badge. The price of £600 may seem eye-watering but it works out very well if you use it for the three-day November meeting and maybe one other meeting in October, December or January. There are a few perks thrown in and it’s worth considering.

Inside, a pint is £8 and a burger is likely to cost you between €10 and €13. Arguably this is in line with other sporting venues. The bar queues are too long though, so the annual badge is a winner here as you can use the members’ bar.

Parking problems

Annual membership also includes a parking space, but, as you probably saw last week, there were big problems in many of the car parks due to rain. Cars were stuck in the mud and there were reports of many drivers having to pay private entrepreneurs £30 to be pulled out by tractor.

If you had paid £20 for the parking space, then that definitely was not good enough. It is reasonable to expect the racecourse to have a responsibility for getting your car out without problems or refunding you. Trainer Kim Bailey was among those to criticise Cheltenham over this issue.

What Cheltenham cannot control is accommodation prices. Hotels in the area are trebling their prices (at least) during the Festival. As a result many visitors have been forced to stay further away from the town, with the result that the town centre is now much quieter in the evenings than before.

It seems quite a few British regulars have stayed away altogether and are enjoying the Festival from the Spanish resort of Benidorm on the Costa Blanca. Search social media platform X for ‘Cheltenham Benidorm’ to see hundreds of holidaymakers slurping beer by the pool while watching the races on a giant screen. It might sound good but I suspect any half-serious racing fan would consider it hell!

At least the Benidorm barmy army didn’t have to be searched on the way in or deal with the very big number of security/racecourse officials who are very good at telling you where you can’t go but often don’t know where you should be or how to get there.

This issue was discussed by Nick Luck and Dave Yates on Nick Luck’s podcast this week, with the host wondering if this apparent increased level of security is related in some way to last year’s Animal Rising protests at Aintree and Epsom.

Before we get carried away sticking the boot in, we should note that Gold Cup day was a sell-out again this year, so demand is still high and Cheltenham is obviously getting a lot of things right.

They just need to show some goodwill to racegoers between now and Christmas. A gesture to those regulars to say ‘we know we have to do better – stick with us’. It wouldn’t take much to fix it.

Maybe offer them a free ticket to a fifth day at the Festival. That should keep everyone happy!