Ruby Walsh wants Cheltenham Festival extended to five days

By Frank KeoghBBC Sport
Jockey Ruby Walsh
Walsh won 59 times at the Cheltenham Festival before retiring last year

Racing legend Ruby Walsh says he wants to see the Cheltenham Festival extended from four days to five.

The meeting's all-time leading jockey believes a Monday to Friday fixture would work well.

"I think Cheltenham in the middle of the week makes it stand out sporting-wise and that's what makes it so great," said the retired rider.

Cheltenham has decided to remove its listed novices' handicap chase in favour of a new mares' chase.

That leaves 28 races over four days at the meeting, which was expanded from three days in 2005 and takes place from Tuesday to Friday in the third week of March.

"I would probably have gone for five six-race cards myself and found two more races," said Walsh.

"I'd be starting the Festival on a Monday and finishing on a Friday."

The new contest, over two and a half miles, will be run on Gold Cup day - and named the Grade Two Mrs Paddy Power Mares' Steeplechase - with the novice chase moving to Sandown's Imperial Cup meeting.

Rather than adding to the total of races, Cheltenham officials opted to replace an existing contest.

Despite speculation it will happen, the course says it has no immediate plans to extend the meeting.

Opponents of an extra day fear it would dilute the meeting's quality, but Walsh says it can be achieved successfully.

"It's a wonderful place and an incredible meeting," said the jockey whose multiple winners there included Kauto Star and Hurricane Fly.

"There's a part of me that's always for graded races over handicaps and I think at a championship meeting there should be as many graded contests as possible. That's what sets the standard.

"The mares' hurdle at Cheltenham over time has been an incredible addition and as time goes on so I think will the mares' chase."

'I don't have any regrets' - Walsh on retirement

Walsh is unconcerned that an extra day would increase the chance of a jockey passing his winners' tally.

"Every record is made to be broken. Some day somebody will ride more winners than me at Cheltenham. I only did what I could do in my generation," Walsh told BBC Sport.

Walsh retired in May 2019 at Punchestown having secretly signed off in his head at Cheltenham several weeks earlier, writing his name and number of winners in a corner of the weighing room.

"I wrote it under the peg, walking out on the Friday evening. It shows how much people look at the wall at Cheltenham because nobody even noticed," he said.

"I knew I wouldn't be coming back as a jockey."

Cheltenham schedule changes

Tuesday - Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (was Wednesday)

Wednesday - Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase (was Friday)

Friday - Mrs Paddy Power Mares' Chase (new)

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