Racing: Festival hurdle will be supported by credit

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The Independent Online
FOR THOSE who hoard punting money it is time to put a little extra aside to spend in a spree at the Cheltenham Festival. The addition of a 2 1/2 -mile handicap hurdle to the card on the Wednesday brings the number of races at the three-day meeting to 20 and shifts the long-distance handicap hurdle to the opening day and with a new sponsor.

The race, formerly backed by bookmakers Coral (who now fund the 2 1/2 miler), will be known next March as the American Express Gold Card Handicap Hurdle and will carry pounds 25,000 in added prize- money. However, it is Cheltenham racecourse that will have to put up the money for the six qualifying races, participation in which provides eligibility for the final.

Plans are also being formed to ensure that when the track stages the second Sunday race meeting on 15 November, there will be plenty of diversions to substitute for the lack of betting. Attractions will include a world jump jockeys' team challenge. Sides representing Britain, Ireland, Russia and The Rest of the World will compete in a 12- runner handicap hurdle.

Also on the card will be the pounds 35,000 Elite Hurdle, a pounds 20,000 juvenile hurdle, and a claiming chase worth pounds 6,000. On 7 September the track will announce how it intends sidestepping the legal ban on charging admission to Sunday meetings.

The start of Hereford's meeting on Saturday is to be brought forward to 5.05pm because of fears of fading light for later races.

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