Cheltenham Festival organisers prepared for this year’s event to be held with only ‘small numbers of people present’ due to coronavirus restrictions a year after huge crowds sparked controversy
- No spectators are currently allowed at British racecourses
- Normally around 250,000 spectators attend the four days of the Festival
- It was last major sporting event before the country went into lockdown
Cheltenham are resigned to the fact this year’s Festival will be held with only around 2,000 people present each day — at best.
Now the country has been placed back into full lockdown, the track must make some key decisions over the next couple of weeks about the meeting, which starts on March 16.
Normally, the biggest jumps meeting of the year welcomes 250,000 spectators through the gates over the four days, 70,000 of them on the final day to watch the Gold Cup. Those scenes were condemned by some last March when the Festival was the last major sporting event before the Covid-19 crisis plunged the country into lockdown.
Normally around 250,000 spectators attend the four days of the Cheltenham Festival
Cheltenham’s meeting last month had a crowd of 2,000 a day made up of owners, annual members and paying spectators.
Officials must also work out how to sustain the traditional challenge of Irish runners, with travel restrictions and isolation protocols still likely to be in place.
Ian Renton, the Jockey Club’s regional managing director, said: ‘We’ve accepted that it is going to be a different Festival this year. We have to be realistic that it is likely only small numbers of people will be present.
‘Let’s see where we are by March. We are focused on setting the stage for four world-class days, which are vital to many livelihoods in the British racing industry and will be enjoyed by millions on television.’
Jockey Club Racecourses, who own Cheltenham, have insurance which covers the majority of lost revenue, but not all of it.
The event last March was the last major sporting event before the country went into lockdown
With Festival revenues usually helping to support activity in the wider JCR group, the organisation still face a significant hit.
The Cheltenham Festival also usually gives the local economy a £100million boost.
Meanwhile, Kim Bailey-trained Imperial Aura, 7-1 second favourite for the Ryanair Chase, is one of the headline runners this weekend in the Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton. The winner of the Novices’ Handicap Chase on the opening day of last season’s Cheltenham Festival was the five-length winner of Ascot’s 1965 Chase on his latest start.
Elsewhere David Thompson, joint-owner of Cheveley Park Stud, has died aged 84.
He and wife Patricia bought Newmarket’s oldest stud farm in 1975.
Big-race winners on the Flat in their red, white and blue colours have included Pivotal, Medicean and Russian Rhythm. Their current jumps string is headed by unbeaten dual Cheltenham Festival winner Envoi Allen.