Cheltenham organisers prepared for event to be held with ‘small numbers of people present’


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

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.



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Owners will be banned from attending English racecourses in Tier 4 from January 1


Owners will be banned from attending English racecourses in Tier 4 from January 1 as the BHA brings in tougher Covid protocols

  • Owners will no longer be permitted to attend English racecourses in Tier 4
  • The British Horseracing Authority adjusted their Covid-19 protocols on Tuesday
  • They agreed to the restrictions with the Government and public health officials

Owners will no longer be permitted to attend English racecourses in Tier 4 from January 1 after the BHA adjusted their coronavirus protocols on Tuesday. 

Owners have been allowed to attend under strict guidelines, being kept within ‘amber zones’ at tracks, away from officials and competitors in the ‘green zones’.

The BHA have agreed to tighter restrictions from Friday with the Government and public health officials so only essential personnel attend.

Owners will no longer be permitted to attend English racecourses in Tier 4 from January 1



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Jockey Robbie Power targets festive double at Kempton as reward for his sacrifice


Jockey Robbie Power targets festive double at Kempton as reward for his sacrifice after relocating from Ireland to England

  • Power relocated from Ireland because of travel restrictions due to Covid-19 
  • His family remains in Ireland while he rides for Colin Tizzard’s Dorset stable 
  • He hopes Lostintranslation and The Big Breakaway can deliver at Kempton 

Jockey Robbie Power hopes Lostintranslation and The Big Breakaway — two horses which played a big part in his decision to relocate from Ireland to England because of travel restrictions due to Covid-19 — will reward that decision at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Power’s family remains in Ireland and the sacrifices he is making to ride for Colin Tizzard’s Dorset stable will be even more keenly felt at Christmas.

But Power is hoping 2020 Cheltenham Gold Cup third Lostintranslation can bounce back in the King George VI Chase from a disappointing comeback in last month’s Betfair Chase at Haydock.

Robbie Power (left) hopes Lostintranslation and The Big Breakaway can deliver at Kempton

And he is sure The Big Breakaway will appreciate a return to three miles in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase after being beaten when dropped back to 2m 3f at Exeter on his last run.

Power said: ‘I had options to weigh up in October but Lostintranslation and The Big Breakaway were two of the reasons for me deciding to come and ride in England. They are both running at Kempton so it makes sense for me to be there.

‘It is very hard to be overly confident with a horse who is coming into the race off the back of a bad run but Lostintranslation went into the Gold Cup last season off the back of a disappointing run in the King George and ran a cracker.

‘A lot of people were disappointed with The Big Breakaway’s run in Exeter but I wasn’t. The plan was to drop back to two-and-a-half miles to sharpen him up but it was a small field with no pace.’

With Gloucester moving to Tier 3 protocols on Saturday, Cheltenham’s New Year’s Day meeting will be behind closed doors.



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He’s won the big race twice but Richard Dunwoody admits he WON’T be watching the King George


It says plenty about how much three-time champion jump jockey Richard Dunwoody has moved away from the racing world he once ruled when he talks about the thing he will miss more than the King George VI Chase this Christmas.

Now a resident of Madrid, where the dual Grand National winner lives with partner Olivia and five-year-old daughter Milly — unable to make the annual trip back to Britain for Christmas because of Covid-19 — Dunwoody even conceded he did not know who was favourite for the Boxing Day feature at Kempton.

‘It will be the first time in about 10 years we will miss the Bushy Christmas Day 5k parkrun,’ the 56-year-old said. ‘It has been a ritual and then I go and call in and see Barney Clifford (Kempton clerk of the course). We usually swap a bottle of wine and I walk the course with him.’

Richard Dunwoody had a legendary jockey career but has moved away from the racing world

It’s a track Dunwoody knows well and was a stage where the spotlight often shone upon him, particularly in the King George VI Chase.

One of his two wins in the race on One Man was at the Sunbury-on-Thames venue — the other came at Sandown in January after snow caused the first attempt to run the race to be abandoned — but most memorably the other two came on Desert Orchid, including 30 years ago, the legendary grey’s then record fourth victory in the race.

Dunwoody was king of the weighing room back then, a rider seen as the perfect fusion of John Francome’s style and Peter Scudamore’s competitive instinct. Every young jockey aspired to be like Dunwoody, to emulate his achievements. It was only after he retired that those not close to him learned the obsessive desire to success almost drove him crazy. He chronicled it all in his brutally honest 2000 autobiography Obsessed.

Since then Dunwoody’s adventures out of the saddle have included a journey to the North Pole and his six-week, 700-mile charity trek on foot to the South Pole, and a 2,000-mile walk across Japan that raised funds for a cancer charity.

Dunwoody’s love of photography — he spent a year studying at the Speos photography school in Paris — have seen him take pictures all over the globe. Some have an equine theme.

He is the official photographer for the Mongol Derby and back in March, during the Cheltenham Festival, Dunwoody was in Patagonia as an official photographer for the Gaucho Derby.

Dunwoody said: ‘We came to Spain in 2012 and were in Andalusia before coming back to Britain when Milly was born. We were back for over a year but missed Spain, so we decided to come back to Madrid, mainly for work reasons, but also the airport here is really handy with connections as good as Heathrow.

‘It makes a good base. The weather is good, the food is good and the wine is not too bad! It’s also a good base to travel around Spain and there is a hell of a lot to see. My Spanish is improving slowly. I had my online class this morning. And Milly’s is coming along better than anyone’s.’

Covid, however, has meant even an adventurer with itchy feet has been grounded and Dunwoody has been working on another skill he discovered since leaving the weighing room — designing and building websites.

Customers have included the Injured Jockeys Fund, ITV Racing presenter Ed Chamberlin and veteran horseracing writer Brough Scott.

Dunwoody said: ‘Brough’s site will have an archive of between 2,000 and 3,000 articles by the time we have finished it. I am updating it every other day but find myself reading the articles!’

Within those will be memories of Desert Orchid. The gelding, trained by David Elsworth, had already won two King Georges ridden by Simon Sherwood when his retirement meant Dunwoody took over on a racehorse whose Christmas exploits meant he became a household name beyond the normal boundaries of the sport.

Desert Orchid with Dunwoody clears the last fence in the King George VI steeple chase in 1990

Desert Orchid with Dunwoody clears the last fence in the King George VI steeple chase in 1990

Dunwoody’s first win on him was relatively straightforward in 1989, but the history-making win of 1990 was not as easy as it ultimately looked.

He recalled: ‘They were great days although there was a lot of pressure. You had to get it right, no mistakes.

‘Sabin du Loir falling at the 13th fence in 1990 was a big factor. He looked to be travelling well and I wasn’t. But when Dessie was left in front, he carried me a lot better then — his ears were twitching every time he came to a fence. He seemed to be enjoying it a lot more.

‘It was a matter of getting those strides right at the last three fences. Winning was more a relief than anything else. You didn’t want to make any stupid mistakes on him.

‘Kempton’s flat, right-handed track suited him. He probably knew more about the course than we did. 

Sam Twiston-Davies riding Clan Des Obeaux won the King George VI chase in 2019

Sam Twiston-Davies riding Clan Des Obeaux won the King George VI chase in 2019

‘He would take a blow around the final bend and as soon as you turned into the home straight and he saw that third-last fence in front of him, he’d be away. He was one of the most intelligent horses I rode and so competitive. Some say horses don’t know they have won. He definitely did.

‘But the best race he ever ran for me wasn’t in the King George. That was the Racing Post Chase in February 1990. He was brilliant that day.

‘He beat Delius, who was a Grade One winner and getting two stone. I always remember when I got off him, Elsie (Elsworth) turned round and said, “I wish it was Gold Cup day today”. When he went to Cheltenham three weeks later, it had knocked the edge off him and he got well beaten by Norton’s Coin.’

Dessie was retired after falling when beaten at the third last fence in the 1991 King George. We will learn on Boxing Day whose name will join him on the race’s roll of honour, but Dunwoody will not be watching.

‘I don’t get to see too much racing out here. I have something which allows me to watch the football, so I get that on Boxing Day, but Milly wants a bicycle for Christmas so I’ll probably be chasing after her around the park.’



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Record-breaking female jockey Doyle fears for the future of racing due to Covid-19 restrictions


Record-breaking female jockey Hollie Doyle fears for the future of racing due Covid-19 restrictions closing stadiums and betting shops

  • New Tier 4 restrictions could remain in place for many months to come
  • Sport must take place behind closed doors and betting shops have to close 
  • The latest shutdown is a huge blow ahead of the big Boxing Day meetings

Hollie Doyle is concerned for the future of racing, with the latest Covid-19 restrictions set to keep spectators out of meetings for months. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned at the weekend that new Tier 4 restrictions could remain in place until a coronavirus vaccine is rolled out more widely later next year. 

Under those rules, sport must take place behind closed doors and even betting shops have to close. 

Jockey Hollie Doyle finished third in Sunday night’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year

More than a third of the population are in Tier 4, with another third in Tier 3, which also prohibits crowds from attending sporting events.

The timing of the latest shutdown is a huge blow ahead of the traditional big Boxing Day fixtures, including Kempton and its King George VI Chase.

And record-breaking female jockey Doyle, who finished third at Sunday night’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year, said: ‘It is going to be hard. We have proven we can adapt and keep the show on the road, like we did early on while everyone else was in lockdown.

‘But the longer we have no crowds, it is going to become increasingly difficult to sustain everything.

‘There is a huge food chain and at the moment it is very stretched. I don’t know how much more it can take. Everyone is doing all they can to keep things up and running.’



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SPOTY contender Hollie Doyle on being in the same bracket as Lewis Hamilton


‘To be seen as on a par with Lewis Hamilton and Tyson Fury blows my mind’: Record-breaking jockey Hollie Doyle on her ‘crazy’ nomination for BBC SPOTY, the lockdown investment that made her stronger than ever… and why she’ll be even better next year

  • Jockey Hollie Doyle has scaled new heights but wants to keep on improving
  • She had a record-breaking season and could be Sports Personality of the Year 
  • Doyle thought agent was joking when he informed her she was on BBC shortlist 

Jockey Hollie Doyle intended to strike a line through 2020, disregard it altogether. A year where she hoped to build on and try to eclipse her record of 116 winners from the season before was merely a pipe dream as the coronavirus pandemic struck.

But on Sunday night the 24-year-old finds herself in with a shot at being crowned BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

‘To be seen as on a par with the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Tyson Fury just blows my mind,’ Doyle tells Sportsmail.

Hollie Doyle (pictured in October) has scaled new heights and became leading light in racing

The Flat jockey has had a remarkable year, including winning her first Group One at Ascot

The Flat jockey has had a remarkable year, including winning her first Group One at Ascot

She became first female to ride a winner at Hong Kong International Jockeys' Championship

She became first female to ride a winner at Hong Kong International Jockeys’ Championship

‘I was quite amused by it – I just didn’t believe it – it’s crazy.’

Doyle thought her agent was playing a joke on her when he informed her she was on the six-person shortlist for the renowned gong but an unprecedented year has been an extraordinary one for the young rider.

She recorded her first Royal Ascot winner on board the Alan King-trained Scarlet Dragon and weeks later she rode an 889-1 five-timer at Windsor, making her the first female jockey to claim five winners at a meeting.

Doyle continued to make the headlines as she smashed her British record of 116 winners in a year by a female rider and claimed her first Group One success on British Champions Day at Ascot. 

Just last week she made more history by becoming the first woman to secure victory at the prestigious Hong Kong International Jockeys’ Championship after guiding Harmony N Blessed first past the post.

‘When you’re younger and you’re growing up you have these ambitions in your brain but this year when we were delayed with the whole season because of covid I just wrote it off but I just can’t believe it really,’ she says.

She recorded her first Royal Ascot winner on board the Alan King-trained Scarlet Dragon

She recorded her first Royal Ascot winner on board the Alan King-trained Scarlet Dragon

‘I just take it as it comes but I rode over 100 winners last year for the first time and I really wanted to back that up so it wasn’t a one off. 

‘With the delay I thought whatever I do this year, however many winners I have is a bonus under the circumstances. It’s been pretty crazy, I never thought it would have been this good.’

Doyle and her peers, including fellow Flat rider and partner Tom Marquand, had to bide their time as racing was shut down for 10 weeks in the spring but she admits the hiatus gave her the chance to return even stronger.

‘I used that time to train and try and make myself as good as I could because I was looking forward to this year,’ she says.

‘I think I was stronger and fitter than I’ve ever been coming into the summer because I had so much time to train. 

Doyle and her partner Tom Marquand, also a jockey, had to be patient during racing shutdown

Doyle and her partner Tom Marquand, also a jockey, had to be patient during racing shutdown

Doyle works out on simulator in May as she trained hard to be ready for the delayed season

Doyle works out on simulator in May as she trained hard to be ready for the delayed season

‘Whereas I normally do train but not every day because of the riding commitments so I think that was a massive bonus, really to have had that time to prepare and get strong.’

Race meetings were replaced by home workouts while Doyle and Marquand invested in road bikes as the pair swapped one saddle for another and cycled around 20 miles a day to keep up their fitness levels.

‘We went out every day. Obviously it kills a lot of time so it was ideal. It was something that I wasn’t as good at as Tom but I just stuck with it because I knew how beneficial it was,’ Doyle recalls.

The hard work has certainly paid off and Doyle could become the first jockey since Sir Anthony McCoy a decade ago to be named BBC Sports Personality of the Year to cap off a remarkable season. 

‘Apart from my Group One winner this year it would probably be the biggest achievement of my life for sure,’ she admits.

Doyle has been nominated for BBC Sports Personality of the Year after record-breaking season

Doyle has been nominated for BBC Sports Personality of the Year after record-breaking season

However Doyle, who is looking forward to a week off after Christmas to reflect on the whirlwind season, has not let her mind contemplate winning on Sunday but rather  sees her nomination as an opportunity for racing to be in the spotlight.

‘I don’t even see this for me personally. I hope to just represent the industry as a whole and I hope it can open doors and showcase the sport to a broader audience,’ she adds.

A year that was going to be knocked on the head has taken Doyle to unimaginable heights but she has no intention of allowing 2020 to be regarded as the greatest period of her career.

‘I just want to better myself every year and I realise how hard it’s going to be after this year,’ she says. ‘But I don’t want this to be the best year of my life. I want to do better.’

To find out more about Hollie Doyle’s 2020 season please visit greatbritishracing.com.



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Spectators back at Haydock, Kempton, Lingfield and Ludlow next week after relaxation of restrictions


Spectators back at Haydock, Kempton, Lingfield and Ludlow next week after relaxation of Government Covid-19 restrictions

  • The four tracks — all in Tier 2 areas — can welcome up to 2,000 spectators
  • Priority will be given to owners and members but tickets expected to go on sale
  • Kempton, Sandown and Cheltenham will also take advantage of the rule change 

Spectators will return to English racecourses next Wednesday after Haydock, Kempton, Lingfield and Ludlow confirmed their intention to take advantage of the relaxation of Government Covid-19 restrictions.

The four tracks — all in Tier 2 areas — can welcome up to 2,000 spectators. Priority will be given to owners and racecourse annual members but tickets are expected to go on sale. 

None of the country’s 51 courses lie in Tier 1 but the Tier 2 rules will also now allow a small number at Sandown’s Tingle Creek Chase meeting next weekend, Cheltenham’s International Hurdle fixture next month and Kempton’s King George VI Chase two-day fixture over Christmas.

Haydock among four tracks — all in Tier 2 areas — which can welcome up to 2,000 spectators

Welcoming the news, Simon Sherwood, manager and clerk of the course at Ludlow said: ‘It’s good news that the door is ajar if not fully open.

‘We have 600 members and will go down a cautious route. Realistically the numbers could be 750 to 800 for the first meeting but we would hope to have more at our meeting nearer Christmas. A crowd will bring back an atmosphere. It’s a step in the right direction but it is not a panacea.’

Strict spectator rules will apply. All tickets must be bought in advance and anyone living in Tier 3 will not be able to make a purchase.

Face coverings will have to be worn unless eating or drinking.

Courses in Tier 3 which must continue to race behind closed doors include Doncaster, Hexham, Leicester, Market Rasen, Newcastle, Sedgefield, Southwell, Uttoxeter, Warwick, Wetherby and Wolverhampton.

Courses in Scotland and Wales, which are under the jurisdiction of the devolved governments, also remain behind closed doors.

Clan Des Obeaux sustained a nasty cut on his heel in last Saturday’s Betfair Chase but it should not disrupt his bid for a third win in the King George VI Chase.



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PETER SCUDAMORE: Cobden in pole position to win the jump jockeys’ title for the first time


Paul Nicholls backled Harry Cobden is in pole position to win the jump jockeys’ title for the first time after Ffos Las treble

  • Cobden could be in prime position to win the championship for the first time
  • He has moved to within four victories of reigning champion Brian Hughes
  • Competing on the northern circuit, he continues to be underestimated 

Covid-19 has heaped huge problems on racing but it might ensure we have one of the most thrilling battles ever for the jump jockeys’ title.

The way the season has been shaped, Harry Cobden, backed by 11-time champion trainer Paul Nicholls, could be in prime position to win the championship for the first time. A treble at Ffos Las on Sunday — including victory on Hitman, a gelding part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, in the Beginners’ Chase — took Cobden to within four of reigning champion Brian Hughes.

Usually by this time, the pecking order is well established. But with less summer jumping there is more to play for.

Harry Cobden (above) has moved to within four of reigning champion Brian Hughes

Hughes is in pole position. Competing on the northern circuit, he continues to be underestimated. Harry Skelton, backed by trainer brother Dan, is a player but it will be tough for Richard Johnson to get back into contention.

Aidan Coleman being appointed stable jockey to trainer Olly Murphy has cut off a reliable supply of winners and a few more may evaporate with Jonjo O’Neill Jnr now coming in for wider support from owner JP McManus.

Not many trainers will have more winners than Nicholls. Cobden should ride most of them. He’ll also pick up wins from trainer Colin Tizzard.

If the 22-year-old is in title contention as the race enters its final weeks, expect Nicholls to throw his weight behind getting his rider over the line.

Back Rob and Burrow Seven

No one can fail to be touched by the battle Leeds Rhinos rugby league player Rob Burrow is waging against Motor Neurone Disease and his efforts to raise money for research aimed at finding a cure. I am delighted that racing has got involved with Rob’s efforts.

Burrow Seven — a nod to Rob’s No 7 scrum-half jersey — has just gone into training with Jedd O’Keeffe at his north Yorkshire stable in Middleham, with the hope that he will be running in the new year. Racing fans can join the Burrow Seven Racing Club for £59 with all profits going to the MND Association.

Rob, 38, who retired in 2017, was joined by his parents Irene and Geoff, plus friend and former Leeds Rhino Barrie McDermott, when they went down to see their new horse last week.

My partner Lucinda Russell and I have been privileged to train horses for a group supporting Doddie Weir. Like Rob, the spirit Doddie has demonstrated in battling MND and tirelessly raising funds shows why he is a legend of Scottish rugby union. We have Brodick in training for the owner group London Scots for Doddie. He finished fifth on his hurdling debut at Musselburgh last week and should be able to build on that.

When you get a bit despondent about a favourite getting beaten, thinking of Rob and Doddie puts the situation into perspective.

More details about getting involved in Rob’s horse can be found at www.burrowseven.com

I’ve been involved with some fantastic horses as both a jockey and trainer but I can honestly say none has given me as much pleasure as One For Arthur.

Winning the Grand National in 2017 with him for Scotland was a great occasion and the pleasure it brought to all involved was uplifting.

Announcing his retirement on Friday evoked mixed feelings but it was the right thing to do. He had lost his spark and showed no enthusiasm during his last jumping session.

My five to follow…

With the Flat turf season ending at Doncaster on Saturday, focus is truly on the jumps campaign with Cheltenham’s three-day November fixture starting on Friday. Here are a few horses I am looking forward to seeing.

SHISHKIN: Last season’s Nicky Henderson-trained Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner is going novice chasing and looks made for the Arkle Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

THE BIG BREAKAWAY: Colin Tizzard’s former Irish point-to-point winner, fourth to unbeaten Envoi Allen in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, shapes as though fences and a step up to three miles will bring out the best in him.

BOOTHILL: Runner-up in a pair of Irish points, he impressed when winning in a bumper at Kempton in February for trainer Harry Fry. He should be a useful novice hurdler.

BEAR GHYLLS: Romped home in a Warwick bumper last season and was impressive on his Lingfield hurdling debut last month. There could be a decent prize in the gelding trained by Nicky Martin.

WETLANDS: Has to shoulder a fair reputation after winning a Newcastle bumper for trainer Nicky Richards. I wouldn’t be put off by his seasonal debut defeat over hurdles at Ayr last month.



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Double Grand National Winner Tiger Roll could make seasonal debut at Down Royal on October 31


Double Grand National Winner Tiger Roll could make seasonal debut at Champions Chase on October 31, reveals trainer Gordon Elliott

  • Tiger Roll could make his seasonal debut at Champions Chase on October 31
  • Trainer Gordon Elliott revealed dual Grand National could race at Down Royal 
  • Return could see him race with stablemates Delta Work and Presenting Percy 

Trainer Gordon Elliott says his dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll could make his seasonal debut in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal on October 31 providing the ground does not get soft.

A return run there for the 10-year-old, who was denied a shot at a third Grand National win when the race was cancelled in April because of the covid-19 shut-down, could potentially see Tiger Roll clash with two stablemates – Irish Gold Cup winner Delta Work and new recruit and dual Cheltenham Festival winner Presenting Percy.

Tiger Roll is unlikely to take up an entry on the Flat at Navan on Thursday.

Tiger Roll could make his seasonal debut at the Champions Chase at Down Royal on October 31

Elliott said: ‘If the ground is good up in Down Royal I’d run him. If not I might keep him for the Boyne Hurdle in Navan (in February).’

Elliott confirmed his unbeaten 2020 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle winner Envoi Allen is going novice chasing.

Elliott said: ‘He was bought to be a Gold Cup horse, and that’s the way we’re going to train him. He doesn’t do anything flashy at home – he’s just the real thing when he gets on to the track.

‘I’m looking forward to starting him off in Down Royal. He’s going to come on from it – but if he’s going to be the horse we think he is, he should be winning in Down Royal.’ Abacadabras was last seen going down by just a short head to Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, while Samcro bounced back to his best to beat the Willie Mullins-trained pair of Melon and Faugheen in a titanic tussle for the Marsh Novices’ Chase.

Trainer Gordon Elliott revealed dual Grand National winner will race if ground does not get soft

Trainer Gordon Elliott revealed dual Grand National winner will race if ground does not get soft

‘I think Abacadabras has improved – he’s stronger looking. We’ve never really had very good two milers, but this horse is pretty quick,’ said Elliott.

‘Samcro is a very good horse, and I’ve been lucky to have him.

‘I’d say he’ll go to Down Royal, then the John Durkan, the Kinloch Brae (Chase) and then the Ryanair Chase in Cheltenham. He’ll probably have an entry in the King George as well, but that’s what I have in my head at the moment.’



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Cheltenham dealt blow as sponsors Racing Post and RSA pull out


Cheltenham dealt blow as RSA and Racing Post end their sponsorship leaving the track with desperate search to find replacements

  • Cheltenham race track has been dealt a sponsorship blow ahead of its return
  • Two sponsors, Racing post and RSA Insurance, have ended their support
  • RSA is Cheltenham’s longest running sponsor after taking over race in 1974

Racing returns to Cheltenham on Friday with the track facing the prospect of no spectators at the festival next year and looking for replacements for two of its sponsors.

Racemail can reveal that the Covid-19 crisis has prompted the Racing Post to end support of the Arkle Novices’ Chase and the RSA Insurance Group have also ended backing of the grade one three-mile novices’ chase.

While the exit of the Racing Post is not unexpected — the sport’s trade paper had to shut down its print edition during the country’s lockdown — the loss of RSA is a symbolic blow.

Cheltenham have been dealt a blow ahead of racing returning there as two sponsors pulled out

RSA Insurance group ended their backing of the grade one three-mile novices’ chase

RSA Insurance group ended their backing of the grade one three-mile novices’ chase

The company were Cheltenham’s longest standing sponsor, having stepped in to support the race in 1974 when it was known as the Sun Alliance Novices’ Chase.

It is an additional headache for track owners the Jockey Club, who are also searching for a replacement sponsor for the Derby following Investec’s departure.

Ian Renton, the Jockey Club’s regional director for Cheltenham and the South West, said: ‘It is understandable that a number of businesses are reassessing their future marketing and hospitality commitments in the current climate, and although we are saddened to lose any longstanding partner, this is a fantastic opportunity to become involved with a Grade One Novice Chase at the festival.’

In a normal season, preparing for the 2021 festival would be well advanced but last month’s Government announcement of Covid-19 measures which could last six months have left plans in limbo.

The company were Cheltenham's longest running supporter after backing them since 1974

The company were Cheltenham’s longest running supporter after backing them since 1974

The Jockey Club have some insurance cover for their biggest meetings, but that only limits the financial damage of a crowd-less festival.

Renton added: ‘It has been an incredibly valuable cushion this year and will also be helpful during the forthcoming season.

‘It saves us from the worst effects but the insurance does not cover everything.

‘The Jockey Club are looking at a loss of revenue in the region of £90million by the end of this year. For that to continue into next year is going to be a huge blow.

The Racing Post's departure is expected after the paper was forced to stop its print this year

The Racing Post’s departure is expected after the paper was forced to stop its print this year

‘Six or seven weeks ago we were reasonably hopeful that things might improve and we might have a few people coming to the festival. As things stand, that look less likely, but things can change again.’

The festival in March went ahead with Government support, but as the first wave of the virus caused the country to go into lockdown, pictures of the packed stands at Cheltenham drew criticism. Renton concedes that will prompt scrutiny on this week’s two-day meeting.

He added: ‘The team involved in the preparation are making sure the behind closed door operation is as efficient and effective as it can be.’



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Continue Reading Cheltenham dealt blow as sponsors Racing Post and RSA pull out