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Cheltenham organisers resigned...
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Cheltenham organisers resigned to punter-free festival

Richie McCormack
Richie McCormack

20:28 4 Jan 2021

Organisers of the Cheltenham Festival are coming around to the idea that this year's event will proceed behind closed doors. 

The National Hunt showpiece is due to run from Tuesday March 16 to Friday March 19.

Cheltenham's county of Gloucestershire is currently regarded as a tier-4 region under, with elite sport allowed to continue behind closed doors.

But England is once again under lockdown, and just ten weeks until the racing world descends on Prestbury Park, the Jockey Club are being realistic.

Regional manager Ian Renton told the Nick Luck daily racing podcast that they are unlikely to welcome punters on course this year.

Renton was asked whether they had "parked" the idea of having crowds on site this year.

"I think we will be parking that within the next week or two," was his response.

"We've been pretty realistic in our expectations over the last few months but as we get closer to the festival itself one realises the small amounts of hope that we occasionally clung on to are fast disappearing and we will soon have to be wholly realistic and accept that very small numbers at best will be present."

Renton added, "I would certainly hope that at the very least we will be able to have owners present to watch their horses run and hopefully be going back to the days of December when we had a crowd totalling 2,000 people on each of those days.

"That is the sort of expectation we are currently looking at."

An estimated 20,000 Irish punters travelled to Cheltenham last year, despite the rapidly increasing threat of COVID-19.

Up to 60,000 attended each day, which drew widespread criticism with a first lockdown on the horizon at the time.

Despite the ramifications of Brexit, Renton told the podcast that he fully expects horses from Ireland and France to compete without any issue.

He said, "I think we have now come to accept that it is going to be a very, very different festival and the team are concentrating on just ensuring we can have the best possible racing and looking at everything we can do in terms of encouraging the racehorses to be with us and to produce a perfect ground so we can produce a fantastic four days racing even if people are viewing it on television instead of in person."

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Cheltenham Cheltenham Festival Coronavirus Covid-19 Ian Renton Jockey Club

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