It was less than a month ago, when 2,000 fans watched the action from the stands and dared to hope they could do so again at the Festival meeting in March, that the December Cheltenham International meeting gave a brief glimpse of a better future for racing.
Since then, however, a much more bleak reality has sunk in, and as the nation is now moving into its third national lockout, it seems increasingly doubtful that even owners with runners will be able to see their horses perform at the Festival in 10 weeks. Talking Horses: Julie Harrington needs to concentrate on BHA with fundamental flawsContinue readingOwners are barred under the anti-covid procedure of the BHA Since Jan. 1, Gloucestershire has been in Tier 4, so at least a decrease in local restrictions will be necessary to allow some owners in March to join the racetrack. Over the past few months, we have been very optimistic in our aspirations,” Ian Renton, Cheltenham’s managing director, told Nick Luck’s Daily Podcast on Monday morning, “but the closer we get to the Festival itself, the clearer it becomes that the tiny hopes we have sometimes clung to are fading rapidly and we will soon have to be fully realistic and acknowledge that there will be very little at best. I always tried to be prepared, because you never know when he would be caught by the excitement and challenge of a new horse adventure. His last trip to the National Hunt races proved to be a great success and brought him so much joy.” Greg WoodWas this helpful?Thank you for your feedback. “I hope that at least the owners will be in attendance to see their horses run, and I hope that we can build on the days in December when we had a crowd of 2,000 on each of those days.
There is a lot of optimism, understandably, but very little clarity in the most recent schedule for Renton.
And while this was always going to be a very different and daunting event to get across the line, now that a new national lockout is in place, the emphasis will be on ensuring that the meeting looks as much as possible like a normal festival, which is sure to be an ITV Racing record crowd. At least for now, elite racing is excluded from the new shutdown, and the remarkable reaction of the sport to the first lockdown in March 2020, including Covid-safe behind closed door racing protocols that were applied and adhered to the letter over several months, could well have played a role in that.
It still seems likely that the Cheltenham Festival will open as planned on March 16, racing the biggest moneymaker by attendance, hospitality and off-track betting, with all but a few of its 28 races in the annual top 40 by revenue of bookmakers, but all betting shops in England have now joined those that are already closed in Scotland and Wales. There is no question that online betting turnover would skyrocket if the new steps remain in place until March,