Cheltenham Festival set to go behind closed doors

Horse racing fans are now facing the prospect of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival going behind closed doors in March, after the latest UK lockdown dented chances of spectators being allowed back in attendance. 

British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson announced the new lockdown on Monday 4th January, but thankfully for sports fans, a statement was later issued to confirm that professional sport, such as horse racing and football, could still go ahead.

Cheltenham Racecourse Director, Ian Renton, had previously stated that the best-case scenario they could hope for is a maximum of 2,000 people each day across the four day Festival, although that now seems unlikely with only trainers, jockeys and stable staff currently allowed to attend fixtures in the UK. 

That means that the world famous Cheltenham Gold Cup day will be some way short of the 70,000 capacity crowd, even if a limited number of spectators are allowed to attend.

It’s not the first time that racing fans have been locked out of major meetings in the past 12 months, with the likes of Royal Ascot and the Epsom Derby both being played out behind closed doors. 

Cheltenham even missed out on the chance of hosting some spectators on New Year’s Day after the weather postponed their first scheduled fixture of 2021.

The New Normal

Speaking on the Nick Luck daily racing podcast, Renton chatted about the difficulties that are currently facing racecourses around the country, as well as particular focus that was placed on the 2020 Festival after it was the last major sporting event to go ahead before the first coronavirus lockdown.

Rention said, “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.” 

“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 totaling 2,000 people on each of those days. 

However, despite the current restrictions, Renton is confident that the Festival can still be a huge success for the viewing public, and expects horses to still make the trip over from France and Ireland despite growing concerns over the lockdown and new Brexit regulations. 

“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.”

Betting on the Cheltenham Festival

So, although the experience of placing your bet with the bookies at the course might not be possible come March, we can be thankful of the modern era and the range of online betting that is now available. 

Many of the online bookmakers will be boosting their products with more people likely to bet on their phones or tablets, with one type of popular Cheltenham offer being a free bet.

Of course, for some racing fans, a trip to the Cheltenham Festival is the highlight of their year and the news will be something of a disappointment, especially with so much of the racing calendar already taking place behind closed doors since the last Festival.

However, it is expected that the majority of the races will be shown live on terrestrial television across the UK through ITV Racing, as well as to subscribers of RacingTV.