The Cheltenham Festival jump racing event took place last year despite the pandemic taking hold across the country.
The national hunt festival, which takes place over four days, is one of the racing calendar highlights and usually welcomes around 60,000 people per year.
The exciting atmosphere, opportunity to place bets on race favourites, dress up, and mingle are just a few of the magnetic elements which keep people coming back year after year.
During the Cheltenham Festival, a series of competitions take place, including:
- Cheltenham Gold Cup
- Champion Hurdle
- Queen Mother Champion Chase
- and the Stayers’ Hurdle.
In the run-up to the event, horse and jockey duos are getting ready to race. The event shall take place on Tuesday, the 16th of March, and finish Friday, the 19th of March.
Each horse experiences lengthy training regimes to prepare them to make challenging leaps over obstacles and race their competitors. And spectators usually flock to witness the courage and skill of the horses.
However, this year significant alterations will change the course of the event. Since Boris Johnson instructed a three-month lockdown from January until March, there have been concerns about whether spectators will be allowed to attend the event.
For an up-to-date account of what this year’s festival event will look like, read on.
Cheltenham Festival: Are Spectators Allowed?
According to Covid guidelines, elite professional sporting events may commence during the lockdown.
However, activities associated with the event, deemed non-essential, such as betting shops, and racehorse owners visiting the tracks, are forbidden.
Currently, lockdown restrictions imposed by the government explain spectators are unable to attend any sporting events. The rules in place intend to prevent the spread of the virus and keep the public and NHS safe.
Any alterations to the rules, such as permitting spectators at sports contests, would need to be determined by the prime minister. However, with the festival only a couple of weeks away it is deemed unlikely that racegoers will be able to attend the event this year.
The Impact of Lockdown on the Cheltenham Festival
With the festival’s launch date looming, time to prepare for a potential lockdown lift is approaching fast. And puts the festival organisers under immense pressure to change the event should spectators be permitted.
A few weeks ago, the organisers admitted defeat and agreed that this year’s festival would not be the same as years before.
In turn, the lack of ticket purchases will undoubtedly have a severe financial impact on the industry. For instance, so far, the Jockey club has lost £100,000.
This figure is expected to increase over the coming months. Fortunately, Cheltenham Festival has insurance to cover these losses.
Since the initial lockdown, most horse racing events have either taken place behind closed doors or allowed a maximum of 2,000 attendees. Both solutions could be viable options for the upcoming event.
Although horse racing fans and punters won’t have the luxury of seeing the race in-person, they will, of course, be able to watch the action unfold on television. ITV is increasing its coverage of the four-day event to ensure viewers don’t miss out by broadcasting six races each day between 1 pm and 4.30 pm.
Cheltenham Festival: Horses to Watch Out For This Year
The four-day event is well known for its betting culture and discussions about Cheltenham odds are already taking place, with punters identifying the talent to keep an eye on at this year’s festival.
For a rundown of a few contenders who are expected to put on a promising performance, below are three to consider placing bets on this year.
Trainer: Gary Moore
The four-year-old French import lost his winning streak in the Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow against Adagio. However, Nassalam’s trainer Gary was pleased with the horse’s performance.
After all, to come in second to Addigio, a prominent and battle-hardened horse, is nothing to be ashamed of.
The energy and determination that enabled Nassalam to propel to second place. Has lead onlookers to believe this four-year-old horse could achieve another success at the JCB Triumph Hurdle festival.
Horse: Midnight Shadow
Trainer: Sue Smith
Out of all of Sue Smith’s horses, Midnight Shadow is perhaps one of the most promising.
Midnight won the Dipper last season and gained sixth place in the Marsh Chase on his final start, just behind Samcro.
At Aintree, Midnight managed to accrue a decent position behind Caspian Caviar Gold Cup winner Chatham Street Lad on the track last December.
Shadow was reportedly the 4-1 favourite to win during a recent race, suggesting bookies and fans see this horse’s potential to become a great contender at this year’s national hunt event.
Horse: Native River
Trainer: Colin Tizzard
At 11 years old, this festival is potentially Native River’s last opportunity to be a significant player in the Magners Gold Cup.
Native River achieved the cup in 2018 and is expected to contend against Saint Calvados, Santini, and Bristol De Mai for the winning title this year.
Having recently won the Denman Chase at Newbury. Native came in third at the Many Clouds racing event in Aintree, but this is reportedly due to the low sun discarding his view of the fences.
Fans are hopeful the eager and enthusiastic horse Native can accrue a win in Cheltenham, where his best achievement to date previously took place.
Cheltenham Festival: Behind Closed Doors
Covid guidance to date and announcements from Cheltenham Festival organisers infer the event will take place behind closed doors.
However, should circumstances change, the event organisers may consider allowing 2,000 attendees.
While this may be disappointing for those looking forward to watching the event in-person. The live coverage by ITV. The opportunity to take advantage of betting platforms online offering generous incentives to sign. Plus, the ease and comfort of watching the sport from one’s own home. Makes the prospect of enjoying the festival from the sofa not so bad at all.
Jimmy is an English Literature Graduate. He currently works as a freelancer and guest contributor for several online magazines and particularly specialises in sports and gaming related content. Outside his work, Jimmy’s passions include football, horse racing and gaming.