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Cheltenham Festival could take place behind closed doors following third National Lockdown

Last updated: 10 Mar 2021
Jon Vine 10 Mar 2021
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  • Organisers are bracing themselves to hold the 2021 Cheltenham Festival behind closed doors
  • The Prime Minister announced a six-week national Lockdown would start on January 6th
  • The 2021 Cheltenham Festival is due to start on Tuesday 16th March
  • Cheltenham director says we can expect "at the very best, very small numbers"
cheltenham races stands
A view of the empty stands during Cheltenham's Showcase Meeting back in October. (Getty)

The director of Cheltenham racecourse has told fans to expect a Cheltenham Festival behind closed doors, after the government announced a third national lockdown this week.

Boris Johnson addressed the nation on Monday evening, instructing the general public to stay at home and protect the NHS. This is the third-such national Lockdown that has been enforced during the coronavirus pandemic, and the Prime Minister suggested it could last as long as six weeks, while vaccines are rolled out to those who need them the most.

Professional sport has been allowed to carry on, albeit behind closed doors. However, six weeks of further Lockdown has left fans fearing the worst for this year's Cheltenham Festival, and Cheltenham's director Ian Renton addressed those concerns on Monday.

Speaking on the Nick Luck podcast, Renton said, “We’ve been pretty realistic with our expectations over the past few months but, as we get closer to the festival, those bits of hope are fast disappearing,”

“We will soon have to be wholly realistic and accept that, at the very best, very small numbers will be present."

"At the very least, I would hope that we can have owners present and hopefully getting back to the days of December where we had a crowd totalling 2,000 people on each of those days. That is the sort of expectation we’re currently looking at.”

This would be a massive blow for the sport, and for the British economy. Racing fans and prolific punters, along with socialites and celebrities pitch up in Gloucestershire by their thousands come Cheltenham Festival week, all eager to part with their cash. 30% of tickets are snapped up by Irish punters too, and they ensure that businesses surrounding the racecourse do raucous trade during Festival week.

Even a small, select crowd of 2,000 fans each day would mean the revenue produced by the Cheltenham Festival would be down a whopping 97%. 

Empty stands wouldn't lessen the appeal of the meeting, or the grandeur of the races that take place. It would, however, diminish the entertainment value greatly, especially for the casual viewer.

Let's hope at least a few thousand of the seats will be occupied at Prestbury Park when the contenders in the 2021 Supreme Novices' Hurdle are sent on their merry way.

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