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Essex’s Racing Fans Could Miss Cheltenham Festival

18 Jan Essex’s Racing Fans Could Miss Cheltenham Festival

Racing fans from Essex, and across the UK, are likely to be unable to attend this year’s Cheltenham Festival after the current coronavirus lockdown stopped spectators from attending sports events across the country.

The blanket ban comes into place after COVID infection ratesrose significantly over the Festive period, causing the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, to call another national lockdown across England, until the middle of February.

Cheltenham racecourse officials are used to a crowd of up to 70,000 on Cheltenham Gold Cup Day, but even they had already admitted that a number of around 1,000 was much more likely on each day of the four day meeting which gets underway on the 16th March.

However, the new restrictions have meant that any plans from Cheltenham Racecourse officials to host spectators have been brought to a grinding halt, with the expectation now being that only owners, trainers and stable staff will be realistically able to be in attendance at the racetrack.

Ian Renton, who is the regional managing director for the Jockey Club told the Daily Mail: “We’ve accepted that it is going to be a different Festival this year. We have to be realistic that it is likely only small numbers of people will be present.

“Let’s see where we are by March. We are focused on setting the stage for four world-class days, which are vital to many livelihoods in the British racing industry and will be enjoyed by millions on television.”

Along with difficulties surround Brexit, the current lockdown has created travel restrictions and isolation periods for animals, as well as humans, which may discourage the traditional challenge of Irish runners, who tend to make the trip across in their tens and hundreds.

At last year’s Festival, Irish trained horses rewarded betting punters by winning 17 of the 28 races, including Al Boum Photo in the Gold Cup at 10/3. There were also Irish winners in the handicaps at 15/2 and 10/1, plus plenty of placed horses landing each-way cash for punters who had enhanced places on handicaps.

Even France’s David Cottin took home the Cross Country after Easysland beat Tiger Roll at 3/1 in Thursday’s unique race.

Big Race Entries

There is a distinct possibility that we won’t see those overseas challengers winning Cheltenham Festival races this year, although the current fears haven’t been shown in the entries for some of the big races with Ireland’s Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott, amongst others, having a battalion of entries with a couple of months to go.

In the Gold Cup, the hat-trick seeking Al Boum Photo, trained by Willie Mullins, tops 41 entries for Friday’s feature race, as he aims to follow in the hoof prints of Best Mate by becoming a triple winner of the contest at 7/2.

Mullins has also entered Acapella Bourgeois, Burrows Saint, Castlebawn West, Melon, Kemboy and Allaho. While other Irish-trained entries include previous Cheltenham Festival winners in Minella Indo and A Plus Tard, plus Battleoverdoyen, Spyglass Hill and Monalee.

It’s a similar story in the Champion Chase, which is set to take place on Wednesday 17th March. Willie Mullins once again holds a collection of big name entries, and those names don’t come any bigger than Chacun Pour Soi,

He seemingly has the division at his feet this season and is already the 6/4 favourite in the ante-post betting. Joining him with entries from Team Mullins are Min, who impressively won last year’s Ryanair Chase, along with Cilaos Emery, Cash Back and Tornado Flyer.

Henry De Bromhead, who also trains in Ireland, has entered Notebook and Put The Kettle On, a talented mare who sprung a surprise when winning the 2020 Arkle at odds of 16/1.

Only time will tell if they can make the trip across the Irish sea, but even if they do, the Cheltenham Festival will be different this March.