Horse racing fans believe that the newly introduced COVID-19 vaccines have come too late in the day for their hopes of being in attendance at this year’s Cheltenham Festival to be realised.
Extensive testing has already put the Pfizer and Oxford vaccine into circulation in the United Kingdom, with the aim being for around two million people to now be vaccinated in the nation each week.
The Cheltenham Festival, which is scheduled to take place between 16th and 19th March, is use to crowds of up to 70,000 people on Gold Cup day, but like racing fans, Cheltenham executives are now expecting the four-day meeting to practically take place behind closed doors.
The 2020 Festival still remains the last major British race meeting to allow a full crowd of spectators, something that was heavily criticized as being a super spreader when Boris Johnson called the first lockdown in March 2020.
However, there is still hope that owners will be allowed to be in attendance this year, but under the regulations in the UK lockdown 3.0, even that may be unlikely as they are currently unable to watch their horse on any racecourse in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
From the Horse’s Mouth
The next few weeks will be critical in Cheltenham’s hopes of having any chance of paying spectators, with the Jockey Club’s Regional Director for Cheltenham and the South West, Ian Renton, admitting that their chances are looking slim, even with the vaccine.
“I’m afraid I think the Festival, in early spring, will probably come too early to benefit. Most of what we hear suggests it is going to be late spring before anything significant changes.”
“There may be an opportunity to get some additional people in but certainly, at the moment, we are not expecting anything extensive.”
One hope for the racing community is that the BHA have always kept in close contact with the government and have been at the forefront of any test events when it comes to introducing spectators.
Doncaster’s St Leger meeting was the first to reintroduce a select number of spectators back in September, with other courses that were then part of Tier 2 allowed to host a limited number of fans towards the end of 2020.
Gold Cup Entries
Despite the uncertainty around crowds being in attendance in this year’s Festival, it hasn’t stopped the majority of trainers from entering their horses into some of the meeting’s biggest races.
That is music to the ears of most racing punters, who can take a look into the ante-post markets with the knowledge that their fancy is at least targeting a specific race.
Al Boum Photo topped the entries for the Gold Cup as the 7/2 favourite, as he aims to follow Best Mate in winning the feature race for the third time on the trot.
Many bookmakers are now offering a number of early ante-post offers and specials on the 2021 Cheltenham Festival, such as non-runner no bet, which means you’ll get you stake back if your selection doesn’t run in your intended race.
Along with Al Boum Photo, Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins entered a battalion of runners that include the likes of Acepella Bourgeois (100/1), Burrows Saint (50/1), Castlebawn West (66/1), Melon (33/1), Kemboy (25/1) and Allaho (50/1).
Other Irish trained entries included A Plus Tard (10/1), who recently won the Savills Chase over Christmas at Leopardstown, and the talented Minella Indo, who is already the 7/1 second favourite with some bookmakers after finishing 2nd in the RSA last year.
In England, the strongest Gold Cup chances seem to lie with Nicky Henderson, who has entered both Santini (10/1) and Champ (12/1) for the race. The pair are both towards the top of the betting after Santini finished 2nd in the Gold Cup last year, and Champ went on to win the RSA Chase in a thrilling finish.