Cheltenham Festival 2021: Racecourse hopes some spectators will be allowed

  • Watch Cari Davies report

The Director of Cheltenham Racecourse says he has not given up hope of a small number of spectators being present at this year's festival.

The event is due to run for four days from the 16-19 March - but it will look very different to normal.

Ian Renton has told ITV West Country he's waiting to see what the advice will be as to whether anyone will be allowed in to watch.

He said: "If we were racing today we'd be racing behind closed doors, but [in] December we were allowed owners present and a few loyal race-goers, so we'll just have to wait and see what happens through February and March."

It's expected The Festival will be held behind closed doors but the Government has now indicated lockdown restrictions may be lifted just in time for a handful of racegoers to attend.

Thousands attended the festival in 2020 before Government restrictions prohibited mass gatherings. Credit: ITV West Country

The 250,000 people who normally pass through the gates across the racing week bring with them an estimated £100million boost to the region's economy.

Many businesses rely on the income and prestige that comes from selling to crowds at The Festival.

Richard Cook from Severn and Wye Smokery normally has a £60,000 turnover during the week, but recognises "the overriding thing is people need to be safe".

Fan favourite Paisley Park is heading to Cheltenham this weekend to defend his Cleeve Hurdle title. Credit: ITV West Country

The sport of horse racing has been allowed to continue during the current restrictions, but has been held behind closed doors.

Reflecting on 2020's controversial festival, Wiltshire trainer Emma Lavelle says the mood of the country changed rapidly over the course of the week.

She said: "The information that was coming out of government at that stage was changing so fast by the time you got to the end of the week it had a weird kind of atmosphere to it, as realisation of just how serious this was - was dawning on everybody."

Organisers say government advice was always followed in the planning of 2020's Festival.

When asked by ITV West Country if the Government advice at the time was flawed, the Regional Director said "there are many people that are going to pour over the scientific judgement at the time but we worked closely with the government particularly through the British Horse Racing Authority, and all we can do is follow the recommendations."

There will be a government inquiry into the handling of the pandemic, which will include the decisions around mass gatherings.

But the Prime Minister said with infection rates still high and focus on the vaccination programme, now is not the time for those questions.

Prestbury Park would normally be packed as Cheltenham counts down to one of the biggest events in the racing calendar. Credit: ITV West Country

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