The Festival in lockdown: Cheltenham 2021 The Cheltenham Festival is the UK’s first major sporting event of the calendar year, famed as much for its revelry as for the racing. The coronavirus pandemic has plunged the country into national lockdown, but to the delight of armchair punters, the racing went ahead as usual
March 21, 2021 / 09:13 AM IST
The Cheltenham Festival is the UK’s first major sporting event of the calendar year, famed as much for its revelry as for the racing. The coronavirus pandemic has plunged the country into national lockdown, but to the delight of armchair punters, the racing went ahead as usual.
The crowd is usually such a major part of the Festival – with so many colourful characters, so much excitement as the races are run but instead everything is flat. There is an empty space where the Guinness Village usually stands, where huge crowds drink about as much black and white liquid as they can.
The bars and betting booths are deserted due to the absence of crowds. Around 65,000 punters would usually be expected, with hospitality villages brimming with excitement and revelry.
Last year’s Festival went ahead despite the realisation that the country was about to enter the most serious pandemic for a century. Racegoers mingled freely and as such, the Festival was judged to be a “super-spreader” event. The contrast between last year’s packed terraces and this year’s echoing stand is an eerie experience.
Jockeys emerge from a makeshift changing room and trainer.
Trainer Venetia Williams takes a video of her horse Ibleo after it finished third in the Jonny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase. Right; A steaming horse after a race during day two.
The racing has taken place in near-perfect conditions, but the absence of racegoers has been keenly felt in the town of Cheltenham, where the financial loss and psychological loss is palpable.
Runners and riders at the ready.
The riders pass the empty stands, shining in the sunlight but missing the roar of the Cheltenham punters.
Tiger Roll, ridden by Keith Donoghue (centre), jump the Cheese Wedges fence and go on to win the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase.
Rachael Blackmore on Honeysuckle pass the winning post to win the Champion Hurdle on day one.
Then and Now.
Empty benches as Richie Condon celebrates victory on Heaven Help Us in the Coral Cup hurdle.
Monkfish, ridden by Paul Townend, crashes through the final fence but still wins the second race, the Brown Advisory Novice Chase.
Jack Kennedy (red) talks to trainer Henry de Bromhead after falling off red hot favourite Envoi Allen in the Marsh Novice Chase, a fall which netted one punter £250,000 from a £5 bet.
Donagh Meyler falls off Fils D’Oudaires at the final fence in the Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase.