The four day Cheltenham Festival kicks off behind closed doors on Tuesday
|Events: 16.-19. March Conference location: Cheltenham Racecourse Run: 13: 20-16: 50 GMT Main race: 15:05|
|Cover: Comments on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, Radio 5 Live feature races. Race maps, live text, results and reports on the BBC Sport website and app.|
A city that is usually in Carnival mode is eerily quiet. Where banners and tents should announce the exuberant crowd, there is calm.
For four days in March, the Cheltenham Festival usually welcomes thousands of visitors to its annual carnival.
This year is different – no spectators or racehorse owners and a sport that seeks a boost after negative headlines.
Racing fans will turn to Honeysuckle, Chacun Pour Soi, Paisley Park and Al Boum Photo for this lift.
The organizers hope for good news from a meeting that will be the last major sporting event in the UK before the first coronavirus lockdown 12 months ago and comes in the wake of trainer Gordon Elliott six month ban after being depicted astride a dead horse.
The win for the undefeated mare Honeysuckle on Tuesday would be well deserved Rachael Blackmore A place in folklore as the first woman to ride the Champion Hurdle winner.
To be among their rivals last year’s winner Epatante and the defeated Triumph Hurdle favorite Goshen, whose presence completes a circle of contrast from 12 months ago.
Jamie Moore was deposed by Goshen last year and trained by his father, Gary
On the final day of Cheltenham 2020, jockey Jamie Moore needed consolation after runaway leader Goshen dramatically taken from his seat on the last flight the 70,000 spectators gasped for air.
This time, the televised roar that traditionally greets the first race will be a recorded version. There will be hundreds in attendance – jockeys, coaches, officials and a limited number of media outlets – while the total topped 250,000 last year.
“We’re looking forward to a completely different festival,” said racecourse director Ian Renton.
What are the other potential big stories of the week?
- Denise ‘Sneezy’ Foster: Took the reins while Elliott serves his suspension. The former riding instructor worked with top jumpers earlier in her life. She is known as Sneezy because that’s how friends pronounced her name as a child.
- Ascending horse stars: Shishkin is the favorite for Arkle Chase on Tuesday, while Envoi Allen and Monkfish run later in the week and are named future Gold Cup contenders.
- Rule purple: 2019 winner Paisley Park, named for Prince’s recording studio, is looking to reclaim his title after successfully recovering from a heart attack. Owner Andrew Gemmell, who has been blind since birth, will follow from home.
- Golden heights? Al Boum Photo, trained by Willie Mullins, will be the first horse since Best Mate in 2004 to offer three Cheltenham Gold Cups on Friday. Blackmore is on A Plus Tard while Bryony Frost rides Frodon to become the first female jockey to triumph.
Police have warned spectators not to congregate on Cleeve Hill, which overlooks the racecourse
What about those headlines?
Last year’s meeting was criticized because the coronavirus crisis was still in its infancy.
Organizers claim they followed government advice, warned of other sporting events that were happening that week, and that the first lockdown wasn’t put in place until 10 days later.
Animal welfare is still in the spotlight after the Elliott case a ban on jockey Rob James who was seen in a video on social media mounting a dead horse.
“The images that have been shown in mainstream media over the past few weeks are damaging and we really need to redouble our efforts to build that public trust and show them that horse welfare is at the heart of everything we do,” Julie Harrington, executive director of the British Horseracing Authority, told Dan at BBC Roan.
The Cheltenham bosses hope that all horses and riders get back safely.
Fewer runners may help them as a combination of ban rules and new Brexit regulations are preventing some Irish trainers and owners from sending horses.
What will the meeting be like?
Side flow tests and temperature checks are part of a series of coronavirus protocols for participants.
There will be around 40 catering employees on site, compared to 4,000 in previous years. There will be no bookmakers and betting shops will be closed, but millions are still being wagered by players from home.
Special areas have been created to minimize the mixing of jockeys and coaches – with a red zone for the home contingent and a green zone for Irish visitors.
There are two separate stable yards and steward rooms, with most of the stable employees being housed in 104 temporary en-suite units in the Best Mate Enclosure and not allowed to leave the area outside of racing.
Irish jockeys, coaches and staff are regularly tested before arriving in the UK. In the case of positive cases, isolation units are available.
Some jockeys who have won the festival are missing out as amateur drivers are not allowed to compete in England under the current Covid-19 rules. Patrick Mullins, Jamie Codd, Derek O’Connor, and Sam Waley-Cohen will be on the sidelines.
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