The Cheltenham Festival is a cash-cow for the racecourse, the tourism industry in Gloucestershire and the surrounding counties and the UK as a whole.
It may be months away still, but optimism is bound that the 2021 Festival won’t be played out behind closed doors and result in severe losses for many business that rely on the Cheltenham boom.
Organisers remain confident that fans will be allowed into Prestbury Park to enjoy the 2021 Cheltenham Festival, after Gloucestershire remained in Tier 2 following the latest coronavirus update. While nothing is certain, as this year has taught us, the lifeline of Festival income is increasing by the day.
When the month-long lockdown ended on December 2nd, certain areas of England were demoted to Tier 2 status. This allowed spectators to return to certain sporting events. Small crowds took their places in the stands during football matches, 1,000 spectators enjoyed Anthony Joshua’s knockout victory over Kubrat Pulev, and racecourses in Tier 1 and Tier 2 areas welcomed paying punters through their gates for the first time since March.
A small, passionate crowd – made up mainly of owners and connections – travelled to Cheltenham earlier this month to enjoy the two-day International Meeting. Kempton Park had been preparing to welcome fans through their gates on Boxing Day too. Yet, on Monday, those plans were thrown into disarray.
London was one of the areas where Covid-19 restrictions had been relaxed at the start of the month. Sadly, confirmed cases and hospital admissions have risen rapidly ever since, and the government announced this week that the capital would, once again, go into Tier 3 lockdown.
This announcement came as a huge blow to football clubs in and around London, as the busy festive schedule is always an excellent opportunity to maximise income. Season ticket holders at Kempton Park were also left devastated, and their historic Boxing Day meeting will be held behind closed doors.
Meanwhile, in Gloucestershire, infection rates remain low enough to ensure the county retained its Tier 2 status, news which would have delighted organisers of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival, and hopes are high that a crowd – albeit a lot smaller than usual – will be allowed to attend “the greatest show on turf”.
Not only is the Cheltenham Festival the biggest event in horse racing, but it’s also massively important to the British economy as betting on the Cheltenham Festival is said to be around £500 million spent by punters and celebrities who flock to Cheltenham to take in the meeting, spend where a capacity crowd of nearly 70,000 is guarantee on all four days of the Festival. 30% of the tickets are snapped up by Irish punters, who make the annual pilgrimage to Gloucestershire to cheer on their representatives during this mammoth meet.
Bars are booming, hotels are heaving, and restaurants are rammed in the build-up to, and during Cheltenham Festival week. Some have said that the 2020 Cheltenham Festival – which was staged just days before the country went into lockdown last March – only went ahead because of the revenue it injects into the economy.
It’s likely the Tier system will remain in-place during the early months of 2021, as the newly released coronavirus vaccine is rolled out around the country. National Hunt racing enthusiasts will be praying that the vaccine takes effect quickly, as a Cheltenham Festival played out behind closed doors would come as a huge blow to the sport, and to the entire country.