The Cheltenham Festival is expected to go ahead in 2021 amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The annual horse racing festival is typically the sport’s biggest meet featuring the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase, and Stayers' Hurdle.
It is a popular date in the racing calendar with upwards of 60,000 people attending each of the four days - and is widely known for its fervent atmosphere during competition.
But will there be fans this year?
When is the Cheltenham Festival taking place?
The Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse will take place in 2021 across four days starting on Tuesday 16 March and finishing on Friday 19 March.
Current Covid guidelines allow for professional sport at an elite level to continue, as horseracing has since England went into a third national lockdown in January.
There have been tweaks to the protocols, however, which saw racehorse owners banned from the tracks and a closure of betting shops, classed as non-essential by the government.
Will there be fans at the Cheltenham Festival?
Under current government guidance, spectators are not allowed to attend those sporting events taking place due to high infection rates and hospital admissions amid the coronavirus pandemic.
It means that the current lockdown restrictions would have to be lifted in order for spectators to be allowed into the racecourse, with time not on the side of the organisers.
Prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to address the nation on Monday 22 February to outline his road map out of lockdown, which he said will be a “phased” easing of restrictions.
The return of all children to schools is reportedly top priority in England, with that not expected to happen until Monday 8 March at the earliest, meaning any decision around spectators is likely to come into effect after this date.
Why were spectators allowed at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival?
Organisers received some criticism in 2020 when they allowed spectators to attend the festival at the start of the Covid outbreak, despite concerns over the spread of the virus.
It was a decision made in line with government advice at the time which advised against large gatherings three days after the conclusion of the festival and before the first national lockdown.
When does the 2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup take place?
The Gold Cup is scheduled to take place on the fourth day (Friday 19 March) of the Cheltenham Festival, with a start time of 3.30pm.
Al Boum Photo will be looking to claim a hat-trick of wins following 2019 and 2020 successes in the race, to match Best Mate’s triumphs in 2002, 2003, and 2004.
Is Cheltenham Festival on TV?
With it looking increasingly likely the Cheltenham Festival will be staged behind closed doors, ITV has moved to increase its coverage over the four days.
The channel revealed six races are to be broadcast live on each day of the festival within its scheduled programming slot between 1-4.30pm.
Festival organisers have reduced the time between races from 40 minutes to 35 minutes and the opening race will take place at 1.20pm each day.
The entire festival will be shown to subscribers of Racing TV.
Full racing schedule
|Day One1:30pm - The Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Race (2m abt ½f) - Hurdle|
2:10pm - The Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Steeple Chase (abt 2m) - Chase
2:50pm - The Ultima Handicap Steeple Chase (3m abt 1f) - Chase
3.30pm - The Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (2m abt ½f) - Hurdle
4:10pm - The Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle Race (2m abt 4f) - Hurdle
4:50pm - The Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle Race (Grade 3) (2m abt 4½f) - Chase
5:30pm - The National Hunt Steeple Chase Challenge Cup (Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Steeple Chase) (Grade 2) (3m abt 6f) - Chase
1:30pm - The Ballymore Novices' Hurdle Race (2m abt 5f) - Hurdle
2:10pm - The Brown Advisory Novices’ Steeple Chase (Grade 1) (3m abt ½ f) - Chase
2:50pm - The Coral Cup Hurdle (A Handicap Hurdle Race) (Grade 3) (2m abt 5f) - Hurdle
3:30pm - The Betway Queen Mother Champion Steeple Chase (Grade 1) (Abt 2m) - Chase
4:10pm - The Glenfarclas Cross Country Steeple Chase (3m 6f) - Chase
4:50pm - The Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Steeple Chase Challenge Cup (Grade 3) (2m abt ½f) - Chase
5:30pm - The Weatherbys Champion Bumper (A Standard Open NH Flat Race) (Grade 1) (2m abt ½f) - Bumper
1:30pm - The Marsh Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) (2m abt 4f) - Chase
2:10pm - The Pertemps Network Final (A Handicap Hurdle Race) (Listed) (Abt 3m) - Hurdle
2:50pm - The Ryanair Steeple Chase (Grade 1) (2m abt 5f) - Chase
3:30pm - The Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle (Grade 1) (abt 3m) - Hurdle
4:10pm - The Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate (A Handicap Steeple Chase) (Grade 3) (2m abt 5f) - Chase
4:50pm - The Mares Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2) (2m 1f) - Hurdle
5:30pm - The Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Steeple Chase (0-145) (3m abt 2f) - Chase
1:30pm - The JCB Triumph Hurdle (2m abt 1f) - Hurdle
2:10pm - The County Handicap Hurdle Race (2m abt 1f) - Hurdle
2:50pm - The Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle Race (abt 3m) - Hurdle
3:30pm - The WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup Steeple Chase (Grade 1) (3m abt 2½ f) - Chase
4:10pm - The St. James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Steeple Chase (3m abt 2½ f) - Chase
4:50pm - The Mrs Paddy Power Mares' Steeple Chase (2m abt ½f) - Chase
5:30pm - Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (2m abt 4½ f) - Hurdle