Organisers of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival, taking place from Tuesday 16 March to Friday 19 March, have brought in some changes in order to enhance the experience for viewers at home, and to support a locally-based childrens’ charity facing a major funding deficit. The Festival is the pinnacle of the jump racing season and the Jockey Club promises four days of excellent racing with the feature races being The Unibet Champion Hurdle on Tuesday, The Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase on Day 2 , The Ryanair Chase on Wednesday and The Wellchild Gold Cup on the Friday.
Given the absence of spectators, the Racecourse Media Group (RMG) – responsible for media rights at Cheltenham – has agreed with ITV to extend the latter’s coverage in order that fans can watch more racing at home. The five races normally covered have now been increased to six and the broadcasting programme will be extended with the opening race each day being brought forward to a provisional time slot of 1.20pm. Coverage will commence at 1pm and finish at 4.30pm. The feature races will take place at 3.05pm each day. The interval between races is being reduced from 40 to 35 minutes to accommodate the scheduling changes. The agreement with ITV is for the 2021 Cheltenham Festival only, but viewers will be hoping that the increase in coverage will extend into future years as well. The final race of each day will, however, continue to be available only by subscriber-based Racing TV.
The most notable change in sponsorship at the Festival is the move from corporate to charitable sponsorship. Irish cider brand Magners 3-year contract of the entire Festival has terminated a year early and Cheltenham-based charity Wellchild has now been named main sponsor with naming rights to the Gold Cup race on Friday 19 March, the blue riband event of the Festival.
Ian Renton, Regional MD of the Jockey Club, thanks Magners for their support and welcomes the new sponsor, saying “WellChild plays a vital role in our society supporting seriously ill children and young people, and those who care for them. Their services have been needed more than ever…and we are very proud indeed to help such an important charity amongst our communities, including in Cheltenham”.
The Chief Executive of Wellchild, Colin Dyer, and his team are looking forward to the collaboration. Events are planned to raise awareness of the charity prior and during the Festival itself with a view to boosting donations to the organisation, which have slumped by up to 60% as the demand for its services – provided on a national basis – continue to rise. Dyer says “This has been a challenging year for our organisation and the families we support, many of whom have felt hidden and isolated more than ever before. However, we have responded at every turn to ensure that families have access to the support and equipment they need to thrive at home”.
After the success of the 2020 Gold Cup – when jockey Paul Townend made history as he won for the second year in a row on Al Boum Photo , trained by Willie Mullins – and in light of increased viewer figures over the winter as new fans are drawn to the sport, hopes are high that the 2021 Cheltenham Festival will prove a big success. Al Boum Photo is clear favourite at odds of 3/1 for a third consecutive Gold Cup victory and an achievement of that magnitude would certainly help boost the popularity and recognition of the sport with the wider public.
Bookmakers have ante-post odds available on almost every Festival race and certain of those layers offer a Cheltenham Non Runner No Bet concession whereby if your chosen horse does not run then you are entitled to a full refund of your stake. Such offers are common at the Festival and regular racing fans look forward to the array of generous offers almost as much as the quality racing itself!