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The Cheltenham Festival last week was judged a big success for the horse racing industry, recording a drop of only 5.5% in attendance from last year, with racecourse boss Ian Renton saying “I’m relieved as it has been an interesting week with everything going on around the racing, but it is fantastic the day’s racing we have had today – to see probably one of the best Magners Gold Cups I can recall….There have been some fantastic results and at the end of the day, that is what it is all about. The crowd here have enjoyed four great days of sport in what is probably a slightly surreal atmosphere, with what was going on in the country. I think, for us, what has been incredibly helpful is the really consistent guidelines we have had from the Government now for a fortnight”.
However, it is crystal clear that the Festival has only just managed to squeeze through the encroaching noose of restrictions on public gatherings. Scotland and Ireland governments have already brought in a ban on outdoor public gatherings of over 500 people, and the UK government is now considering imposing a similar restriction. In light of this, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has announced that all horse racing will now take place behind closed doors, until the end of March. As the statistics worsen every day – this seems entirely the right thing to do and we welcome the BHA’s proactive approach.
As the pandemic continues to increase its hold over the UK population, fans of horse racing are now wondering if the ban on public attendance will continue into April. The Grand National, the most famous race in the country, is due to take place on Saturday, 4 April, on the final day of racing at Aintree’s 3-day meet. The Randox Health Grand National was first run in 1839 and the purse last year was £1 million. We understand that the RHA are currently discussing the meet, which attracts over 150,000 racegoers, with the Government. If the restrictions on public gatherings continue into April, as seems likely, there will be a significant loss to the local economy and the horseracing industry as a whole. Bookmakers will also suffer as on-course betting will not of course take place, and the event is likely to lose some of its lustre without the excitement of a massive crowd.
That said, Tiger Roll, the winner of the Grand National for the last 2 years, will make history if he wins for the third consecutive time and this fact, in itself, will prove a major draw for the public, even if they are limited to watching on their TV’s and mobile phones. The 10-year old, owned by Michael O’Leary of Ryanair and trained in Ireland by Gordon Elliott, will seek to reign supreme once more over the gruelling 4m 2½ furlong race, comprising 2 laps of the course and 30 fences. Tiger Roll is best odds of 8/1 with many bookies at the time of going to press after running a very good 2nd at Cheltenham last week.