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Officials welcome back the Cheltenham roar

Officials at Cheltenham are anticipating a bumper crowd as racegoers return to the Festival for the first time since 2020.

While the four-day highlight went ahead last year, Covid-19 regulations meant racing had to take place behind closed doors with only essential personnel on course.

With the government having lifted remaining restrictions last week, the Festival will kick off on March 15 with possible record crowds over the fixture.

Ian Renton, regional director for the track’s owner Jockey Club Racecourses, said: “We’re expecting over 275,00 people over the four days which will almost certainly be a record.

“We sold out Gold Cup day in late January, which is three or four weeks earlier than we’ve ever done it before. We sold out the Thursday approximately 10 days ago – that is a first – and we’re well ahead on sales for Tuesday and Wednesday.

“It will be great to welcome not only racegoers back but also, more importantly, owners.”

Renton is eager to see crowds back on track, not just for racing reasons but also for the income the Festival brings to the local area.

“We normally reckon the Festival brings in over £100million to the local economy per annum,” he added.

Crowds will return to the Festival in their thousands
Crowds will return to the Festival in their thousands (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“I think the most exciting thing will be getting people back. Last year we had a wonderful four days of racing but it will be great to have the roar back.”

The 2020 Festival was one of the last major sporting events staged before the first coronavirus lockdown, with the track employing a raft of extra hygiene measures at the meeting in line with the government guidance at the time.

While restrictions have been lifted, Renton underlined racegoers should not attend if they are feeling unwell.

He said: “We are following government advice which reduces almost all requirements in terms of Covid. We will still be advising that if you are not well, then not to come racing – just follow the guidance.

“There won’t be the same banks of sanitiser that were available (in 2020) but it will be available on the course and in washing facilities.”

Renton also dismissed any talk of an imminent move to add an extra day to the meeting, with a five-day Festival an idea that has been widely mentioned over the last couple of years.

He added: “I think it’s fair to say there’s always talk of it at this time of year and I think it is something that isn’t going to go away. I’m sure at some stage we will do some exploration into views on that, but it’s four days this year and four days next year.”

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