Ian Renton: Cheltenham Festival likely to be held without big crowds

Hopes of allowing fans to attend the 2021 Cheltenham Festival are diminishing, racecourse boss Ian Renton says.

With talk of new UK curbs to tackle coronavirus, the chances of racegoers being present at the feature meeting in March look slim.

Track chiefs are working on a best case scenario of permitting a very limited number of people on-course.

Around 60,000 racegoers would attend each of the four days, with a larger crowd watching the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup live on the Friday.

Renton, asked on the Nick Luck Daily Podcast if Cheltenham had given up preparing for a crowd, said: "I think we will be parking that in the next week or two.

"We've been pretty realistic with our expectations over the last few months but as we get closer to the Festival those small bits of hope are fast disappearing.

"We will soon have to be wholly realistic and accept that at the very best very small numbers will be present.

"At the very least I would hope that we can have owners present and hopefully getting back to the days of December where we had a crowd totalling 2000 people on each of those days.

"That is the sort of expectation we're currently looking at."

The 2021 Cheltenham Festival is due to be held from March 16-19.

Last year's meeting was one of the final major sporting events to be staged before the UK went into lockdown.

Up to 2,000 fans were allowed at some fixtures before Christmas, but the majority have been held behind closed doors since the summer.

Renton estimates that the coronavirus situation has cost The Jockey Club around £100 million.

"We've now come to accept that it's going to be a very, very different Festival," he said.

"The team are now concentrating on just having the best possible racing, looking at everything we can do in terms of encouraging the right horses to be with us, perfect ground to ensure we can produce a perfect four days racing even if people will be viewing it on television rather than in person."

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