Next Tuesday will see the horses return to Cheltenham racecourse four the four-day festival, despite growing concerns about spread of the coronavirus COVID-19.
Fans of the sport had feared Cheltenham could have been postponed or cancelled this year in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus, but earlier this week Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed there are currently no plans to cancel mass events. Speaking at the launch of the government’s “battle plan” to respond to the virus, Hancock said: “Right now, we do not recommend the cancelling of mass events, and…as long as you wash your hands more often, that is the number one thing you can do to keep you and the country safe.”
The British Horseracing Authority has also stated it has no plans to cancel the event, but remains in regular contact with the government over the threat from the coronavirus. A spokesman said: “Following its Cobra meeting, government has today reiterated its position that business should continue as usual at present across the country, and that focus should continue to be placed on following their advice regarding controlling the spread of the disease.
“The industry’s steering group is coordinating the sharing of this Government advice with the sport’s participants.
“The steering group remains in regular and ongoing contact with Government and continues to consider a wide range of scenarios in order that we are able to act quickly in case the situation should change.”
A spokesman for the Racecourse added: “We look forward to staging the four days of The Festival presented by Magners at Cheltenham next week. We welcome the Government’s guidance that the business of the country should continue as usual, while ensuring we adhere to and promote the latest public health advice in the process.”
The news will be a relief to not just organisers and bookmakers, but also other local businesses who benefit the estimated £100m the event generates for the wider local economy. Indeed, it’s not just the prize money that gets people excited, with Cheltenham tips on the festival already coming in from various punters and bookies alike, the economic side of the Cheltenham Festival continues to grow in significance year after year.
The event is the pinnacle of the sport’s jump racing calendar and brings brings in more than £20m through ticket sales, hospitality, sponsorship and other income. There is also £4.3m in prize money on offer, but these sums are dwarfed by the millions spent by fans at local hotels, restaurants, and pubs throughout the event.
The meeting continues to grow year-on-year, and organisers hope this year’s event will build upon the success of the 2018 festival, which saw a record-breaking 67,934 people attend the opening day. However, whilst the government and organisers say the event will go ahead, and bookies currently have it as odds-on, fears of the virus may put a dampener on visitor numbers, especially those travelling from abroad.