Only jockeys, trainers and staff to attend Cheltenham Festival

Possibility of festival down to strict protocols and good work by the IHRB, says trainer

Horses from Henry de Bromhead’s stables on the gallops at Cheltenham Racecourse ahead of the Cheltenham Festival which starts on Tuesday. Photograph: David Davies/PA

Horses from Henry de Bromhead’s stables on the gallops at Cheltenham Racecourse ahead of the Cheltenham Festival which starts on Tuesday. Photograph: David Davies/PA

 

The horse racing industry is keenly aware of the consequences if Covid-19 regulations are breached at Cheltenham, according to horse trainer Henry de Bromhead.

The Co Waterford trainer said he, his staff and colleagues knew they were “representing racing” to the world this week.

Cheltenham Festival gets under way on Tuesday but will be much changed from the usual this year.

Instead of thousands pouring into the Gloucestershire town, just a few hundred jockeys, trainers and staff will be spread across the course, with the approximately 170 members of the Irish contingent contained in its own “bubble”.

Mr De Bromhead, who is chasing his 10th Cheltenham winner this week, said the industry was fortunate to still be able to mark its main event of the calendar, thanks to “strict protocols and good work” by the Irish Horse Racing Board (IHRB) and the race organisers.

Racegoers came in for criticism last year after Cheltenham went ahead in normal fashion despite coronavirus fears, while recent weeks have seen more difficulty following the publication of a photo showing Meath trainer Gordon Elliot sitting on a dead horse.

The festival is famous for its socialising and is a chance for yard staff to meet, and for trainers to meet “old friends and clients”, but it will be different this time.

“All I can tell you is that we’ve had to sign a declaration, a code of behaviour,” Mr de Bromhead said.

“We’re representing racing and the Irish horse racing industry. Everyone has had to sign it; we have to adhere to it. We feel very fortunate that we can go and this can happen, and we hope that it will all go smoothly.”

Jockeys will be weighed in different rooms and there are single-occupancy cabins for all arriving at Cheltenham, while “once we enter the race course, we’re not allowed to leave”, Mr de Bromhead added.

“The Irish area is not allowed to mix with the British. We’ve all been tested two weeks, then again 72 hours before heading to England.

“We’re then tested before we leave and again five days after we come back. It’s strict but credit to Cheltenham and the IHRB for putting these protocols in place.”

Beyond Cheltenham, Mr de Bromhead is adamant that racing “can’t become accustomed” to meeting without crowds as it has done for almost a year: “It’s not only financially. It’s also about the atmosphere, meeting people, that’s got a lot to do with it.

“I’m sort of apprehensively excited for it this year, it’s usually a very turbulent week. You’re running your best horses but so is everyone else. I’m hoping for a good run, a bit of luck and that everyone comes back safe and sound.”

Six-month ban

As punishment for the photo of him atop the dead horse, Gordon Elliot has been banned from the industry for six months. The owners of a number of the horses at his farm sent their animals to other trainers so they could race this week, with Mr de Bromhead taking in dual Cheltenham winner Envoi Allen.

Taking on the horse in that manner was “absolutely” not ideal, Mr de Bromhead said. “You don’t want to get horses in those circumstances but we feel very fortunate that they [owners Cheveley Park Stud] decided to send them to us.”

Mr Elliot has also been only a been phone call away to help settle Envoi Allen into its new surroundings. “Gordon was really helpful, he wants the best for those horses so he was there and I’m really grateful for that.”

The horse might not be the only animal disrupted by a change to its routine considering the lack of thousands roaring and cheering at each race.

“The crowd can rev some horses up which might benefit some and not others. So, for example, we have a horse called Notebook which can get quite wound up at festival meetings when there’s a big crowd there – he can benefit from that. But, on the other hand, we have horses that would be quite laid back so it could work differently for them.

“Obviously it’s a real shame that we can’t have crowds but I suppose credit to everyone involved that we can still run the meeting.”