Victorious Geraghty and McManus back in the Cheltenham spotlight

Mixed views among town residents as to whether event should have been cancelled

Trainer Nicky Henderson, owner JP McManus and jockey Barry Geraghty  celebrate after Dame De Compaigne’s victory in the Coral Cup Handicap Handicap Hurldle at Cheltenham. Photograph: Simon Cooper/PA

Trainer Nicky Henderson, owner JP McManus and jockey Barry Geraghty celebrate after Dame De Compaigne’s victory in the Coral Cup Handicap Handicap Hurldle at Cheltenham. Photograph: Simon Cooper/PA

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The star of Cheltenham Festival’s second day was Irish jockey Barry Geraghty who followed up securing a birthday victory for racehorse owner JP McManus on day one, by twice sailing across the finish line in first place on Wednesday.

In the RSA Novices’ Chase, the 40-year-old shocked the crowd by galloping from third to first in the closing stages on McManus’s Champ, flying past fellow Irish jockey Rachael Blackmore on Minella Indo, and race favourite Allaho.

Geraghty later secured McManus’s 62nd festival win on Dame De Compaigne in the Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle.

“I have a great job, I ride for a great man in JP,” said Geraghty, who now has 41 Cheltenham wins.

A fan favourite and two-time Grand National winner, Tiger Roll came second in the Cross Country Chase to McManus’s Easyland. But owner Michael O’Leary was absent from the festival – instead busy managing Ryanair amid the Covid-19 outbreak. Trevor Hemmings, another prolific racehorse owner, was also absent due to the virus.

The view from the grandstand as Envoi Allen ridden by Davy Russell wins the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle on day two of the Cheltenham Festival. Photograph: Tim Goode/PA Wire
The view from the grandstand as Envoi Allen ridden by Davy Russell wins the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle on day two of the Cheltenham Festival. Photograph: Tim Goode/PA Wire

Despite concerns that the close quarters of Cheltenham’s stands and bars are a perfect storm when it comes to the spread of the virus, event organisers and the estimated 60,000 punters were happy to see the racing go ahead.

Andrew, a retiree who travelled from Surrey in southern England, echoed the prevailing sentiment of most attendees when it comes to coronavirus.

“It’s a concern, but with so many other things going on at the races, I think it’s blown out of proportion,” he said.

The mood in the town of Cheltenham, away from the racecourse, was somewhat more varied. Steve, who was born and bred in Cheltenham, but is not a regular at the races, said the event should have been called off.

“In a few weeks there’ll be a lot of it [Covid-19] here. It’s not right that it went ahead,” he said. “But”, he added, “the revenue it brings in is huge, they don’t want to forgo that.”

Carl Hobson said the government made a mistake in its decision to not call off large scale gatherings.

“Is this where they learn a lesson?” he asked, a reference to concern that the festival might be a “guinea pig situation” which could see similar events in the very near future called off.

Huge blow

Jade, a carer for elderly people, said she had been frustrated since the races started, as she can no longer get the hand sanitiser she needs for her work due to thousands of people flooding to the down.

And Ms Hobbes (81), originally from Portsmouth, said she was “very surprised” that the festival went ahead.

“But it would lose us a lot of money, our council and government won’t let it go,” she said.

On Monday the government mooted plans to stage sporting events “behind closed doors” if health officials recommended the suspension of mass-gatherings. And while that outcome may have suited trainers, owners and jockeys – the local economy is a huge beneficiary of the Festival, making an estimated £100m over the four days.

Anna Gilda from north London at Cheltenham on Ladies’ Day. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Anna Gilda from north London at Cheltenham on Ladies’ Day. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Isabelle, who has never been to the races, says she’s “glad its gone ahead”.

“It’s such a money maker, it would be a huge blow to the town to lose it.”

Elisabeth Ogrodzki, who owns L’Artisan restaurant in central Cheltenham, said it “was a huge relief” that the races were not called off. Reservations had been declining due to fears about Covid-19.

“When coronavirus peaks in the next few weeks we will be very quiet” she said, adding that the money made over these four days “could help us survive”.

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