There are just 64 days to go until the 2021 Cheltenham Festival. The best that jumps racing has to offer will descend on Prestbury Park for four days of fantastic of spellbinding action.
28 races will be run over the course of the Festival, with fifteen of them being Grade 1 events. We’ll see dominant winners, fantastic stories and incredible courage.
With COVID-19 still a huge part of our daily lives, there is plenty of uncertainty surrounding the 2021 Festival. We’ve gone through what we do know for sure, and the questions that will need answering, below.
What we do know about this year’s Festival
When is the 2021 Cheltenham Festival?
The 2021 Festival will begin on Tuesday the 16th of March and will run through until March 20th. There are four Championship races to look forward too, with those being:
- Tuesday – Champion Hurdle (Best of the two-mile hurdlers)
- Wednesday – Champion Chase (Best of the two-mile chasers)
- Thursday – Stayers Hurdle (Best of the staying hurdlers)
- Friday – Gold Cup (Best of the staying chasers)
What’s the feature race of the meeting?
The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the feature race of the meeting. It’s the most important prize in jumps racing and crowns the best stayer of the season. Won by some of the all-time greats, Al Boum Photo bids join an elite class by landing a third Gold Cup.
In total, there will be 28 races, seven on each day of the meeting. With 15 Grade 1 races, Cheltenham brings together the best that jumps racing has to offer. The Supreme kicks off the Festival on the Tuesday, with the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle bringing the curtain down three days later.
Who are the leading Cheltenham Festival trainers and jockeys?
Ireland has dominated in both categories at recent Festivals. In fact, the last time a British trainer won the leading trainer title was back in 2012. Willie Mullins has that accolade on lock, with seven of the last 10 titles going his way.
In terms of jockeys, the Festival was Ruby Walsh’s playground until his recent retirement. Nico De Boinville claimed 2019 and Paul Townend grabbed last season’s prize, with both in the 2021 discussion. Watch out for Harry Cobden, however, who has a strong Paul Nicholls armoury underneath him.
Questions that need to be answered
Will the Festival go ahead?
It’s a valid question, given the current situation with the new strain of COVID-19 that has caused another National Lockdown. Elite Sport has continued once again, however, and it is set to stay that way with strict protocols in place.
We can’t read the future, but as things stand, it would be a surprise if the Festival was unable to go ahead this year.
Will spectators be allowed?
At this early stage, it’s very difficult to see crowds being allowed into Cheltenham for the Festival. England is currently in a National Lockdown until at least the middle of February, with contingency for that to remain in place until the end of March. With Cheltenham set to begin on the 16th of March, an extension of the lockdown would immediately rule it out.
Even if the National Lockdown does end, it would be surprising if the event wasn’t behind closed doors. The country is likely to head back into the tiered system and even if that did allow spectators back into sporting events, it would be just 4000 people in the best case scenario.
Will Irish runners be able to attend?
The allure of the Cheltenham Festival is the best horses competing for the biggest prizes. Without Irish runners, it would certainly take the shine of jump racing’s showpiece. At the last two Cheltenham Festivals, horses trained in Ireland made up for 38% of the entries, which goes to show just how important Ireland is to the spectacle.
With two months to go, there has to be optimism that a solution will be made to allow Irish runners to Cheltenham, even at the worst case scenario. There may not be as many Irish runners as at previously Festivals, but it would be a surprise, from our point of view, if we saw no Irish participants at all.