Racegoers cheer Cheltenham return

Spectators returned to Cheltenham on Friday for the first time since the Festival in March.

Meetings in October and November were run behind closed doors, with only essential personnel and a limited number of owners in attendance, but the change in Government restrictions regarding crowds at sporting events meant up to 2,000 annual members could be on track.

Social distancing was adhered to, with masks worn throughout.

“The signage is very clear and some of the bars are even open,” said Ben Bramley, who made the journey from North Yorkshire.

“All members had to go in a ballot for the two days, but I think I’m right in saying everyone got what they wanted.

Socially distanced bookmakers at Cheltenham
Socially distanced bookmakers at Cheltenham (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

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“It’s very well organised, signs for where you can and can’t go, but it was a real whimper that greeted the first race – I was expecting a bit more of a cheer to be honest!”

Neil and Janet Iveson are annual members and were delighted to be back on a racecourse for the first time since attending all four days of the Festival in March.

“We don’t like to miss a meeting at Cheltenham if we can help it, so after the disappointment of being unable to attend in October or November, it’s brilliant to be back,” said Janet Iveson.

“We actually haven’t been racing since Cheltenham Gold Cup day. It’s obviously a very different experience, but it’s better than not being able to go racing at all and we’re just thankful to be here.

“It was exciting watching the first race as we actually ended up standing close to the winning owners, who were very excited.

Racegoers at Cheltenham
Racegoers at Cheltenham (PA)

“We definitely feel very safe. Everyone is wearing a mask and you’re not stood that close to anybody else as there is so much room.”

David Pipe won the opening race with Make Me A Believer and said: “He got a great reception and it was lovely to hear it again.

“This is the first time I’ve been back at the races when there has been a crowd. It is great to have them back. Walking back into that winner’s enclosure, there was still an atmosphere.”

Ian Renton, Cheltenham and South West regional director of The Jockey Club, said: “We are close to the 2,000 limit.

“We’ve managed to accommodate virtually all our annual members, those that are eligible to come. Those that are in Tier 3, unfortunately we have had to exclude them. There is no public here, it is just members.

“It is a very small crowd, but it is lovely to see such happy people racing here for the first time since March. We had a fantastic finish to the first race. The atmosphere is surprisingly good for a small crowd.

“In October we had a good complement of owners here, November seemed a very strange meeting where we were limited to 45 owners each day.

“Normally you would look back at the stands and think ‘isn’t this sad to see it so sparse’, but for us it is fantastic to look back at the stands and think we have socially-distanced people doing exactly what they should be doing and wearing their masks.”

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