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WellChild officials thrilled with money raised by racing community

WellChild chief executive Colin Dyer hailed the racing community after more than £150,000 was raised for the charity during the Cheltenham Festival.

The charity, which is headquartered in Cheltenham, was named as a title partner for the meeting in February, with the aim of raising not only money, but also awareness of its work.

Cheltenham’s owners Jockey Club Racecourses recognised WellChild in the title of the feature Gold Cup, and also utilised space around the track to promote the name.

WellChild’s principal aim is to prevent seriously ill children from spending long spells in hospitals, instead supporting families in providing the necessary care from home.

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The charity lost 60 per cent of its projected income when the coronavirus crisis took hold last year, but their funds have received a big boost over the last four days.

Several figures from the racing world have provided donations, including owners the Masterson family and Marie Donnelly, who both contributed £10,000 after Appreciate It and Shishkin’s respective wins on Tuesday. Sky Bet, sponsors of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, donated the same amount.

Dyer said: “After what has been such a challenging year for WellChild and the families we support, partnership with the Festival has been such a welcome boost to everyone connected to the charity.

“From the branding across the racecourse, including a 750sqm logo in front of the grandstand to the tens of thousands of pounds and counting in donations we have received so far, it has been so heart-warming to see the whole racing community get behind WellChild.

“This support means so much and will help us ensure we are ready to respond to the needs of families caring for a seriously ill child this year and into the future. A huge thank you to the Jockey Club, our amazing ambassador (ITV presenter) Ed Chamberlin and the entire racing community!”

Coronavirus restrictions meant the meeting had to take place behind closed doors, but Ian Renton, the Jockey Club’s regional managing director, believes armchair fans will still have had plenty to savour.

He said: “We’ve just seen four fantastic days of racing with some amazing performances on the track and milestones achieved by Rachael Blackmore and Henry de Bromhead.

“Honeysuckle’s performance in the Unibet Champion Hurdle was a real standout on the first day and Henry’s one-two in the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup saw him become the first trainer in history to win that, the Unibet Champion Hurdle and the Betway Champion Chase at the same Festival.

“We hope that racing fans watching at home in large numbers have really enjoyed the very best jump racing has to offer.”

WellChild has ‘dream opportunity’ as Cheltenham Gold Cup partner

Children’s charity WellChild will take centre stage this week as the partner of jump racing’s most revered event, the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

WellChild announced its association with the Jockey Club in February following cider brand Magners’ decision to cease sponsorship of the Festival showpiece in December last year.

Rather than seeking an alternative sponsor, the Jockey Club instead chose to strike up a partnership with the Cheltenham-based charity.

This year’s race will therefore be run as the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday.

WellChild’s principal aim is to prevent seriously ill children from spending long spells in hospitals, instead supporting families in providing the necessary care from home.

The charity’s links with the sport can be traced back to ITV Racing anchor Ed Chamberlin, who has been an ambassador for WellChild since 2012.

He was drawn to support the organisation after witnessing life in an adjacent children’s ward when he himself was undergoing treatment for stomach cancer in Southampton Hospital.

“It’s probably eight years or more that Ed’s been involved,” said WellChild Chief Executive Colin Dyer.

“He came along to an event as a guest and he’d been quite ill himself – he was in hospital for a while, and he saw young people in hospital.

“WellChild’s big push is to make sure that children don’t spend months and months in hospital, and that they can be cared for at home. Ed vowed to himself that he would help, so when he heard of what we do it just touched a nerve with him – and he’s been involved ever since.

“He does our fundraising golf days, and a lot of the racing community started coming along to the things we did and getting involved.

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ITV Racing's Ed Chamberlin during St Patrick’s Thursday of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival
ITV Racing’s Ed Chamberlin at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival (Mike Egerton/PA)

“When this opportunity came along and they wanted to do this community-charity link, because the racing world has worked alongside us for a few years and heard our messages at events, it just seemed like a natural fit.

“He is fantastic for us, really passionate and pro-active, and has helped us hugely – especially now that we find ourselves as partners of the Cheltenham Gold Cup.”

While fronting the ITV Racing coverage, Chamberlin is often joined by 20-time champion jockey Sir Anthony McCoy – who has undertaken a punditry role since retiring from the saddle in 2015.

McCoy, who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Mr Mulligan in 1997 and Synchronised in 2012, recently announced he too will be joining WellChild to act as an ambassador for the Festival.

“He’s just signed on the dotted line,” said Dyer.

“We find that with something as emotive as the work that WellChild does, when people see a chance to help, they want to take that chance.

“Hopefully Ed and AP will be able to pick that up in the coverage and shine a light on us and highlight what we do. They’re both such positive people as well, and so well respected.”

Sir AP McCoy on Synchronised after winning the 2012 Cheltenham Gold Cup
Sir AP McCoy on Synchronised after winning the 2012 Cheltenham Gold Cup (David Jones/PA)

While Dyer naturally hopes that a raised awareness of the charity’s work will result in an upturn in donations, an equally important aim is to reach out to families who are in need of help but may not have heard of the organisation.

“What we always find is that one of the real positives from spreading the word far and wide is that it brings families to us – it unearths people who may not realise that WellChild can support them,” he said.

“If it brings new families who are caring for seriously ill children to us, to help us support them, then that’s the biggest success we could possibly have from this.

“The second thing is that we are voluntary-funded charity, everything that we are able to do comes from the money that we have raised ourselves, so it’s being able to explain to people why we need their support – whether it’s a pound or a hundred pounds.

“There’ll be a lot of ‘text to donate’ messages, and people will be able to go to our website and donate – but having the platform to find more families who need our support is just a great opportunity for us.”

The charity relies on events to generate much of its income and has inevitably found that its calendar has been decimated by the Covid-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdowns.

“About 60 per cent of our income comes from events – and every event went, every single one,” added Dyer.

“Everybody’s in the same boat, and this partnership will hopefully help us fill that gap. It’s a dream opportunity.

“We’ve only known about it for about four weeks now, and it’s already been crazy. It’s created such a sense of positivity in and around the charity, just to have something like this.

“We’ve already seen the generosity of the racing community over the past few years, and I think filling that gap that Covid has left is going to be a really important element of this.”

As is customary for partnerships in high-profile races, WellChild branding will adorn the boards up the run-in for the big race, with the winning horse also set to wear a rug decorated with sketches drawn by some of the children the charity supports.

WellChild's branding will replace the Magners branding seen behind 2020 winner Al Boum Photo
WellChild’s branding will replace the Magners boards seen behind 2020 winner Al Boum Photo (Tim Goode/PA)

“This isn’t just a ‘stick-a-badge-on-it’ exercise for them,” Dyer said of the Jockey Club’s involvement with the partnership.

“They’ve been really creative and they clearly want to make a difference with this, which is brilliant to see.

“That was the real clincher for us, seeing how much the Jockey Club wanted to get behind this themselves to make that difference.”

ITV’s coverage of the 2020 Cheltenham Gold Cup drew an audience of 1.9 million, and the channel’s viewership has since risen as lockdown restricts most people to their homes – meaning a sizeable percentage of the population is likely to gain an awareness of the charity’s work after watching this year’s race.

“It is already a bit surreal to hear people saying ‘the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup’,” said Dyer.

“To have that ability to shine the light and be shown in people’s homes, which we wouldn’t ever really be able to do, it’s just a brilliant opportunity.”

Jockey Club partnering with children’s charity for this year’s Cheltenham Festival

Next month’s Cheltenham Festival will be headlined by the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup following the announcement of a partnership between the national charity for seriously ill children and the Jockey Club.

More than 100,000 children and young people are seriously ill or have exceptional health needs.

WellChild, based in Cheltenham, seeks to help them and their families.

Jump racing’s flagship event, the Festival supporting WellChild, will be watched by a television audience of several million between March 16 and 19.

As Al Boum Photo bids to join an elite of four other all-time greats to have won three successive Cheltenham Gold Cups, however, no spectator presence is likely on course during the Government’s current Covid-19 restrictions for professional sport.

Sir Anthony McCoy is backing the WellChild initiative at Cheltenham
Sir Anthony McCoy is backing the WellChild initiative at Cheltenham (Brian Lawless/PA)
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The pandemic has had a major detrimental impact too on WellChild’s finances, with 60 per cent of its projected income lost – and the charity has also had to adapt its services to meet an urgent demand for help from families left alone to deliver round-the-clock care for their children.

The Jockey Club, which runs Cheltenham Racecourse, is hoping to build awareness and inspire donations for WellChild through a series of activities in the build up to the Festival.

Multiple champion jockey Sir Anthony McCoy said: “This is a fantastic move from the Jockey Club‘s team at Cheltenham.

“What WellChild does is just so important when you look at it, and I’m really pleased that the best four days in our sport are being put forward to help.

“Racing is a charitable sport, full of generous people, and I’m sure they’ll get right behind this. I’ll certainly support the charity in any way I can.”

Jockey Club regional managing director Ian Renton added: “WellChild plays a vital role in our society, supporting seriously ill children and young people, and those who care for them.

“Their services have been needed more than ever during the pandemic, and we are very proud indeed to help such an important charity among our communities, including in Cheltenham.

ITV Racing presenter Ed Chamberlin
ITV Racing presenter Ed Chamberlin (Julian Herbert/PA)

“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank (previous Festival sponsors) Magners for their support in 2019 and 2020, and express our gratitude to our various and valued partners who have retained their involvement with the Festival in 2021 and those we are welcoming for the first time.”

Ed Chamberlin, ITV Racing’s lead presenter and WellChild ambassador, said: “When I was being treated in Southampton Hospital the children’s cancer ward was next door and broke my heart.

“If I recovered (from stomach cancer) I vowed to support a charity that got children treated at home, rather than a hospital ward.

“The work WellChild do from their headquarters in Cheltenham with seriously ill children is truly remarkable.

“They, like all charities, have had a brutal year – and I’m so thrilled about this partnership.”