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.
“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.”
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.
“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.”