CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL is a minor state of chaos just 46 days until the first race on March 16.

Still there is no news on whether fans can attend – and even owners are in the dark.

Last March's Festival is the most recent memory of normal life before coronavirus ruined everything.


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More than 250,000 punters ploughed into the home of jump racing to drink, bet and have a good time.

But 12 months on, and on the back of the Festival Trials Day being axed due to the weather, so much remains up in the air this time round.

Still there is no word one way or the other on whether fans will be allowed.

An announcement was due earlier this month.

With the entire country in lockdown it is nigh-on certain the Festival will be held behind closed doors.

However, the director of Cheltenham, Ian Renton, has now refused to rule out the chance of spectators.

Speaking to ITV, Renton said: "If we were racing today we'd be racing behind closed doors, but [in] December we were allowed owners present and a few loyal racegoers, so we'll just have to wait and see what happens through February and March."

The most likely scenario is punters placing bets at home, with owners granted permission to attend.

But even that is a big area of uncertainty, as Paisley Park's owner Andrew Gemmell told the Racing Post.

The 68-year-old, who has been blind since birth, said: "It would be massively disappointing [if owners can't go] and I'm really hoping that it isn't the case.

"Cheltenham wouldn't be Cheltenham.

"It's bad enough without the spectators but if you're an owner and you can't go then it's very disappointing.

"I really hope that doesn't happen and I'd like to think it's in seven weeks' time and so we can be there."

Even if people are allowed to attend, the cap is almost certain to be 2,000.

And even then owners would get priority, with a small number of other tickets going to racecourse members.

The odds of your average punter being able to attend? Let's just say significantly bigger than the 12-1 Al Boum Photo was when winning the Gold Cup two years ago.

Barely a fortnight ago there was massive concern over whether Irish horses could even travel over.

A mix of Brexit red tape and coronavirus guidelines caused havoc with the planning of major yards, such as Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott.

That situation appears to have been partially resolved now – but not entirely.

Mullins has warned of 'colossal' tax bills coming the way of Irish handlers.

With travel restrictions for staff and new VAT bills since Britain officially left the EU, the usual smooth process of sending horses over had become a nightmare.

Trainers were set to be hit by a 20 per cent tax bill on every horse brought across.

But the issuing of 'temporary export documents' should wipe out the need for the charges.

Still, fellow top trainer Jessica Harrington has slammed the 'seriously annoying' level of extra paperwork involved in sending over runners.

And she said new rules and regulations had added more than £600 on top of usual costs.

Blasting the new process, she said: "It's more the paperwork, that's the problem and what costs money.

"Before, we could just drive to the ferry, get on one end and off the other, and the only costs you had were the box, diesel and the lads you took.

"Now we have all this paperwork to do for the Department of Agriculture and vets to pay to get all these forms done.

"That's what is so seriously annoying."

Everything has been made difficult by the pandemic – not least the planning of Cheltenham Festival 2021.

Let's hope we can all enjoy it safely – wherever we end up watching it.


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