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Winter could still have a further sting in its tail, but nothing signals spring quite like the Cheltenham festival.
A combination of late wintry conditions and broader global events have caused disruption to a greater or lesser degree in recent years, so there’s a sense of quiet optimism that we are due a classic festival without interruptions in 2022 – indeed, tickets for the Gold Cup sold out before the end of January!
Four days and 28 races
The Festival gets underway at 1:30PM on Tuesday 15 March with the traditional opener, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Race. It’s often chaotic due to the large number of runners and the “Cheltenham roar” from the spectators, which will probably hit record volume this year. That’s the first of 28 races, and the festival closes on Friday with the Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, which gets underway at 5:30PM.
Of course, the major focus will be on each day’s showcase race: The Champion Hurdle on Monday, The Queen Mother Chase on Tuesday, The Stayers Hurdle on Thursday and of course the Gold Cup on Friday. All the bookmakers are limbering up for the big event and OnTheBallBets have a list of betting offers that are well worth a look.
Putting the controversy behind it
Back in 2020, the Cheltenham Festival was one of the last major sporting events to take place before the world shut down. It was a controversial decision at the time, and it was followed up last year by a highly muted festival with barely anyone in attendance.
This year, the track will be open at full capacity, with up to 65,000 spectators expected each day. As we mentioned, tickets for the Gold Cup have already sold out, and other tickets are selling fast. Precautions will be unobtrusively in place. Spectators will be asked to demonstrate they are fully vaccinated, exempt or have submitted a negative test in the last 48 hours. Masks will be available at the gate and recommended in enclosed or crowded areas, but will not be mandatory.
The Cheltenham Roar will be a welcome sound this year. It’s not the only Cheltenham festival that was conspicuous by its absence in 2021. Tuesday will be Ladies Day and on Thursday, the St Patrick’s Day celebrations will quite possibly drown out the racing. After the past couple of years, we all deserve it.