A different Cheltenham Festival awaits next week. The Festival is now supporting Wellchild and, with Magners terminating their sponsorship early, the concluding fourth day will feature the Wellchild Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The course will be devoid of owners and the usual 50,000 racegoers, while the three races – the Kim Muir, the National Hunt Chase and the Cheltenham Foxhunters, normally much sought after for amateur riders to gain on their CV – will have professional jockeys in the saddle, with amateurs still banned from riding due to Covid restrictions.
The trio of races also have changes, with the Foxhunters becoming the St James Palace Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Steeple Chase with the Fox disappearing. The Grade 2 National Hunt Steeple Chase Challenge Cup (Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Steeple Chase) is cut in distance and the pro jockeys will be aboard runners.
The four days of racing, which has gained additional terrestrial television coverage, will be staged under a cloud, following last week’s adverse media reports on horse racing and the Cheltenham Festival is certain to come under even more intense scrutiny.
The focus of the Dromara-based Mackey family will be solely ‘Native River’, which they bred and is attempting a repeat victory in the Gold Cup. The local breeders will be hoping rain arrives to supply soft ground for the 2018 Gold Cup winner, which bounced back to form for trainer, Colin Tizzard when scoring at Sandown in February on heavy going and the former Welsh Grand National winner also having twice been placed in the Cheltenham Blue riband of chasing, amassing in excess of a million in prize money for connections.
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