Cheltenham racecourse, the home of National Hunt racing, is expected to face a loss of at least £15m in ticket revenue alone following Tuesday’s announcement that paying spectators are almost certain to be absent from British racecourses for the next six months.
The period to the end of March 2021 includes all but three of Cheltenham’s 16 annual race days, and all of the major fixtures during the winter campaign including the three-day BetVictor Gold Cup in November, the International meeting the following month and the National Hunt Festival in mid-March.
Cheltenham would normally welcome around 430,000 racegoers to its 13 race days between October and March. While precise details of revenue from individual tracks in the Jockey Club Racecourses group are undisclosed, ticket prices at the course range from £20 to £100 according to the enclosure and meeting, and an annual badge for the 2019-20 season costs £410, an average of around £25 per day.
Taking £50 as an average price of admission, and allowing for VAT, the course stands to miss out on at least £15m from ticket sales alone, before other customer-dependent sources of revenue such as hospitality and betting are taken into account.
It is a daunting prospect for the sport as Cheltenham prepares for its season-opening two-day meeting next month, and the prospect of an entire winter campaign played out in front of empty stands.
“At the moment the various racing authorities are trying to get as much clarity as possible,” Ian Renton, Jockey Club Racecourses’ regional director for Cheltenham and the South West, said on Tuesday, “but on the face of it, it looks likely to have a significant effect on our season.
“We can’t put a figure on exactly how much it would cost, but it would be massive because unlike many smaller courses where media rights make up a significant amount of revenue, it’s the reverse for larger courses, where attendance and hospitality make up a large part of our revenue.
“All we can do is minimise our costs over the period. Sports generally, including racing, will be seeking government intervention to ensure that courses can survive this period.
“It’s not only the racecourses. The owners, trainers, jockeys and stable staff also need the prize money and when a racecourse is making a loss, it’s very difficult to invest in prize money as well. The fixed costs remain, so all we can do is manage the variable costs [such as prize money] as best we can.”
The Festival is also estimated to be worth at least £100m to Cheltenham’s local economy, while its other main meetings would also normally attract tens of thousands of racegoers to the town, packing out its hotels, restaurants and bars. Aintree’s Grand National Festival in April is the second-biggest earner in JCR’s portfolio and having been forced to cancel the meeting this year there must now be major doubts about the possibility of any significant attendance in 2021.
As for Cheltenham, Renton and his team can only plan for the worst and hope for the best. “We’ve been planning for months for every eventuality,” he says. “Our team is the most efficient you can imagine, they would normally have had everything in place for the 2021 Festival before the 2020 Festival has taken place.
“Things change on a daily basis and what we were anticipating a week ago could be very different from what we will be anticipating in a week’s time.”
Tuesday’s news arrived a day after Warwick opened its doors to just under 500 paying customers, with strict protocols in place to ensure social distancing, and Renton, like many track executives, and would-be racegoers for that matter, is convinced courses can provide a secure environment.
“Walking into the hospitality area there, there’s no doubt that the social distancing taking place is superior to 90%-plus of the establishments you’ll go into around the country,” he said. “That would be a small benefit to racecourses if, as we saw at Warwick, hospitality and loyal annual members get the opportunity to return at any stage. There’s always hope that something similar can return in the not-too-distant future.”
Wednesday’s best bets, by Chris Cook
It looks like Clondaw Storm (5.20) may start favourite on his first outing for Nigel Twiston-Davies in a handicap chase at Perth. Having opened at 11-2, the grey is down to 100-30 and that still strikes me as fair.
He was second in an Irish point that has worked out pretty well, the third now being rated 143. Clondaw Storm is rated 98, having achieved little in his handful of runs for Christopher Kellett, but Kellett has a poor win-rate and his strength seems to lie in preparing horses for his employers, the owners of Clondaw Storm, before they go elsewhere. Kilfilum Cross, for example, was well beaten in two runs for Kellett but won first time out for Henry Oliver and was then runner-up in the Kim Muir.
Listen Again (1.35) looks big at 12-1 in Redcar’s second race, having done well to be fourth after rearing at the start last time. There’s also some juice in the 11-2 about Roger Varian’s Motamayiz (3.50), who has form figures of 1121 in turf handicaps and has the useful Ray Dawson up.
Wednesday’s horse racing tips
Tips by Chris Cook
1.00 Beautiful News 1.35 Listen Again 2.05 Action Hero 2.40 Ascot Week 3.15 Mark’s Choice 3.50 Motamayiz 4.20 Montalvan 4.55 Highjacked
1.15 Act Of Wisdom 1.50 Willie John 2.20 The Lamplighter 2.55 Bullfinch 3.30 Vindolanda 4.05 Mostawaa 4.40 Just Glamorous
1.55 First Man 2.30 Alpha Carinae 3.05 Vino’s Choice 3.40 I’d Better Go Now 4.15 La Bague Au Roi 4.50 Methodtothemadness 5.20 Clondaw Storm (nap) 5.50 Nye Bevan
4.25 Expert Opinion 5.00 Secret Protector 5.30 Underwater Attack 6.00 Tawreed 6.30 Tie A Yellowribbon (nb) 7.00 Never Alone 7.30 Island Nation 8.00 Under Curfew
At Kempton, Tie A Yellowribbon (6.30) has joined Varian’s former assistant, Terry Kent, from Ireland and might be worth chancing at 10-1. She’s been dropped a few pounds while continuing to show ability and is finally stepping up to the distance suggested by her pedigree.