Picture: JEFF GRIFFITH/UNSPLASH
Picture: JEFF GRIFFITH/UNSPLASH

With Cheltenham racing fans confined to the sofa, the famous Cotswolds racecourse will seem an eerie place as the annual festival kicks off on Tuesday.

Racing is due to return to limited crowds in the UK on step three of lockdown exit starting on May 15 with officials in consultation as to whether the threshold for attendance will be 4,000 or 10,000 at that point.

The FA Cup final on May 15 and World Snooker Championships — which start on April 17 — are both in line to be involved as part of the four-step road map out of lockdown. Culture secretary Oliver Dowden said these events will be crucial in finding ways to get fans and audiences back in safely without social distancing.

This, however, is too late for Cheltenham with trainer Paul Nicholls commenting: “It is going to be quite a shock for the horses too.”

Some racing fans are apparently planning to turn up to watch the action from Cleeve Hill at the far end of the racetrack. Police plan to mount patrols to prevent crowds from forming there.

British Horseracing Authority secretary Julie Harrington put a positive spin on the meeting. She said: “We want the coverage to be about the great stories and the great achievements of the horses. It is the shop window for our sport. It’s an opportunity for us to really shine and tell the positive stories that are linked to our sport.”

The main race on Tuesday is the Champion Hurdle (5.05pm SA Time) which looks to be a three-horse affair between Honeysuckle, Goshen and Epatante. Preference is for Goshen who was impressive when winning the Kingwell Hurdle.

Irish raider Busselton could go well at a big price in the Boodles Hurdle while Nicholls’ runner Next Destinatio, has strong claims in the final race on the card.

The Vaal hosts an eight-race programme on Tuesday and trainer Robbie Sage’s filly Euphoriant appeals as a solid each-way wager in the fifth race. Lotus, the mount of champion jockey Warren Kennedy, deserves her position as favourite, but Euphoriant is drawn in pole position and should go well in the hands of promising apprentice Cole Dicken.

Though only eight runners face the starter in the fourth race, this is a tricky handicap that should chiefly concern four runners — Sell High, Nartjie, Johnny Hero and Zeal And Zest.

Piere Strydom, who won on Johnny Hero last week, is sure to have been offered the ride again on Johnny Hero, but he has opted to partner Dorrie Sham’s recent dead-heater Sell High. Possibly he feels the race has come too soon for Tyrone Zackey’s four-year-old.

Even so, Mike de Kock’s three-year-old Nartjie has strong claims in this 2,000m event as the gelding’s form includes a second behind SA Classic runner-up Second Base.

SELECTIONS

1st Race: (2) Sarsaparilla (1) Belle Of Belize (11) Lee Express (4) Fasinada

2nd Race: (2) Qunetra (1) Raisetheredlantern (12) Southern Song (5) Freezing Fast

3rd Race: (5) Varina (1) Winter Smoke (4) Slalom Queen (6) Jam Fancy

4th Race: (5) Nartjie (3) Sell High (2) Johnny Hero (6) Zeal And Zest

5th Race: (10) Euphoriant (2) Lotus (7) Last Cheer (1) Liverpool Legend

6th Race: (3) Masaaken (1) Amberglo Star (2) Arizona Lady (4) Crusade To Royalty

7th Race: (1) Gal Gadot (2) Bedouin Bride (3) Love Posy (5) Opera Glass

8th Race: (2) Prince Evlanoff (14) Magic Vision (7) Stop For Nothing (9) Waqaas

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