Alcester trainer Dan Skelton says Cheltenham Festival will be "strange" without fans
DAN Skelton admits it’s going to be a strange experience seeing no fans take in four glorious days of racing at the Cheltenham Festival next week.
This year’s Festival, which runs from Tuesday, 16th to Friday, 19th March, will be a much quieter affair because no spectators will be allowed to enter Prestbury Park due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Although trainers have got used to the lack of crowds over the past year, Skelton told the Herald the Festival atmosphere will be sorely missed this time around.
“It’s definitely going to be a strange experience,” he said. “When you go to Cheltenham it’s a bit of a carnival atmosphere, with four days of racing to celebrate the whole sport.
"There’s a lot of competitive races and the crowd really makes the atmosphere.
"It’s going to be unusual having no fans for the Festival, but hopefully we can have them back next year.
“Trainers have certainly become familiar to the lack of crowds, but it is what it is.
"Everyone has had different experiences throughout the pandemic, but we’re lucky to be able to keep doing what we are doing.”
Looking ahead to Cheltenham, one of Skelton’s key horses to look out for this year is the in-form Allmankind, who is running in Tuesday’s Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase (Grade 1).
The five-year-old has won his last three races going into the Festival, most recently a barnstorming 14-length success at Warwick on 15th February in the Agetur UK Kingmaker Novices’ Chase (Grade 2).
“I’m looking forward to go to Cheltenham with Allmankind and I’m pretty confident he can compete at the highest level, but it’s going to a very strong race,” said Skelton.
Other horses to look out for this year from Skelton’s Shelfield Green stable are Nube Negra and Third Time Lucki.
Nube Negra runs in Wednesday’s Queen Mother Champion Chase and has not run since an impressive three-and-a-half-length success at Kempton on 27th December.
Having been held up in the rear at the start, the seven-year-old soon made headway through the field, overtaking strong favourite Altior after the penultimate fence before easing to a fine victory.
Meanwhile, Third Time Lucki has been put forward for Friday’s County Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3), which Skelton has won three times in the last five years.
Third Time Lucki’s last outing was a fourth-placed finish at Musselburgh on 7th February, but Skelton believes the six-year-old could be in with a chance of Festival success if the rain stays away.
“Both Nube Negra’s and Third Time Lucki’s preparations in training this week have been going good,” he said.
“If the rain stays away, I think both of them will have a good chance in their respective races.”
ITV will be showing six races each day, meaning 24 races will be available to fans on free-to-air television.