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Racing returns to Cheltenham on Friday with the track facing the prospect of no spectators at the festival next year and looking for replacements for two of its sponsors.
Racemail can reveal that the Covid-19 crisis has prompted the Racing Post to end support of the Arkle Novices' Chase and the RSA Insurance Group have also ended backing of the grade one three-mile novices' chase.
While the exit of the Racing Post is not unexpected - the sport's trade paper had to shut down its print edition during the country's lockdown - the loss of RSA is a symbolic blow. © Provided by Daily MailCheltenham have been dealt a blow ahead of racing returning there as two sponsors pulled out
© Provided by Daily MailRSA Insurance group ended their backing of the grade one three-mile novices' chase
The company were Cheltenham's longest standing sponsor, having stepped in to support the race in 1974 when it was known as the Sun Alliance Novices' Chase.
It is an additional headache for track owners the Jockey Club, who are also searching for a replacement sponsor for the Derby following Investec's departure.
Ian Renton, the Jockey Club's regional director for Cheltenham and the South West, said: 'It is understandable that a number of businesses are reassessing their future marketing and hospitality commitments in the current climate, and although we are saddened to lose any longstanding partner, this is a fantastic opportunity to become involved with a Grade One Novice Chase at the festival.'
In a normal season, preparing for the 2021 festival would be well advanced but last month's Government announcement of Covid-19 measures which could last six months have left plans in limbo. © Provided by Daily MailThe company were Cheltenham's longest running supporter after backing them since 1974
The Jockey Club have some insurance cover for their biggest meetings, but that only limits the financial damage of a crowd-less festival.
Renton added: 'It has been an incredibly valuable cushion this year and will also be helpful during the forthcoming season.
'It saves us from the worst effects but the insurance does not cover everything.
'The Jockey Club are looking at a loss of revenue in the region of £90million by the end of this year. For that to continue into next year is going to be a huge blow. © Provided by Daily MailThe Racing Post's departure is expected after the paper was forced to stop its print this year
'Six or seven weeks ago we were reasonably hopeful that things might improve and we might have a few people coming to the festival. As things stand, that look less likely, but things can change again.'
The festival in March went ahead with Government support, but as the first wave of the virus caused the country to go into lockdown, pictures of the packed stands at Cheltenham drew criticism. Renton concedes that will prompt scrutiny on this week's two-day meeting.
He added: 'The team involved in the preparation are making sure the behind closed door operation is as efficient and effective as it can be.'Read more