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HORSE RACING: Fan violence threatens to overshadow Cheltenham – Opinion

Racecourse violence has to stop before it casts a black cloud over The National Hunt’s showpiece event.

This weekend saw yet more violence at Haydock Park in the lead up to the last race. The violent incident follows on from ugly scenes at Goodwood and Ascot that blighted the flat season last summer. These shocking scenes that are becoming all too common pile pressure on The Cheltenham Festival to get things right. Horse Racing’s jewel in the crown event takes place in just three weeks and there is huge demand to create safe racing atmosphere for all in attendance.

The majority of the incidents are caused, of course, by alcohol and The Jockey Club follow football’s lead by not allowing alcohol to be taken in front of the course. This, however, does not seem to be stopping the problem and many have called for increased security to make sure punters behaving anti-socially can be controlled.

With these altercations becoming more common it leaves questions over whether racing fans may be put off attending with their families in case of violence. This, in turn, could be catastrophic from a business point of view with sponsorship on the wane and poor tickets sales at local tracks already occurring within the sport.

Flash forward to similar disturbances at Cheltenham and this could cost the sport hundreds of thousands in lost revenue and be catastrophic for local business.

Many may think that The Cheltenham Festival is above this type of behaviour but this is not the case.

At the December meeting I witnessed a huge brawl at the local Wetherspoons after the racing had finished. This consumed many members of the general public, surely leaving them with a strongly held opinion of the cliental who attend the racecourse.

The fight involved as many as 20 punters who had all attended the racing during the afternoon. Any repeat of this in March would see national headlines and be a real stain on the sport as it steps out into the spotlight for its big celebration of racing.

Furthermore, a startling correlation between these cases is beginning to emerge. Both the incidents at Ascot and Goodwood fell when there was no Premier League football at the weekend. This weekend saw The Premier League take another break and the violence at horse racing again ensue. The next Premier League break takes place a week after The Cheltenham Festival and could have adverse effects on the four-day meet.

As a huge horse racing fan myself it is such a shame to see a minority of fans take the headlines away from a stunning weekend of racing. I believe that increased security is needed at tracks around the country but especially at such a spectacle as the Cheltenham Festival.

Sizing John won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2017

On Sunday morning we were left to read articles on yet another case of violence rather than Paul Nicholls eight-timer or the retirement of Gold Cup hero Coneygree.

 For the benefit of the sport and the business Cheltenham Festival has to run smoothly and policing and security need to be changed in order to ensure that this is the case.

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