The Cheltenham Gold Cup meeting may become an unwitting participant in the McManus-Magnier-Ferguson wrangle.

A group of Manchester United Football Club fans, calling themselves United4Action, are threatening to disrupt the Cheltenham Festival, and cause “immense embarrassment” to racehorse owner J P McManus, if their request to stage a protest on Gold Cup Day is refused.

McManus and Magnier increased their stock in Manchester United FC to nearly 30% last week. United4Action is heavily opposed to McManus’s and Magnier’s involvement in the club, especially in light of the dispute over ownership of Rock of Gibraltar, and would like to see the pair sell their shares.

Managing director at Cheltenham racecourse, Edward Gillespie, is trying to avoid any potential disruption at Cheltenham through diplomatic means. Although recent reports in the press suggest that Gillespie had agreed to United4Actions demands to stage a protest, he stressed that this is not the case.

Mr Gillespie told HHO: “I have invited United4Action’s lead protestor, Mr Murphy, to come and discuss the matter. I am still awaiting a response from him. We have identified a possible solution if [United4Action] are prepared to come and discuss it with us.

“He does of course have the right to protest peacefully in a public place, in which case it is a police matter but the racecourse is not a public place.”

Gillespie did not express too much concern regarding disruption to the racing itself, explaining that the dispute really had nothing to do with Cheltenham, it was just bad luck that the racecourse had got involved.

“So far, United4Action has indicated that its protests will be peaceful and within the confines of the law. The group’s threats are directed towards McManus and Magnier and not towards us. Our priority is simply to resolve this issue as quickly as possible so that we can concentrate on the festival.”

The festival looks set to be particularly competitive this year, with four of last year’s champions going forward to defend their titles. Best Mate will be attempting to land the Gold Cup for the third consecutive year, in a bid to become the first hat-trick winner of chasing’s top race since Arkle in 1964, 1965 and 1966.

Baracouda is also going for a festival hat-trick, having won the bonusprint.com Stayer’s Hurdle for the last two years. If successful, he would become the first horse to win the long-distance hurdling championship three times.

Rooster Booster was the decisive winner of the 2003 Smurfit Champion Hurdle and will be hoping to repeat this victory, while Moscow Flyer will attempt to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase for the second successive year.