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Equestrian sport restart pushed back: no fans at Cheltenham Festival

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  • The restart of the equestrian competition calendar has been further pushed back owing to the ongoing pandemic restrictions.

    British Dressage (BD) is the latest governing body to announce an extension of its sporting suspension, with all training and competition activity on hold up to and including 7 March.

    Cheltenham racecourse’s latest update, posted following the cancellation of Festival Trials Day (30 January) owing to waterlogging, states that under the current measures, there will be no spectators at the Cheltenham Festival (16 to 19 March).

    The notice states: “Under current restrictions, the Festival will take place as a televised event, but sadly without spectators at the course”.

    It adds the racecourse will continue to monitor Government guidance and should this change ahead of the Festival, it will “act accordingly”.

    The restart of the 2020/21 point-to-point season has been pushed back to 13 March “at the earliest”, while the 2021 British Eventing season will now not start until at least 26 March.

    Thoresby Park International (1 to 4 April), Britain’s opening spring FEI fixture that replaced Belton in the eventing calendar and would have likely served as a spring preparation run for Badminton contenders, is the first major UK eventing fixture to be cancelled. Kentucky CCI5* (22-25 April) is the biggest international casualty of the 2021 eventing season so far.

    A number of spring and early-summer county shows have also pulled the plug for this year.

    BD chief executive Jason Brautigam said the organisation wants to provide members with “as clear a picture as possible” before it puts plans into action for a return to training and competition.

    “However, we can only do so once we have more definitive timescales from the respective governments around the relaxation of lockdown restrictions,” he said.

    “We appreciate that members will have questions and concerns about their qualifications and campaigns, but once again we request for your patience and understanding while we await further information at the next review stage.”

    The BD “return to play” operational plan is likely to be released by the end of February.

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    Mr Brautigam added: “A number of options, involving various different scenarios, are already in motion and we’ll release our operational roadmap later this month that works in everyone’s best interests, within the time frames available.

    “Uncertainty only compounds the challenges of lockdown, so we want to give all of our stakeholders a clear sense of direction as soon as we can, in order to start planning for the season ahead. Once again, flexibility and understanding will be key to a successful and safe return to action and we are very grateful to members for all of their support to date.”

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