Aerial views on day one of the Cheltenham Festival which will be held behind closed doors for the first time in history

·2-min read

Eerie video of empty stands and deserted crowd enclosures show the stark reality of Covid restrictions on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival.The four-day horse racing spectacle which attracted 251,684 fans last year is taking place behind closed doors for the first time in its 161-year history.

Drone footage shows empty spectator stands, abandoned car parks and deserted fields which are usually bustling with racegoers.

Some of the stands have this year been covered with sponsors flags to avoid the stands looking so empty.

Last year, organisers were criticised for allowing the festival to go ahead despite fears of a growing coronavirus outbreak in the UK.

This year due to Covid only a few hundred will be allowed to attend, including jockeys, trainers, officials and limited media.

Despite the lack of crowds, the horses and riders hope to make history with this year's event.

Victory for the unbeaten mare Honeysuckle will earn Rachael Blackmore a place in folklore as the first woman to ride the Champion Hurdle winner.

Her rivals include last year's victor Epatante and the beaten Triumph Hurdle favourite Goshen.

A Cheltenham spokesperson: "Based on current Government restrictions, professional sport is able to continue under stringent health and safety protocols, without spectators present.

"In horseracing's case, this is vital to support the livelihoods of the many thousands of people who rely on the industry and for the welfare of the thousands of thoroughbred racehorses who live and train in Britain.

"This means that under current restrictions, The Festival will take place as a televised event, but sadly without spectators at the course.

"It's a real shame for the local economy and for racing fans that it's not possible for spectators to attend this year.

"However, just as last year when the festival went ahead in accordance with government advice that it should do so, we continue to respect and adhere to the nationwide restrictions in place."