It has been a tough twelve months. There is no disputing that restrictions have taken their toll and while some sports remain on hold, others have been successful in terms of getting back to some semblance of normality.
Racing was postponed for a short period of time in 2020 but concessions were made, allowing the sport to re-start, albeit behind closed doors.
Essentially only minimal staff were allowed at the courses but no owners or fans could attend race meetings. And this has so far worked and worked well.
However, one major aspect of the industry that has been hit hard is race sponsorship. Over the last six months, notable sponsors of some of the biggest Cheltenham races have fallen by the wayside.
RSA Novices Chase
RSA Insurance was the longest standing sponsor at the Festival. Supporting the RSA Chase since 1974, it was a 46-year relationship that came to an end in October 2020. With little or no warning given, Cheltenham executives were left scrambling to find a new sponsor for the race.
At the time, Ian Renton, the Jockey Club’s regional director for Cheltenham said: ‘It is understandable that a number of businesses are reassessing their future marketing and hospitality commitments in the current climate.
“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.’
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And so began the hunt for a new sponsor. With little under a month to the Festival, on February 9th, The Jockey Club were able to announce that Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable had stepped in.
Previously they had sponsored the Plate on day three of the Cheltenham Festival but switched their backing to the novice chase as part of a new three-year deal. As such, the race will now be run as the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.
Ian Renton said: “We are very grateful to Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable for their continued and generous support at Cheltenham.
“Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable have been a pleasure to work with and we look forward to continuing our association with this exciting new sponsorship deal.”
The Magners Gold Cup
Having dealt with one blow in October, the Jockey Club found itself back at square one again November. Magners pulled the plug on potentially extending its sponsorship of the Gold Cup.
Magners had a three-year deal which included an option to extend for a further 12 months. However, they decided against the extension and opted not to renew the contract.
While that was certainly unwelcome news it still left the 2021 Gold Cup relatively unscathed. That was until February 11th. Magners announced that it had pulled out of backing March’s Cheltenham Festival and with it the sponsorship of the Gold Cup was gone.
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Rather than look for another sponsor, The Jockey Club instead announced a new charity partnership with WellChild.
WellChild is the national charity for seriously ill children and headquartered in Cheltenham. More than 100,000 children and young people are living with serious illness or exceptional health needs across the UK. Without the type of support WellChild offers, many can spend months or even years in hospital.
Having seen their donations drop by 60% in 2020, the hope is that the Festival can build significant awareness and inspire donations for WellChild. So for 2021 the Gold Cup will be called Wellchild Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase.
Legendary jockey AP McCoy joined WellChild as an ambassador saying: “I’ve seen the good work the charity has undertaken over the past few years and I’m looking forward to being more involved.
“It’s been a difficult year for the charity, the children and the families it supports so I’m hoping to do what I can to support them with their important work.”
Arkle Chase Sponsors
While it may not be the biggest race as the Festival, the Arkle is one the most well-known. Previously sponsored by the Racing Post, they also ended their deal in 2020.
Soon after, Sporting Life was unveiled as the new sponsor of the Arkle Challenge Trophy. Their’s is a three-year deal as they take on one of the highlights of the opening day of The Festival.
So for now it looks like the Cheltenham Festival is back on track. Undoubtedly the search will continue for a corporate sponsor of the Gold Cup for 2022. However, with the Arkle Chase and the Novice Chase taken care of, there’s less pressure for 2021.
So who will win the inaugural Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy? Shishkin is the favourite but Energumene from Willie Mullins is right up there. As an ambassador for Sporting Life, Mullins will be keen to add that win to his overflowing trophy cabinet.