Week of great anticipation and anxiety as Cheltenham set for festival without crowds
- Credit: PA
All roads would normally lead up the M5 and the West Coast train line would be buzzing for the annual Cheltenham Festival next week.
The trainers, jockeys , bookmakers and punters would have made their travel plans by now but in these unprecedented times some of them will have to settle for watching the extended ITV racing coverage at home.
The town of Cheltenham, which is normally a corner of Ireland in the third week of March every year, will take an immense economic hit without the thronging multitudes.
For the South West's racing community, however, it will still be a week of great anticipation and anxiety.
For the sports elite such as champion trainer Paul Nichols and his West Country rival Philip Hobbs' winners would always be expected and there is no reason for 2021 to be any different with leading fancies Bravesmansgame and Thyme Hill in the major races.
For the Buckfastleigh-based Frost family it is a particularly nerve-wracking time.
Dad Jimmy had three successes at the festival as a jockey, most noticeably when winning the Champion Hurdle on Morley Street.
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Son Hadden, now successfully plying his trade in America, also had a festival winner on Buena Vista in 2010.
This year, all eyes will be on daughter Bryony who rides her signature horse, Frodon, in the blue riband of the festival - The Cheltenham Gold Cup - on Friday, March 19.
The pair have already tasted festival success in the Ryan Air Chase in 2019 but winning the Gold Cup would take the Devon girl's career to another level.
Hope is high, however, especially after a comfortable success in the season's second biggest event - the King George VI chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Dad Jimmy is always coy about his daughter's prospects but is excited about Bryony's rides at the meeting overall and claims both his and wife Nikki's fingernails will be challenged next week!
For Ashburton's Chris Honour, it will also be a special festival.
It is very rare a new trainer has a horse capable of qualifying for the festival in his first season.
If Grumpy Charley performs well Chris will be anything but Grumpy this time next week!