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Track in good shape and owners to the fore as Cheltenham gets ready for relaunch

It has been a long time coming but Cheltenham clerk of the course Simon Claisse is confident the spiritual home of jump racing is ready to get the show back on the road on Friday.

While there will be no spectators, a raft of measures have been put in place to ensure the racecourse is Covid-secure, including a second weighing room in place to help riders adhere to the social-distancing requirements between races.

Extra care has also been taken to make the experience as pleasurable as possible for owners and Claisse is delighted with the condition of the track for the course's first meeting since Gold Cup day on March 13.

"There's a lot of things we've been doing differently in the preparation for our opening fixture of the season," said Claisse on Thursday, fresh from an extensive briefing with the ITV team.

"Simple things like the jockeys' changing room that at the festival might have 80-plus jockeys in it, can only accommodate 27. So we've built another facility for them that sits beside the unsaddling enclosure where we can put 48, so it's making sure the facilities are geared up to follow all the protocols that have been agreed."

While Friday and Saturday at Cheltenham without the general public in attendance will have a vastly different feel to a full house on Gold Cup day, the track has channelled plenty of energy towards owners.

"Clearly the generation of an atmosphere is a challenge with very few people here but we're fortunate to be running sport," said Claisse.

"We've made a few changes to enhance the owners' experience in terms of trying to give them access across a two-metre divide to jockeys and trainers both before and after racing.

"They'll have access to view horses in the parade ring but we're also providing them access to see their horses either in the unsaddling or in the winner's enclosure."

The going at the track was described as good, good to soft in places on Thursday evening, with little change anticipated through the next two days.

Claisse said: "We've irrigated in the last week or so but we had some decent rain yesterday and overnight so I'm very happy with how it's looking.  

"It's predominantly good ground with a little bit of good to soft down the back straight and coming down the hill. There may be some occasional showers before racing on Friday and again on Saturday but nothing significant." 

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