In addition, the noise from the Cheltenham Festival a year ago has still not quite died down, the images of the packed stands just days away from the first national lockdown remaining an uncomfortable look 12 months on.
It is no wonder then that British Horseracing Authority chief executive Julie Harrington said of the impending Festival: “It is the shop window of our sport. It is an opportunity for us to really shine and tell the positive stories that are linked to our sport.”
Harrington is no stranger in trying to repair a sport’s tarnished image – her previous sporting role was with an often under-fire British Cycling.
For Harrington and wider jump racing, Elliott still looms large. He trained winners of a quarter of the races at last year’s Festival and, after handing over the reins to Denise Foster, said “he would be available to assist as she requires”, a statement that was quickly deleted amid the resulting furore.
The Irish contingent will once again be strong, including Foster’s runners, although the stands will be empty from Tuesday rather than welcoming in a quarter of a million people over four days.
Peter Scudamore was a 13-time winner at the Festival as a jockey and believes the Irish will be in the ascendancy come the conclusion of the week.
“I’m really excited because of the power of the Irish,” he said. “The power is with Ireland now. Covid has taken so much away from us, the Festival can give us back hope – that would be rather romantic.”
And Scudamore is confident the ensuing four days of racing will once again shine a positive light on the sport.
“There are very few sports that can replicate the applause and adoration of a Cheltenham winner,” he said. “I’ve been to FA Cup finals, watched Test cricket, good rugby matches. We’ll miss that.
“And I feel sorry for the jockeys if they do go and win the big races. Cheltenham does that so well with the chaotic scenes of a winner being led in with people that shouldn’t be there.
“But we’ll still walk away from Cheltenham and say that’s the best horse we’ve seen right now. You can confidently say that’s, say, the best novice in Ireland and England. So, it doesn’t dilute the quality of the races.”
Instead, ITV Racing bears the responsibility of trying to light up the Festival with its own typically captivating broadcast.
Ed Chamberlin will once again be at the helm but, in the early days of big racing showcases following that first lockdown with the Derby, admitted he struggled to create the magic the occasion deserved, finding the empty stands and fencing erected to keep spectators out rather depressing.
His mood on the eve of Cheltenham is notably more upbeat. “You feel sorry for the thousands of people for whom those four days are the highlight of their sporting year,” he said. “So, we need to make it as enjoyable as we can for them and also get the tone right for those suffering with lost loved ones and their jobs.
“Live unscripted sport is spine-tingly good and Cheltenham is great for that. The big Irish yards want to win so badly at Cheltenham – their whole season is geared around it.
“I’ve worked in other sports and the Cheltenham Festival is the envy of so many other sports. Other sports try to bring sport to a crescendo: rugby league, cricket, even flat racing. But Cheltenham has always been the pinnacle. It’s the best against the best.”
The Britain v Ireland element will again be central this year for horses, trainers and jockeys alike.
Rachael Blackmore, whose rides include Champion Hurdle favourite Honeysuckle, is part of the Irish contingent with trainer Henry de Bromhead, who has benefitted from Elliott’s suspension with some additional horses from Cullentra, including the highly rated Envoi Allen.
Of the Ireland v Britain element, she said: “To the outside world looking in, it’s another dynamic.”
More than ever perhaps, the outside world has eyes on the Festival and the sport, as a whole, will be hoping for four days to remember rather than the recent headlines to forget.