Racegoers at Cheltenham still permitted to attend races if found in possession of drugs

Private company hired by festival organisers use sniffer dogs as part of searches at racecourse entrance

Punters attending this week’s Cheltenham Festival were still permitted to attend the races if drugs were found in their possession, according to local police.

In a statement, Gloucestershire Constabulary said that provided those who were caught with drugs on their person surrendered them when searched by security at the entrance to the racecourse, they were not stopped from entering the premises.

Local police were not involved in drug searches at the course entrance. These were instead carried out by a private company hired by The Jockey Club, organisers of the Cheltenham Festival.

Sniffer dogs were present at each entrance, while drug amnesty bins have been in place at entrances to all tracks run by The Jockey Club since 2016.


Police said they would only become involved in drug searches if an individual is found with a quantity large enough to raise concerns that they may intend to supply drugs to others. Police officers were present within the racecourse itself.

“Racegoers visiting Cheltenham racecourse are searched by a private company as a condition of entry to ensure that drugs are not brought on to site,” said a spokesman for the Gloucestershire Constabulary.

“The company utilises drugs detection dogs to identify anyone who may be in possession of drugs before they are searched and any items found are surrendered/confiscated and placed within amnesty bins. The person will be then allowed entry on to the site.

“Police are not involved in this process but will be called to assist should someone be found in possession of a large quantity of drugs or there are concerns about possible drug supply offences.”

The policy was made in consultation with senior members of the Gloucestershire Police and The Jockey Club. The allocation of limited policing resources is believed to be one factor behind these drug detection measures.

The Jockey Club did not disclose the quantity of drugs surrendered by punters during this year’s festival.

According to The Jockey Club’s website: “Cheltenham racecourse does not condone the use or dealing of drugs on site. We employ drug detection dogs at all our entrances and raceways and selected events.

“Drug enforcement laws are as applicable on this site as they are anywhere else in the country and any infringements of these laws will be taken very seriously. Our policy on drugs is based on both prevention and enforcement with the active targeting of those customers seeking to deal drugs to others.”

In a statement, a spokeswoman from The Jockey Club said: “It’s fantastic that thousands of people are enjoying themselves and coming to see the pinnacle of our sport. We have no reason to expect anything but responsible behaviour from spectators and of course we have a clear code of conduct for attendees and take a zero tolerance approach to any form of antisocial behaviour.”

A representative from St John’s Ambulance said they treated no patients during this year’s festival who presented with symptoms that indicated drug use.

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns is an Irish Times journalist