Horse racing on Coronavirus alert as Cheltenham Festival and Grand National loom

THE British Horseracing Authority is prepared to act - if the need arises - regarding any potential coronavirus impact on fixtures, including the Cheltenham Festival.

The Cheltenham Festival is National Hunt racing's showcase meeting.

BHA chief executive Nick Rust, who lives in Yorkshire, has confirmed an industry steering group is in place to consider the implications of the virus.

A Betfair podcast attributed quotes to Rust saying: “We have an industry group in place that has been and continues to work on the potential impact of the coronavirus on the horse racing industry as a whole.

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“The BHA executive met with the team at Cheltenham Racecourse on Monday morning to discuss final plans for the Festival, and the coronavirus was discussed at that meeting.”

Up to 60,000 racegoers attend each day of the Cheltenham Festival.

Rust, who had been in text message contact with a Betfair representative and was unaware that his comments would be placed in the public domain, is said to have added: “In terms of potential ramifications for the Festival, any decision that impacts on it taking place will not be a decision that racing makes, but rather the Government.

“In the event that the Cheltenham Festival was postponed, either in its entirety or in part for any reason, there are contingencies already in place to re-stage it later in the season.”

Last night the BHA tried to clarify Rust’s remarks as speculation about the Cheltenham Festival intensified.

“The industry’s steering group will continue to liaise with Government and monitor the implications of coronavirus. Further information or guidance will be issued to the industry as and when appropriate,” said a spokesman.

The Cheltenham Festival, which begins on March 10, and Aintree Grand National meeting are among the high-profile events in the racing calendar this spring.

While some international sporting events have been postponed, principally in Asia, the virus is becoming more prevalent in Europe - with Italy especially taking extra precautions and six Serie A football matches played behind closed doors.

At present, the 2020 Olympics - due to be held in Tokyo in July and August - remain scheduled to go ahead as planned.

Racing has being go ahead in ther Far East without spectactors being permitted to attend.

However the Cheltenham Festival had to be abandoned in 2001 as a result of the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

A Jockey Club spokesman for Cheltenham issued a statement on Tuesday evening, which read: “It remains full speed ahead for The Festival(TM) presented by Magners in a fortnight’s time.

“Racing continues to liaise closely with the Government to stay on top of the situation, and we are looking forward to four fantastic days of racing at Cheltenham.”

Meanwhile odds have been released on the Cheltenham Festival being cancelled.

The Betfair Exchange is currently offering punters either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as to whether the Festival will go ahead on March 10.

Over £25,000 has been traded on the market already, with odds shortening on the Festival not going ahead this year.

In the last few hours, odds have shortened from 5/2 into 23/10 that it does not go ahead. In percentage chances, that’s a jump from 28 to 30 per cent that Cheltenham Festival is cancelled.

On the other side, it’s now 4/11 that racing goes ahead on March 10 – Champion Hurdle day.

Oddschecker spokesperson Callum Wilson: “It’s halted the Chinese Super League, its halted Serie A, but could the coronavirus outbreak now scupper this year’s Cheltenham Festival?

“Being the highlight of most racing fans’ calendars, it would be an absolute disaster if Cheltenham is cancelled due to the COVID-19 fears, leaving many avid punters desperately twiddling their thumbs during the barren four days of revoked action.”