Disease Restrictions Force Cheltenham to Postpone Festival

Edited release from Racenews
Cheltenham Racecourse on Wednesday expressed intense disappointment over the postponement of next week's National Hunt Festival, which was due to start on Tuesday, March 13.

The 2001 Festival will now take place either in the week of April 16th or the following week. An announcement about the exact dates will be made as soon as possible.

Edward Gillespie, Cheltenham's managing director, apologized to the many thousands of people who will be inconvenienced by this situation, from all those involved with the horses who were due to run next week through to the 150,000 racegoers who have booked tickets and, in many cases, accommodation.

After a week of intensive preparation to comply with the new "Instructions and Guidelines" from British Horseracing Board and the Jockey Club, in conjunction with MAFF, relating to Foot & Mouth Disease (FMD), published on Friday, a clause covering the exclusion of livestock was changed in the "Veterinary Assessment of Risks" that arrived at Cheltenham on Monday. This extended the period of exclusion of livestock prior to a race meeting taking place from 14 to 28 days. Sheep had been removed from an area in the center of the course on Wednesday, February 14, meaning the 28-day exclusion period elapses on Thursday, March 15, the final day of the Festival.

Discussions took place with Jockey Club officials Tuesday with regard to the implications of the change to the instruction on next week's National Hunt Festival. Now, following all-day discussions with the BHB, Cheltenham has informed BHB that it can no longer comply with the Instructions.

"Throughout this very difficult and sensitive period, we have taken the best possible veterinary advice on how to continue planning for the Festival," Gillespie said. "Through the enormous effort of our staff, we were confident of achieving all the precautions required by BHB, Jockey Club and MAFF. When the additional provisions were issued from MAFF on Monday, the rule regarding livestock had been changed and we can no longer comply with the Instruction.

"This is a most unexpected and dreadful blow for everyone who has been preparing their horses and planning their visit to Cheltenham next week," Gillespie continued. "I know this will be an enormous disappointment to the entire racing community.

"But it was of paramount importance that the meeting would only go ahead with the full compliance of the Instructions. We had no option but to abide with this ruling. The plan is to reschedule toward the end of April, and subject to immediate discussions with BHB and other parties, we shall be announcing those dates as soon as possible. We shall now re-focus and keep everyone informed of the revised arrangements."

The track has scheduled a media briefing at Cheltenham on Thursday.