Today’s racing at Cheltenham has been abandoned because of strong winds. The second day of the National Hunt Festival, which features the Seasons Holidays Queen Mother Champion Chase as its highlight, was called off at 8.30am this morning after structural engineers advised that it would not be safe to race.
Gusts of westerly wind mean that hospitality areas have been evacuated and there are fears that debris could blow on to the track. Fifty-five thousand people were expected to attend today, many of whom were already travelling to the track when the abandonment was announced. They will receive full refunds on their tickets, and the Centaur and Istabraq areas, inside the main building, will be open with food and drink available.
The racecourse swiftly made plans to accommodate the six lost races within the following two days’ racing. Racing will start at 12.30pm on Thursday and Friday, instead of 2pm, and there will be 10 races on Thursday and nine on Friday. Channel 4 will be showing six races live each day.
“It’s desperately disappointing for all our customers, but we are trying to make the best of a bad situation,” said Cheltenham’s managing director, Edward Gillespie.
The course was also hit in the build-up to the meeting by storms of up to 48mph. On Monday, a hospitality tent at the racecourse was flattened by the high winds and the starter’s rostrum was blown over, damaging fencing.
Although Tuesday’s racing passed without incident, winds built up overnight and during Wednesday morning, and the tented village at the track had to be evacuated.
Gillespie added: “The rest of the crowd are close to the (worst-hit) areas so it’s not a case of just one area been out. Equally, it’s a west wind, which would also take debris onto the track. We’ve had one structure blown down this morning, just before 7 O’clock.”
Because horses were unable to travel home last night, freeing up stables for those who race on the final two days, some have had to be accommodated at Warwick racecourse instead.
The revised order of racing for Thursday and Friday is:
Thursday, 13 March (OLD COURSE)
12.30 Peter O’Sullevan National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup 4m
1.05 Royal & SunAlliance Chase 3m 110yds
1.40 Jewson Novices’ Handicap Chase 2m 4f 110yds
2.20 Seasons Holidays Queen Mother Champion Chase 2m
2.55 Ryanair Chase 2m 4f 110yds
3.30 Ladbrokes World Hurdle Race 3m
4.05 Racing Post Plate (Handicap Chase) 2m 4f 110yds
4.40 Pertemps Final (Handicap Hurdle) 3m
5.20 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase 3m 1f 110yds
5.50 Weatherbys Champion Bumper (NH Flat Race) 2m 110yds
Friday, 14 March (NEW COURSE)
12.30 David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle 2m 4f 110yds
1.05 Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle 2m 4f 110yds
1.40 Coral Cup Hurdle (Handicap Hurdle) 2m 4f 110yds
2.15 JCB Triumph Hurdle 2m 1f
2.50 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle 3m
3.30 totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase 3m 2f 110yds
4.05 Christie’s Foxhunter Chase Challenge Cup 3m 2f 110yds
4.40 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase Challenge Cup 2m 110yds
5.20 Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle Race 2m 1f