Peter Savill, chairman of the British Horseracing Board, has defended the decision to continue racing in the face of the deepening foot and mouth crisis.

Savill, who was racing on Monday at his own racecourse Plumpton,Sussex, sent a firm message to those who doubt the wisdom of holding race meetings as the number of foot and mouth cases rise.

“If there was a risk of spreading foot and mouth as a result of holding race meetings,the Ministry of Agriculture would not let us go ahead,”he said. “It is under the jurisdiction of MAFF and they would have told us to suspend racing if it would lead to the spread of the disease.

“I see it is a straightforward decision although there is a lot of emotion attached to it.

If MAFF says it all right, then I cannot tell my own constituents not to race. If we came out in sympathy with the farmers there would be a great deal of hardship in our own industry which employs 100,000 people.”

Savill said there are six or seven of the country’s 59 racecourses currently in foot and mouth exclusions zones. “Some of the other courses are not comfortable racing in the present climate and I am very disappointed that they are not supporting their own industry,” he added.

He went on to say that he was hopeful that Cheltenham would sort out new dates for its postponed three-day Festival in the next few days. “The sooner the meeting is re-scheduled the better,” he said.

But the Cheltenham executive say that plans for the rearranging the fixture are likely to remain in the melting pot until the end of the week, at least. Officials met over the weekend but were unable to come up with a new date for the three-day meeting which should have opened on Tuesday.

Originally, Edward Gillespie, Cheltenham’s managing director, said that a date would have been finalised by Monday. That fact that no decision has been reached will fan the flames of the gossip-mongers who believe the meeting will eventually be abandoned.

ButGillespie insisted that there is an appetite for racing, despite the increasing number of outbreaks of the foot and mouth disease. He stressed that the Festival would notclash with Ireland’s Punchestown Festival if it takes place. At the moment the favoured date for Cheltenham is the previous week (April 17, 18, 19) which would clash with the Newmarket Craven meeting.