Cheltenham team back Festival hygiene measures

More basins and sanitiser gel at the track in light of coronavirus outbreak .

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Officials at Cheltenham have backed measures in place at the course to help combat the coronavirus outbreak.

Increased wash basins and hand sanitiser stations have been put in place, as crowds – around 60,000 each day – and horses descend on the Cotswolds from Britain, Ireland and France.

Ian Renton, regional head of racing south-west for Jockey Club Racecourses, told BBC Breakfast: “We have been liaising very closely with the Government over the last fortnight and listening to them and listening to their advice, and they have been extremely helpful in telling us what they believe is the right thing to do.

“As we heard yesterday, they want business to continue as usual in this country and sporting events such as this that take place.

“So we have put a lot of precautions in place, in terms of ensuring racegoers have access to soap and water and can follow Government advice on hygiene.

“We have created 24 sanitiser gel boards, which arrived with us last night, to ensure racegoers can take every precaution possible.”

Asked what impact the cancellation of the Festival would have had, Renton said: “We do have insurance to cover these events, as we said we would have followed the advice whichever way it went.

“I think everyone is very much looking forward to these four days. The Festival is very much a UK and Ireland event, that is where the horses, jockeys and trainers come from.

“We’ve got a few runners from France over the four days, but it’s less international than Flat racing.

“It’s a huge event for all the participants, as well as locally – it’s a big event for the local economy, so we’re very pleased the Government has taken the view that the Festival should go ahead this year.”

Big-race jockeys were briefed by staff at the course as to the importance of hygiene and also recognising any potential symptoms.

Harry Cobden, who will ride Clan Des Obeaux in the Gold Cup on Friday, said: “The doctors, as you would expect, are taking it all very seriously and if anyone does have any symptoms we are to report them straight away.

“We have been told to wash our hands more regularly, like what has been advised, for at least 20 seconds.

“We had a talk at the start of racing Taunton yesterday and we are having another talk before racing today.”

Weighing-room veteran Robbie Power said: “There are extra hand sanitisers in there and signs about. Everyone will just be giving thumbs up instead of shaking hands.

“Everyone’s health is the most important thing first and foremost, but the Government has given us the OK to race.

“We still need to be cautious and respect the fact that there is a serious virus in the country by taking the necessary precautions as professionals.

“It would have been a terrible shame if the Festival was off, but the health of everyone is the thing that is first and foremost on everyone’s mind.

“At the end of the day this is only a sport and health is more important.”

Nico de Boinville, like Power a Gold Cup-winning rider, added: “We are not at the same stage as Italy and all we can do is listen to what the Government have told us.

“We just have to keep calm and carry on, and keep our hygiene as good as it can be by doing things like washing our hands more.

“I suppose we should be thinking about social distancing as well to help stop any spreading.

“We don’t know how long this will be around for and it could be around for a long time, but at this stage we are still lucky to go ahead with the Festival, so we just have to kick on.”

Renton was anticipating a drop on last year’s opening-day attendance – when a record 67,934 packed into Prestbury Park – as advance sales across the four-day meeting have not been as buoyant over the last two weeks.

Renton said: “Ticket sales have been affected. Over the last fortnight they have reduced considerably compared to where they normally would be at, so we expect attendance to be down every day.

“In saying that there will still be over 60,000 today, but we will certainly be down on last year.

“Last year we had record crowds most days, but we won’t be expecting record crowds this week.”

Racegoers certainly felt the crowd was down a little on previous years.

Tom Deane, from Dublin, said: “It definitely seems a bit quieter. We’ve just been for a drink in the Centaur and usually you can’t move an inch, but today it was quite comfortable.

“Obviously some people have stayed away, but I look forward to this week all year and if the Government says it is safe, then you have to trust them. Just take all the sensible precautions to stop it spreading.”

Tom Hymas, who travelled from Barnsley, added: “I suppose it’s always in the back of your mind, but if you keep washing your hands and take precautions, what more can you do? It looks like some people have stayed away, though, as it’s not as busy.”

Cheltenham team back Festival hygiene measures
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