Racing is braced for an anticipated Government update as measures to tackle the coronavirus appear set to move to the “delay” stage.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was expected to confirm the next policy move after a lunchtime Cobra meeting.
The Cheltenham Festival continues into day three, with the showpiece Gold Cup scheduled on Friday, and has so far gone ahead – albeit with crowds slightly down on last year’s record numbers, and hand-sanitiser stations in place on course to aid hygiene and mitigate spread of the virus.
Racing in Ireland seems sure to be curtailed, however – and Down Royal has already announced its meeting next week will take place behind closed doors – after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced the imminent closure of all schools and colleges and a ban on outdoor gatherings of 500 people or more, initially until March 29.
High-profile soccer matches involving European clubs have already suffered widespread cancellations, and Wednesday’s Premier League fixture between Manchester City and Arsenal was postponed.
Depending on the nature of new advice set to be issued by Government on Thursday, in British racing the focus is sure to switch next to the possiblilty of postponing next month’s Grand National meeting at Aintree – or placing major crowd restrictions on it.
A specific market run by Betfair is indicating a strong consensus that Aintree will not take place as scheduled on the first day, April 2, at current odds of around 1-5.
On Thursday afternoon, Down Royal racecourse confirmed it will hold next week’s meeting there behind closed doors.
A Tweet from the track read: “The management team at Down Royal Racecourse has announced its intention to run the St Patrick’s Day race meeting, scheduled for Tuesday March 17, behind closed doors.
“The decision has been made following today’s announcements regarding the spread of coronavirus.”
The update also contained a statement from course chief executive Emma Meehan.
She said: “We apologise for any inconvenience caused; however, the health and safety of racegoers is our priority. Only runners, riders and trainers will be in attendance, with turnstiles closed to racegoers.
“Ticket holders will automatically receive a full refund within 14 working days.”