The 2020 Randox Health Grand National at Aintree has been cancelled and will not take place on April 4 because of the coronavirus pandemic, it has been announced by Jockey Club Racecourses.
Renowned as the world’s greatest steeplchase and the biggest betting event on the racing calendar, this year’s race – the culmination of three days of racing on Merseyside – had been due to see Tiger Roll bid to join Red Rum as the only three-timer winner.
A statement from JCR read: “Following the Government’s new public health guidance regarding avoiding social contact and stopping non-essential travel, and its statement that emergency services are withdrawn from supporting mass gatherings from tomorrow, the Jockey Club has decided that it is no longer appropriate to stage the event.
“Jockey Club Racecourses, which runs Aintree and several of the UK’s leading racecourses, had been assessing the feasibility of running the world’s most famous steeplechase behind closed doors with minimal staff on site, but the latest Government information on the measures needed to contain the virus have led it to believe this is no longer a viable consideration.
Senior Jockey Club steward Sandy Dudgeon said: “The Randox Health Grand National Festival was just three weeks away, and it’s very clear to us it will not be possible for the event to take place. Public health must come first.
“We were working on a plan to stage the Grand National behind closed doors, given its importance to the racing industry and beyond – but following the new Government measures confirmed this evening to help to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, this is not a viable option.
“I know this is hugely disappointing news for the many people who work in our sport and the many millions who were looking forward to this year’s event, but very sadly these are exceptional times and this is the responsible thing to do.”
Tiger Roll’s owners, Gigginstown House Stud, declined to comment when contacted.
The British Horseracing Authority had earlier confirmed all meetings in Britain from Tuesday would be run behind closed doors, initially until the end of March.
Following the Prime Minister’s afternoon press conference, an updated statement was also issued which read: “British racing’s COVID-19 steering group will contact Government for further guidance as to any implications of the press conference held on the afternoon of 16 March, and will issue a further update tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, authorities in France have suspended from Tuesday until April 15, having raced behind closed doors since the beginning of the month.
The Cheltenham Festival took place as scheduled last week, with a total of 251,684 people making the trip to Prestbury Park over the four days. A total of 24 hand sanitiser stations were in use, together with increased hygiene facilities.
But the Prime Minister has now said all people in the UK should avoid pubs, clubs and theatres, stop all non-essential contact and travel, and work from home if they can, setting out the need for “drastic action” to tackle the “fast growth” of coronavirus across the UK as increased social distancing measures are introduced for the population.
As part of the measures, anyone living in a household with somebody who has either a persistent cough or fever must now also isolate themselves for 14 days.
All people should avoid gatherings and crowded places, while people who are vulnerable – including those who are elderly – will need to undertake even more drastic measures.
The measures were announced as the death toll of people with coronavirus in the UK reached 55.
The Prime Minister said that according to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) “it looks as though we are now approaching the fast growth part of the upward curve” in the number of cases.
“Without drastic action cases could double every five or six days,” he said.
Mr Johnson said that from Tuesday mass gatherings are something “we are now moving emphatically away from”.