Racing at Cheltenham could be cancelled on Wednesday due to high winds, with a ‘People’s Saturday’ on the cards for the first time in Festival history.
An inspection was scheduled for 8am, with forecasts suggesting that gusts could exceed 45mph, which would put the temporary grandstands and hospitality tents at risk and place horses and jockeys in danger.
Cheltenham bosses have put contingency measures in place to reschedule races to Saturday and refund all tickets that had been purchased for Wednesday.
Punters were forced to run for cover as heavy rain fell at the Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday
The turnstiles swelled with people as they waited to be let into the grounds at Cheltenham
Punters still had smiles on their faces as they sprinted from the turnstiles to the racecourse
Former jockey AP McCoy clutches a newspaper as he runs for cover in the broadcast centre
No day of racing at the Festival has been cancelled since 2008, when high winds forced day two to be abandoned.
Wednesday’s races were split between Thursday and Friday’s cards 11 years ago, meaning 10 races were packed into one day, nine the other.
However, it is understood this is not the preferred option this year because of welfare concerns.
Given the soft going on Tuesday, the ground would likely become too churned up if more than the scheduled seven races were held on any one day. Equine welfare is under intense scrutiny following seven fatalities linked to last year’s Festival.
Television presenter and racing fan, Nick Knowles, tries to cover himself from the heavy rain
Willie Mullins-trained Ballyward had to be put down on Tuesday following a fall in the final race — the four-mile chase for amateurs. Just four of 18 runners finished and nine fell, including three who needed treatment behind screens after the race but later walked away.
Three amateur jockeys — Rob James, Noel McParlan and Declan Lavery — were handed suspensions for continuing to ride ‘when it appeared to be contrary to the horse’s welfare’. McParlan and James’s mounts both fell.
A fourth jockey, Damien Skehan, will attend a hearing for the same reason over his ride on Clondaw Cian but had left the course before stewards could speak to him.
Both the Jockey Club and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) said they would be reviewing the incident.
It is understood that tickets would be sold online for Saturday, with no tickets from Wednesday carrying over if cancelled.
The effect would likely be a ‘People’s Saturday’, but it remains to be seen how the last-minute change would affect ticket sales and retail revenue, particularly given the clash with the climax of Six Nations rugby.
Cheltenham Festival started at the scheduled time of 1.30pm on Tuesday afternoon
Legendary commentator John Motson makes his way through the heavy rain to the Festival
ITV Racing said they would still broadcast from Cheltenham if it was moved to Saturday. However with ITV due to screen two Six Nations games, including Scotland v England from 4.15pm, several races may be moved to sister channel ITV4.
Ian Renton, regional director for the south west region of the Jockey Club, said: ‘Our wish is that the winds are much lower than anticipated and we get through as normal.
‘If we find at 8am we have horrendous gales and they are forecast to continue throughout the day, we’ll abandon and not open the gates.
‘There is, however, the possibility that we’ll be perfectly raceable but then find the gales are getting up after the gates have opened. We’d then have to take the advice of safety officers about whether we can race and whether we can have people on site.
‘Strong gusting winds are forecast for the area on Wednesday, but their precise strength and location are not possible to predict in advance.’
Racegoers wait before they are allowed into the Cheltenham course early on Tuesday morning
One couple found a unique way to keep the way off their heads with two daffodil boxes
The smiles continued despite the heavy rain with punters happy to be at Cheltenham Festival
A record first-day crowd of 67,934 saw only one winning favourite over seven races — A Plus Tard, ridden by rising star Rachael Blackmore, recording her first Festival winner.
Grand National-winning jockey Davy Russell picked up a two-day ban after a vet reported he ‘disobeyed instructions given to him by a veterinary surgeon and acted in an improper way towards a racecourse employee’.
The suspension won’t come into force for a fortnight so his Festival rides are unaffected.