The global-wide Coronavirus has infected the horse racing markets in Great Britain with news that two Gloucestershire residents have contracted the virus ahead of the annual Cheltenham Festival, scheduled to begin March 10.

Cheltenham Racecourse
The Cheltenham Festival attracts upwards of 260,000 people a year and is one of the largest racing events in Europe. It’s 2020 future is in doubt because of the Coronavirus. (Image: Edward Whitaker)

Betfair is now taking action on Cheltenham Festival races being canceled, with odds shortening from 5/2 to 23/10 that racing does not go ahead for the March 10-13 festival. You can get 4/11 that the annual festival will proceed as planned.

By early Monday morning in the United Kingdom, punters had wagered more than £1 million on the prospect. Callum Wilson from Oddschecker told that the majority of that money is “coming in droves for the Festival not going ahead — with the odds continuing to tumble for no racing on March 10th.”

So far, 35 people in the UK had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, popularly known as the Coronavirus. Of those, health officials have confirmed two cases in Gloucestershire, site of the Cheltenham Racecourse.

Massive Gathering for Four Days of Racing

The Cheltenham Festival is an annual racing extravaganza dating back to 1860. It offers more prize money than any other event on the UK calendar outside of the Grand National. The four-day event features 28 races, including several Grade 1 stakes, highlighted by the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Upwards of 260,000 Festival goers wager hundreds of millions of pounds over the four-day Festival, which fosters a party scene akin to the Kentucky Derby on steroids.

Cheltenham Festival Major Race Schedule

Day 1 – March 10

  • Supreme Novices Hurdle
  • Arkle Chase
  • Mares Chase
  • Champion Hurdle

Day 2 – March 11 (Ladies’ Day)

  • Champion Bumper
  • Queen Mother Champion Chase
  • Cross Country Chase
  • RSA Chase

Day 3 – March 12

  • Golden Miller Novice’s Hurdle
  • Ryanair Chase
  • Pertemps Final

Day 4 – March 13

  • Triumph Hurdle
  • Spa Hurdle
  • Gold Cup

The financial impact of a cancellation is obvious. The handle for the week is nearly £500 million. An even run of results brings the books £50 million in profit, with the 10% takeout bringing in £5 million, according to one estimate.

“We tend not to fret too much about things that are outside of our control,” Simon Claisse, the clerk of the Cheltenham Racecourse, told BBC Radio Gloucestershire. “So, it is full steam ahead with our preparations and we look forward to welcoming the first 60,000 plus people by 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 10.

The last time the Cheltenham Festival was cancelled was 2001, after an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Woolstone, five miles from the track. That cost the betting industry £100 million and the Gloucestershire region £10 million in lost tourism income. In 2008, one of the racing days was cancelled due to weather.

The British Horseracing Authority says they are working closely with Cheltenham and the National Health Service to mitigate any impact from cancelation, and stress that the government will have the final say.

“In the event that the Cheltenham Festival was postponed, either in its entirety or in part for any reason, there are contingencies already in place to re-stage it later in the season,” BHA chief executive Nick Rust told the Betfair Betting podcast.

Racing in France Affected

Meanwhile, on the other side of the English Channel, Tuesday’s race card at Chantilly in France and Wednesday’s card at Compiegne will run with no fans in attendance.  French health authorities closed Monday’s Compiegne card to the public after confirming 36 cases of COVID-19 in the Oise region of northern France, where both tracks are located.

Last week, the French government announced a temporary ban of indoor gatherings of more than 5,000 people.

The Chantilly card includes three trial races for the Dubai World Cup later this month, where last season’s Grand Prix de Deauville winner Ziyad is expected to run.