By Martyn Herman
LONDON, March 16 (Reuters) - Britain’s most iconic steeplechase the Grand National has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Jockey Club said on Monday as the country ramped up its response to the crisis.
The festival, first staged in 1839, was due to take place from April 2-4 at Aintree.
“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regarding avoiding social contact and stopping non-essential travel, and its statement that emergency services are withdrawn from supporting mass gatherings from tomorrow (Tuesday), the Jockey Club has decided that it is no longer appropriate to stage the event,” it said.
Earlier on Monday, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) announced that all racing in Britain would take place behind closed doors from Tuesday.
The Jockey Club said it had considered holding the Grand National without fans on the course but that was not viable.
“The 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,” Sandy Dudgeon, senior steward of the Jockey Club, said. “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 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.”
Earlier on Monday, the University Boat Race, held between Oxford and Cambridge, was also cancelled as the coronavirus outbreak continued to decimate the British sports calendar.
It is the first time the race will not be held since the Second World War. (Writing by Ken Ferris; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Ken Ferris)