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Sunday, 1 April, 2001, 16:44 GMT 17:44 UK
Cheltenham's £30m blow
BBC Sport Online's Frank Keogh examines the cost of abandoning the Cheltenham National Hunt Festival.
For racegoers, it is a disappointment. For the town of Cheltenham, it is a financial disaster.
It is estimated the town could lose out on up to £30m in expected revenue, with millions more being lost by the racing industry as a whole.
The three-day showpiece of the jump racing season, which culminates with the Cheltenham Gold Cup, will not take place for the first time in more than 50 years.
Rescheduled for 17-19 April after the foot-and-mouth crisis claimed the original March fixture, Sunday's decision to finally call it off may have appeared inevitable.
But it hardly softens the blow.
Despite being postponed, 120,000 tickets were still being retained by racegoers hoping to make the new meeting.
And it is possible the meeting could still have been sold out to its 50,000 capacity for each of the three days.
The town of Cheltenham, which has a population of about 100,000, relies on the Festival for an annual injection of cash.
In normal years, about 5,000 punters make the journey from Ireland with thousands more coming from all over the UK.
Shops, pubs, clubs, taxis, hotels, and of course, bookies are just some of the businesses which benefit from the influx.
The 'No Vacancies' signs go up all over Cheltenham weeks before the National Hunt Festival begins.
Every available space is snapped up by racegoers, with the Tourist Information Office encouraging local residents to rent out rooms as part of a special scheme.
'A very, very sad day'
About 5,000 extra accommodation bookings are made each year at hotels in the immediate vicinity of Cheltenham, with many more staying as far away as Stratford-upon-Avon or Birmingham.
With each visitor spending at least an estimated £100, turnover for the town and racecourse, not including betting, is put at between £10m and £30m.
Racecourse managing director Edward Gillespie tried so hard to get the Festival on he was criticised in some quarters.
He said on Sunday: "I feel sorry for all those people who stayed loyal to the meeting this year. There were 120,000 people who were still planning to come.
"It's a very, very sad day for us and, of course, the economy in Cheltenham."
Total prize money at the meeting continues to rise and now stands at about £2m.
That pales into insignificance, compared with the amount wagered at the bookies.
On-course betting turnover at the Festival is well over £20m each year - an average of more than £1m a race.
The Festival produces about 10% of the Tote's annual racecourse turnover.
More than 300,000 individual bets are struck at the course with the organisation on the Gold Cup, representing more than £3m.
And as well as being hungry for winnings, the racecourse crowd get through a staggering amount of food and drink.
Some 30,000 bottles of champagne alone are consumed, with 26,000 served meals being dished up.
The news will be a big blow to millionaire Irish gambler and horse owner J P McManus.
Although his Irish champion hurdler Istabraq was unlikely to travel because of Government restrictions, he had two leading French hopes set to run at Cheltenham.
McManus bought two of French trainer Francois Doumen's stable stars in First Gold and Baracouda earlier in the year.
"It is a big disappointment for everybody concerned," said Doumen.
"It is especially disappointing for JP who has done some good shopping for the love and passion of Cheltenham."
The course itself is understood to be insured to the tune of about £8m in the event of a postponement.
But that will be scant consolation as officials look at the date of next year's Festival in their diaries.
It is due to start on 12 March, 2002 - some 346 days away.
01 Apr 01 | Other Sports
Cheltenham Festival called off
30 Mar 01 | Grand National
Should the Grand National go ahead?
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