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Grand National falls victim to coronavirus

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London (AFP)

This year's edition of the Grand National steeplechase has been cancelled in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Jockey Club said Monday.

The National is the centrepiece of the annual three-day meeting at the Aintree course in Liverpool, but this year's April 2-4 schedule has now been scrapped as a response to the spread COVID-19.

"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regarding avoiding social contact and stopping non-essential travel, and its statement that emergency services are withdrawn from supporting mass gatherings from tomorrow, the Jockey Club has decided that it is no longer appropriate to stage the event," said a statement.

Jockey Club Racecourses, which runs Aintree and a number of the UK's leading racecourses, had been looking at the possibility of running the National behind closed doors with minimal staff on site.

But it said the latest government information on the measures needed to contain the virus have led it to believe this is "no longer a viable consideration".

Sandy Dudgeon, senior steward of The Jockey Club, 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.

"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."

Cancellation will come as a blow to the British betting industry, with millions of pounds traditionally gambled on the race which a represents a 'once a year flutter' for many people who would not otherwise bet on racing.

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