Racing: Relief as fans scrap rally at Cheltenham

Officials at Cheltenham racecourse expressed their relief yesterday that a planned protest by a group of Manchester United fans on 18 March, the final day of the National Hunt Festival, had been called off.

United4action had intended to demonstrate on Gold Cup day in response to John Magnier's continuing legal battle with United's manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, over stud rights for the racehorse Rock of Gibraltar, and the perceived threat that Magnier and his Irish business partner, J P McManus, would take over United. However, Ferguson spoke out on Friday to discourage fans from holding a protest that might disrupt the Festival, which he described as racing's equivalent of the FA Cup final.

Cheltenham's managing director, Edward Gillespie, said the planned protest would have taken the spotlight away from the horses, jockeys and trainers "for a purpose that is totally irrelevant from our point of view". He added: "Through Sir Alex's intervention we can now get on and have a wonderful Festival. Our fears were all about our own customers. People spend a huge amount of money to come here and feared they would get caught up in something they really didn't understand."