'Lives were lost' due to Cheltenham Festival, AP McCoy says

Coronavirus: AP McCoy clarifies Cheltenham Festival comments after saying ‘a lot of lives were lost’

Former jockey claims he was talking about the coronavirus pandemic on the whole after attending the Cheltenham Festival but that only hindsight can prove that after organisers followed government health advice to stage the event

Jack de Menezes
Sports News Correspondent
Monday 13 April 2020 11:48

Legendary jockey AP McCoy has attempted to clarify comments he made that appeared to criticise the staging of the Cheltenham Festival, with the horseracing pundit claiming that he said “a lot of lives were lost” due to Covid-19 on the whole and not specifically last month’s race meet.

Cheltenham organisers have defended the event that went ahead between 10 and 13 March, despite growing concern around the United Kingdom regarding the outbreak of coronavirus. By the final day of the Festival on Friday, six people had died in Britain and 373 had tested positive for coronavirus, figures which have since rocketed to more than 10,600 dead and 84,000 confirmed cases.

Cheltenham Racecourse have stressed that they were following government advice, with Public Health England confirming at the time that there was no reason to postpone the event, but former jockey-turned-ITV pundit McCoy believes hindsight means more questions will be asked of when racing can resume after the British Horseracing Authority suspended flat racing until May and jump racing through to July.

“I suppose in hindsight, it’s always easy isn’t it,” McCoy said on Good Morning Britain on Monday. “With Cheltenham they were following at the time the government guidelines.

“They were the ones that had asked for advice. I suppose that will be the same when we stopped and when do we go back – the same people will be making decisions.

“Look, the reality of it is that a lot of lives have been lost because of it. And who knows, when do we go back, is it too soon, or is it not too soon, if we lose more lives at the end of it all – I don’t know. Hindsight is a great thing – I think no one knows.”

It appeared that McCoy had directly claimed that the Festival was to blame for the loss of lives, but the 45-year-old clarified on Twitter that by “it”, he was referring to coronavirus on the whole.

“Don’t twist my words. I said “Lives have been lost” referring to Covid-19, not the Cheltenham Festival,” he later said.

Around 250,000 racegoers attended the Gloucestershire racecourse over the four days, with many who attended expressing their belief that the contracted coronavirus while there.

Andrew Parker Bowles, the ex-husband of the Duchess of Cornwall, comedian Lee Mack and West Bromwich Albion footballer Charlie Austin all believe they contracted Covid-19 at Cheltenham, as well as racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks and two workers.

The 71-year-old Lancashire County Cricket Club chairman David Hodgkiss died at the end of March after contracting coronavirus two weeks after attending the four-day Festival, according to trainer and close friend Nicky Henderson.

The government has faced growing criticism for allowing Cheltenham to go ahead at a time when other events were being postponed and cancelled. The Festival, which takes place from Tuesday to Friday, was one of the last major sporting events to take place before the UK was placed in lockdown by prime minister Boris Johnson, with all Premier League and English Football League games suspended the following weekend as well as all three Six Nations matches. Further abroad, the start of the Formula One season was abandoned, and following Johnson’s decision to place the nation in lockdown the following Monday, all scheduled racing cards were postponed by the BHA, including April’s Grand National.

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