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Punters Set for Cheltenham Stamina Test

Punters face two bumper days of action following the abandonment of day two of the Cheltenham Festival.

Day two of the 2008 Cheltenham Festival has been abandoned in the interests of safety.

Officials made the startling announcement after another morning of high winds and intense gusts at Prestbury Park.

All six races due to take place on Wednesday, including the feature Seasons Holidays Queen Mother Champion Chase, will instead be staged on Thursday and Friday.

An official Cheltenham statement read: "We have a weather forecast for today that predicts extremely strong winds over the next six or seven hours with a high degree of certainty."

On that basis we have made the decision to abandon racing for today.

"The forecast for Thursday and Friday is much calmer and the races abandoned today will be rescheduled to be run on Thursday and Friday on extended cards, with a first race time of 12.30pm.

"The revised order of running and further details regarding Thursday and Friday will be issued in due course."Ticket holders for Wednesday's card will receive a 100% refund, but those tickets will not be valid on Thursday or Friday.

The statement added: "There will be tickets on sale for all three enclosures tomorrow, using a higher capacity of 65,000. Friday is sold out."

Cheltenham managing director, Edward Gillespie, said: "We had a forecast last night indicating that wind speeds would gust over 50mph, up to and including 3pm this afternoon.

"We had a look this morning and that has sadly been reinforced.

"That means many of the temporary facilities would not be safe at that level.

"The reason we are not racing today is for the safety of the customer."

The course was also hit in the build-up to the meeting by storms of up to 48mph.

A hospitality tent at the racecourse was on Monday flattened by the high winds and the starter's rostrum was blown over, damaging fencing.

The situation grew untenable during Wednesday morning, however, and the tented village at the track had to be evacuated.

Gillespie added: "The rest of the crowd are close to the (worst-hit) areas so it's not a case of just one area been out.

"Equally, it's a west wind, which would also take debris onto the track.

"We've had one structure blown down this morning, just before 7 o'clock."We cannot guarantee the safety of the customers but the good news is we can now stage all the races now over the next two days.

"Tomorrow we will use the Old Course and on Friday (the races) will be all run on the New Course.

"We will be meeting at 4pm to assess the situation again.

"The forecast for the next two days is excellent and that has helped us make the decision (to stage Wednesday's races on Thursday and Friday)."

Gillespie admitted course officials were left with no choice but to abandon the meeting.

He said: "We have to make a decision now to prevent as many people as possible from inconvenience.

"The great thing is all the races will be run over the next two days, there will be no loss of income for the jockeys or trainers, but unfortunately people coming today will not be able to see the races.

"There is a feeling that Cheltenham will always prevail.

"But with wind speeds of 50mph, you wouldn't normally be racing.

"On advice from all the experts we cannot invite people here today.

"It's the structural engineers, the people in charge of the temporary structures, the police.

"Everybody has told us there is not a safe environment for people to come here today."

Bookmakers totesport, who sponsor Friday's Gold Cup, added: "All bets placed on the CheltenhamFestival up until the suspension of markets at 8.32am this morning will stand in accordance with totesport rules.

"All totepool bets relating to Wednesday's Cheltenham card will be void."

Thursday and Friday's jackpots will run on the first six races on the card."

Gloucestershire Police spokeswoman Annabel Brittain urged racegoers on their way to the course to turn back.

She said: "The Cheltenham races have been cancelled for today due to the extremely strong winds forecast.

"Police are therefore urging people not to go to the racecourse and advising those who have already begun their journey to turn around and make their way home.

"As a result of forecasts that winds of 60 to 80mph are expected, the decision has been taken by racecourse officials to cancel races for today.

"It is hoped racing will continue tomorrow and Friday."

Revised Schedule:

Thursday, March 13
12.30 - Peter O'Sullevan National Hunt Chase
1.05 - Royal & SunAlliance Chase
1.40 - Jewson Novices Handicap Chase
2.20 - Queen Mother Champion Chase
2.55 - Ryanair Chase
3.30 - Ladbrokes World Hurdle
4.05 - Racing Post Plate
4.40 - Pertemps Final
5.20 - Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase
5.50 - Weatherbys Champion Bumper

Friday, March 14
12.30 - David Nicholson Mares' Only Hurdle
1.05 - Ballymore Properties Novices' Hurdle
1.40 - Coral Cup
2.15 - JCB Triumph Hurdle
2.50 - Albert Bartlett
3.30 - totesport Gold Cup
4.05 - Christie's Foxhunter Chase
4.40 - Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase
5.20 - Vincent O'Brien County Hurdle

All times subject to confirmation

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