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Could horse flu unseat Cheltenham’s biggest week of the year?

It brings over a quarter of a million people to the racecourse every year and gives a £100 million boost to the local economy, but could this year's Cheltenham Festival be under threat?

An outbreak of highly contagious equine flu means all horse racing has been cancelled until next week.

The flu was identified in three horses from trainer Donald McCain's yard, who had all had their compulsory flu jabs. Horses from the yard raced at Ayr and Ludlow this week, which means all horses which raced at those two meetings will need to be tested.

If tests are found to be clear, Cheltenham can breathe a huge sigh of relief and racing will be back on by the end of next week. But if tests prove negative and the flu is found to have spread, there is no telling how long racing may have to be called off.

With less than five weeks until the Festival, a cancellation could have a huge negative effect on Cheltenham and Gloucestershire. Last year, the Festival saw a record attendance of 262,637 over the four days. The racecourse alone provides 7000 jobs for the duration of the Festival, while hotels, pubs, restaurants and bars all see a huge increase in takings every year.

Punchline said: "It's going to be an anxious wait over the next few days, not just for Cheltenham Racecourse, but for businesses across Cheltenham. Like everyone, we're hoping this equine flu is an isolated incident and Cheltenham can look forward to yet another record breaking Festival next month."

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