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Monday, March 19
Irish likely to miss Cheltenham

LONDON - Irish trainers and horses are unlikely to take part in next month's Grand National or the rearranged Cheltenham Festival in England because of the foot-and-mouth outbreak, the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association (IRTA) said on Monday.

"It looks very unlikely - it doesn't look good," said IRTA chairman Willie Mullins after meeting officials from the agriculture department of the Irish government.

"Because the situation in England has got worse, not better, they've reiterated their stance that they do not want to see Irish horses or supporters going abroad to race," Mullins told BBC radio.

"We feel compelled to support that stance."

The spread of foot-and-mouth among livestock in England has already caused the Cheltenham Festival, which Irish racegoers attend in their thousands, to be postponed from its orginal date of March 13-15. It has been rearranged for April 17-19.

The Grand National meeting at Aintree in Liverpool, scheduled for April 5-7, is also popular with the Irish.

Ireland has provided the last two winners of the famous Grand National steeplechase - last year's winner Papillon and Bobbyjo in 1999.

Both meetings remain in doubt because of the continuing spread of the disease, though Cheltenham looks more vulnerable because it is located in Gloucestershire which has been badly hit by the disease.

On Monday a case was confirmed at a farm located only eight miles (12.8 kms) from the racecourse, the BBC said.

Unlike in England, where over 300 cases of foot-and-mouth have been confirmed, horse racing has been banned in Ireland despite the fact that Ireland has no confirmed cases of the disease.

The Irish government hopes to allow horse racing to resume in Ireland on the Easter weekend of April 14-15.

"We welcome the possible resumption of racing in Ireland at Easter which will alleviate the need for many to want to race abroad," said the IRTA in a statement.

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