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A crowd of more than 60,000 has attended the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, around 7000 less than a year ago.

Extra wash basins and hand sanitiser stations are in place to help combat the coronavirus outbreak.

Despite the fall in numbers on Tuesday (Wednesday AEDT) aggregate crowds across the four days are still expected to top 250,000.

Ian Renton, regional head of racing at Jockey Club Racecourses, said organisers were happy with the crowd “considering the uncertainty of the last fortnight”.

“We have been liaising very closely with the government over the last fortnight and listening to them and listening to their advice,” he said.

“And they have been extremely helpful in telling us what they believe is the right thing to do.

“They want business to continue as usual in this country and sporting events such as this that take place.

“So we have put a lot of precautions in place, in terms of ensuring racegoers have access to soap and water and can follow government advice on hygiene.”

Racing and other sports around the world have been affected by the virus with many events being held without spectators.

Jockeys were briefed by staff at the course about the importance of hygiene and also recognising any potential symptoms.

What started as a day to forget for trainer Nicky Henderson quickly turned into one to savour, with Epatante securing him a record-extending eighth win in the Champion Hurdle, the signature race.

Having been forced to rule star horse Altior out of his bid for a third Champion Chase – the top race on Wednesday – it was going to take something special to lift Henderson’s spirits.

Shishkin went some way to achieving that by winning the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, before Epatante further softened the blow by winning as the 2-1 favourite.

Henderson is now on 66 career winners at the Festival, one ahead of Irish trainer Willie Mullins.

“That was a bruising blow to leave Altior, your linchpin, at home, but he is in safe hands and we will have him back,” Henderson said.

“In the meantime we have got to get on with what we have got . it is a good start and there is a long way to go, but you would settle for this any day of your life.”

 
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