Retired champion jockey Sir AP McCoy has admitted that ‘a lot lives have been lost’ because the Cheltenham Festival was allowed to go ahead.
The 45-year-old said horse racing had followed government advice to go ahead with the event that saw 250,000 people gather over four days last month.
But McCoy admitted that the festival between March 10 and 13 had contributed to the UK’s death toll which now stands at more than 10,600.
Speaking on ITV’s Good Morning Britain today, the Northern Irishman, who rode a record 4,358 winners, said: ‘I suppose in hindsight, it’s always easy isn’t it. 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.’
McCoy has joined forces with other equestrian stars including Frankie Dettori and Zara Tindall to raise money to support the NHS during the crisis.
They have been involved in the Equestrian Relief initiative which has raised £100,000 with daily challenges such as baking an Easter-themed cake and a charity auction.
(From left) Ruby Walsh, AP McCoy and the Duchess of Cornwall at Cheltenham on March 11
Thousands of people attended the festival in Gloucestershire, pictured above on March 13
And he told presenter Piers Morgan today: ‘The challenge is great – we’ve raised over £100,000. But I was a little disappointed I finished second. I put it down to age.’
McCoy’s admission on Cheltenham follows fears dozens of celebrities along with hundreds more racegoers could have been infected with coronavirus last month.
Camilla’s ex-husband Andrew Parker Bowles, comedian Lee Mack and footballer Charlie Austin are all thought to have contracted the infection at the event.
Racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks has also revealed fears that he got the virus there – as did two racecourse workers, Andrew Maclean and Scott Saunders.
Zara Tindall (left) and Archie McCoy, son of AP McCoy, at Cheltenham Racecourse on March 11
This graphic shows which royals met each other during the Cheltenham Festival, before they held other events thereafter. There is a 14-day incubation period with the virus – and someone carrying it is thought to infect an average of two people. Only Prince Charles and Andrew Parker Bowles in the above graphic are known to have contracted coronavirus
Fans were packed into the stands at the world-famous festival with no protection despite fears over the spread of the virus which was then in its early stages in Britain.
It went ahead just two weeks before the lockdown on March 23, with 60,000 to 70,000 attendees daily at a time when Italy was already in lockdown as of March 9.
But organisers The Jockey Club have insisted the festival ‘went ahead under Government guidance’. It finished three days before mass gatherings were banned.
There was huge debate at the time of the Festival over whether it should go ahead, especially with dozens of other sports events being cancelled due to the pandemic.
AP McCoy wins the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Synchronised at the Festival on March 16, 2012
These included Premier League football matches, England’s cricket tour of Sri Lanka and Formula One races – all called off on March 13, the last day of Cheltenham.
Hundreds more people who attended the festival have also taken to social media to claim they contracted the virus while at the event in Gloucestershire.
While most of them have not been tested and cannot prove where they picked up their illness, dozens claim they only started showing symptoms after the event.
Camilla was at the event, although tested negative for the virus. Her husband Prince Charles tested positive, but has since recovered from a ‘mild’ form of the illness.
A representative for McCoy told MailOnline earlier this month that the former jockey, who lives in Berkshire, ‘hasn’t had any symptoms’ of coronavirus.