Scores of Cheltenham race enthusiasts were forced to reschedule their plans at the last minute yesterday – which proved to be good news for at least one Birmingham dog track.
About 500 punters from one Solihull-based coach company had to make alternative plans after the second day of racing at Cheltenham was cancelled due to severe weather conditions.
Hall Green Stadium is normally almost deserted for the Wednesday daytime meeting, which is only staged so bookies have live greyhound racing on TV for punters placing bets.
However, yesterday many of those leaving rendezvous points across the Midlands were diverted to the dog track as the usual 50-strong crowd swelled to around 300.
Rob Kingsgott, from Henley-in-Arden based Johnsons Coaches, said: "Every year we have five coaches booked out to Irish bookmakers Tulleys, with each coach containing 49 people.
"These coaches, which depart from Stratford-upon-Avon, were diverted soon after they left. We also had another five coaches which were privately chartered to go to Cheltenham, but they never went down."
Staff at Hall Green Stadium made urgent arrangements to open up executive boxes and boost staffing levels.
Cheltenham Racecourse official Andy Clifton said they expected all yesterday’s races to be fitted into the remaining two days of the festival.
People with tickets for yesterday would get a full refund, he said, but could not be guaranteed access to today’s or tomorrow’s racing.
He said: "We have had a weather forecast for that predicts extremely strong winds over the next six or seven hours up to three o’clock this afternoon and possibly beyond and there is a fairly high degree of certainty over that forecast, so on that basis we have made the decision to abandon racing.
"Luckily the forecast for the next couple of days is much calmer so the races that were due to be run will be accommodated into extended programmes on Thursday and Friday.
He added: "People who were due to come will get a 100 per cent refund and we are now looking at capacities for Thursday and Friday.
"Obviously we can’t say to everybody that was due to come ‘you can come tomorrow’ because we could end up with 80,000 people here, which would again be unsafe for different reasons."
The decision to abandon was made just after 8.30am after the Midlands was battered by storms overnight.
The early call was made in the hope that most racegoers would not have already set out on long journeys heading for the course.
Tented hospitality areas were thought to have been a particular focus of safety concerns as they normally house thousands of people during a day’s racing.
The festival meeting has traditionally attracted thousands of punters down the M5 from Birmingham. It is now so popular that it has been extended to a four-day event in recent years.
Elsewhere commuters experienced delays as gale force winds brought chaos to the Midlands’ road and rail networks, and caused a plane heading for Birmingham International Airport to be diverted.
A spokesman for the airport said a Continental Airlines flight from Newark was diverted to Gatwick by air traffic controllers at 6.05am yesterday because of heavy winds.
Cars and lorries were buffeted by winds of up to 85mph and heavy rain and trains in and out of Birmingham were slowed to a maximum of 50mph.
London Midlands trains linking Birmingham to the North-west were terminating at Crewe, where they were replaced by buses to Manchester and Liverpool. Luckily the forecast for the next couple of days is much calmer so the races that were due to be run will be accommodated into extended programmes on Thursday and Friday. A matrix road sign on the M42 near Birmingham warning passing motorists of severe gales and possible delays yesterday wind