British racing hoping for limited return on May 1st

BHA have identified tracks which could house relevant people in nearby hotels

Racing should discover by the end of the week whether a resumption of meetings behind closed doors from May 1st is still considered feasible by the sport’s administrators, with the British Horseracing Authority expected to complete a review of the state of its plans within the next few days.

Australia, Japan and Hong Kong have continued to stage race meetings behind closed doors in recent weeks despite the developing coronavirus crisis, and Japan staged the first Classic of the new Flat season in the northern hemisphere on Sunday when Daring Tact stormed home from a long way off the pace to win the Oka Sho, the country’s equivalent of the 1,000 Guineas.

The sport’s ruling body in Germany, meanwhile, said on Friday that it intends to resume a limited racing programme behind closed doors from May 1st. There has been no racing in Britain since March 17th, when the BHA abandoned a brief attempt to maintain a schedule behind closed doors and suspended all racing until April 30th. That came after the government withdrew emergency service support for non-essential activities and then banned public gatherings of more than two people.

The continuing suspension is thought to be costing the sport at least £6m a month in terms of revenue from off-course betting alone, while several major Festival meetings have already been either cancelled or postponed. Almost all jockeys are freelancers and have been unable to work for three weeks, while all jump racing has been cancelled until at least July 1st.

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The BHA has since been planning towards a possible resumption of some racing on May 1st and is understood to have identified several tracks, including Newcastle and Lingfield, which could stage regular meetings running for several days at a time. Jockeys and other staff could be accommodated in on-site hotels to comply with quarantine restrictions and reduce unnecessary travel. Newmarket, which has two courses and several thousand horses stabled nearby, is also thought to be high on the list for an early resumption.

While much has been done to prepare for a quick return to racing whenever possible, the BHA’s review of the current situation will also consider the likelihood of any easing of the lockdown measures which were introduced on March 23rd. The government has warned that the lockdown is likely to be extended, and a three- or four-week extension would rule out a return to any racing until at least mid-May.

Chester’s big May Festival meeting, which was due to open on May 5th, has already been cancelled as the track’s city-centre location with viewing possible from outside the course would make it impossible to race behind closed doors while guaranteeing that it would not attract a crowd.

Both the Guineas meeting at Newmarket on the first weekend in May and the Derby meeting at Epsom in early June have been postponed, in the hope that it will be possible to test the three-year-old generation later in the year. Ascot, though, has said its prestigious Royal meeting, one of the most valuable and significant fixtures of the year for the racing, breeding and betting industries will take place behind closed doors from June 16th if the restrictions in place at the time allow it to proceed. – Guardian