Monday discussions set to decide owner attendance in lockdown

Meetings will take place on Monday to determine whether owners can still attend British racecourses when the new national lockdown kicks in.

Nick Rust, chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority, is relieved that racing can continue through the tighter restrictions imposed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson – which are set to last for four weeks from Thursday – but the participation of owners is once more up in the air.

Speaking on Racing TV’s Luck On Sunday, Rust said: “The Government has shown plenty of faith in us, and we can show what an important role racing plays in national life over the next month.

“There will be meetings tomorrow to work everything through, because there are arrangements which are different in Scotland and Wales – but fundamentally, on first assessment last night, the only query is going to be participation of owners.

“Obviously we’d love to keep them coming – but there have been some tough restrictions re-imposed on hospitality, so there are no guarantees on that. We will fight hard on it, but the main thing is that we comply and we keep racing going for the next month.

“I doubt there will need to be substantial changes – if any – to the requirements placed on participants during this period. We’d already tightened a few things up, including the wearing of face coverings, last week.

“We made the case originally to bring back owners, that they were an essential part of the activity, but the sentiment is very much around essential work – we’re not making a decision on that until we’ve had further discussions.”

Another key area for discussion for Rust and the BHA is when the return of paying spectators will be permitted, with racing’s finances taking a huge hit the longer they are absent from racecourses.

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“We have to keep going with trying to bring crowds back,” said Rust.

“It won’t be a public campaign – that is not the way to deal with it, given the announcement which has just been made, but we have not stopped behind the scenes, working with other sports as well, trying to pave the way for spectators.

“It’s a massive issue facing the sports sector – and racing in particular – if we aren’t able to bring spectators back.

“We’re not expecting to have pilots back before Christmas now, but we have to pave the way to have pilots in January and February looking to bring crowds back from spring onward, if conditions allow generally.

“The Government trusted us with pilots – we were the first major sport really to run events and we still had between 200-400 people in those early days of racing as well, so we’ve shown that we can do it and we want to use the evidence to help Government with the road map.”

Another blow to the racing industry is the closure of betting shops, which is expected have a knock-on detrimental effect on prize moeny.

Rust added: “With betting shops closed for a month, that will have an impact on media rights income and of course the Levy, which could cost around £2,500,000 and possibly more – I don’t know the figure for media rights.

“We know that 50 per cent of racecourse income is from spectators – and we know that is not going to be there – and there will be a reduction in activity from betting-related income.

“Through Levy Board support, we have enough to run the fixture list at minimum prize-money levels for about 75 per cent of the races, certainly up until Christmas, and we’re looking to confirm for the first three or four months of next year on the same basis.

“The return of spectators from spring next year is absolutely vital.”

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