Trainers have been reminded of their responsibilities regarding coronavirus protocols at their yards following claims from a leading vet that standards were slipping.
Peter Ramzan, a partner at Rossdales Veterinary Surgery in Newmarket, said he believed complacency is setting in when it comes to mask wearing and social distancing – something which has been denied by trainers in the town.
Ramzan told Nick Luck’s Daily Podcast: “My exposure is to Newmarket yards. To date, thankfully, Newmarket has been a fairly healthy little bubble and it’s a fairly small community.
“It’s a fairly bad look for racing in general when one drives into Newmarket yards, masks are pretty thin on the ground, there are very few people wearing them.
“It’s very nuanced and all the baggage that goes with working with a tight group of people, working outdoors, doing a physical job and moving in and out, I get all of that, but it is simply the case that until now a lot of racing staff had been mixing and feeling fairly confident, which builds up a degree of feeling that you are immune.
“Staff are in tack rooms, offices, feed rooms without masks, as well as congregating in the yards with limited social distancing.
“Cases are really going up and we hear on the grapevine of cases here (Newmarket) and at the end of the day it’s a respiratory virus, so it’s a sensible thing to wear a mask.
“I don’t want to get into a big scientific debate about the benefits of wearing a mask, but it’s a pretty bad look that masks and social distancing are not being widely used in training yards.
“I think it’s fair to say a lot of trainers have done as much as they can, but it still seems like it is a cosmetic thing at the moment and it is starting to jar that racing is not quite following the lead of many other parts of the community.
“Ultimately it is about health. We’ve been privileged to have racing continue, but a lot of yard staff are elderly or vulnerable and it is only a matter of time before we start losing people, and to not do everything possible will seem pretty poor.”
Rupert Arnold, chief executive of the National Trainers Federation, said: “Everybody knows the protocols. All the details are available in our daily advice to trainers on our website.
“We strongly urge trainers and their staff to follow the protocols to the letter.”
Newmarket trainer James Tate, himself a vet, insisted staff at his yard strictly adhere to protocols.
“Obviously Pete doesn’t come to our yard because as I’m a vet myself, we do the majority of our own work,” said Tate.
“We are very strict on mask wearing. I tell our lads they don’t need to wear a mask when they ride out, although some of them still do. But around the yard everyone wears them.
“There are signs up telling them to wear them at all times and to our knowledge nobody has caught Covid at our workplace.
“Obviously he must have gone into yards where people aren’t wearing masks as much to have made those comments, but I can’t really comment on that.
“Everyone can see on TV how stalls handlers manage to keep away from each other, even when they are dealing with a troublesome one. It’s all about washing hands and keeping space and even when they come together, it’s only for a split second – outside as well.
“I know there is the new variant, but as far as I know, if you are spending 99.9 per cent of your time outdoors, keep two metres apart and wear a mask then I don’t really share his concerns. But that is maybe based on my workplace and not others.
“He’s maybe trying to bring it to the attention of other workplaces who aren’t as strict. He is at more of a risk as he’s going to multiple yards and occasionally doing tricky procedures.
“At our yard people have breakfast sat in their own cars. Racing has done so well and personally I feel being outdoors helps a lot. It must be virtually impossible to socially distance 100 per cent of the time indoors.
“Everyone is right to flag it out as we must continue to be careful to keep our industry going.”
Fellow Newmarket handler Charlie Fellowes concurred, adding: “You’ve got to use a fair amount of common sense, which we try to initiate as much as possible.
“We take everyone’s temperatures as they walk into the yard on a morning and evening, they are reminded that if they feel or experience any symptoms they are not to come to work and must get a test.
“We are lucky, we have a spacious yard so it is not hard to maintain social distancing and we have signage up everywhere, we restrict people gathering in enclosed spaces.
“I feel the racing industry has done a fantastic job so far, so the last thing we want to do right now is slacken off and give people a reason to think we are being complacent, which we absolutely aren’t.
“From our yard’s perspective, we are doing everything we possibly can.”
The British Horseracing Authority’s chief medical adviser Dr Jerry Hill said: “We are grateful to Mr Ramzan for raising this issue. It is essential that everyone involved in the industry takes personal responsibility for following racing and Government protocols, both at work and in their domestic lives.
“Now more than ever, it is important that everyone involved in the sport continues to play their part by following these protocols closely.
“Overall the response from racing to the strict Government and industry coronavirus protocols has been excellent. However, as the situation continues to worsen nationwide owing to the new variant of the disease, it is critical that we do not take the foot off the pedal.
“The BHA continues to work closely with racing’s stakeholder bodies and guidance has been shared with industry participants on a regular basis, both through the BHA and bodies such as the NTF, NARS and PJA.
“Racing has strict protocols in place on racedays which have helped minimise any transmission of the virus on the racecourse, with no clear evidence of onwards transmission from the 800+ fixtures which have taken place since June 1.
“However, ultimately it is up to our people to ensure they observe all the guidance, both on the racecourse and away from it. Observe social distancing, wear face coverings, wash hands, stay at home where possible and protect the NHS, and definitely do not go into work if you feel unwell – instead isolate, get tested and let the BHA know your results.”