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RCA will work with Government over coronavirus contingency plans

The Racecourse Association is anticipating a “significant logistical operation” after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced full Covid vaccination will be a requirement for entry to “venues where large crowds gather” from October.

The Prime Minister was speaking on ‘Freedom Day’ as previous coronavirus restrictions come to an end in England – permitting the return of full crowds to racecourses and other major venues for the first time since March 2020.

However, he spelled out that a new regulation will come into force this autumn when proof of double vaccination against coronavirus will be needed for admission to “nightclubs and other venues where large crowds gather”.

Mr Johnson said: “I should serve notice now that by the end of September, when all over 18s will have had the chance to be double jabbed, we are planning to make full vaccination the condition of entry to nightclubs and other venues where large crowds gather.

“Proof of a negative test will no longer be sufficient.”

The RCA will seek further clarification of detailed plans but has issued a statement confirming the intention to work with Government on necessary contingency plans.

It read: “The RCA notes today’s announcement from the Prime Minister that as of October 1 2021, the Covid Pass is to be made mandatory for certain events in England.

“We welcome the fact that this inception date will allow all British adults to have the option of being double vaccinated.

“While we all sincerely hope the days of Covid restrictions are behind us, it is vital that horseracing and the wider sports/leisure economies have contingency plans to avoid commercially damaging restrictions being re-imposed but equally allow us to host safe events.

“Our immediate attention now turns to working with Government, stakeholder partners and member racecourses to understand the detail behind this plan and map out what will be a significant logistical operation.”

Racecourses boosted by confirmation of July 19 lockdown easing

The return of capacity crowds at British racecourses moved another step closer on Monday when Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed the plan for further easing of lockdown restrictions in England will go ahead on July 19.

Step 4 in the road map includes the lifting of social distancing and removing the obligation to wear face coverings – but the public are still advised to wear them in crowded, indoor spaces “such as public transport”.

The Prime Minister said: “It is absolutely vital that we proceed with caution” and that “the pandemic is not over” but confirmed that the so-called “freedom day” would see the end of most restrictions.

Royal Ascot's crowds were restricted to 12,000 this year
Royal Ascot’s crowds were restricted to 12,000 this year (Steven Paston/PA)

Ascot hosts the first major raceday after restrictions have been lifted with the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes on July 24, while Beverley, Cartmel and Windsor are the tracks in England in action at the beginning of the week.

However, some protocols are expected to remain in place at racecourses to protect the participants.

Racecourse chief executive David Armstrong said: “It is fantastic news that racecourses in England will be able to welcome racegoers without restriction from Monday July 19. The RCA is working closely with the racecourses in England to prepare for full capacities and we will continue to communicate with our industry partners and the devolved governments for an update from Wales and Scotland.

“It has been a difficult time for the racing industry and we estimate that the pandemic has cost racecourses £400m. However, with some of the sport’s most iconic marquee events just around the corner, including the Qatar Goodwood Festival, Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival and Cazoo St Leger Festival, it looks set to be a brilliant summer of racing.”

He went on: “The RCA, alongside Great British Racing, is working to attract racegoers back on course, reminding everyone that racing is a great day out for all. It is also important to remember that racecourses are safe venues to visit. As well as having vast amounts of outdoor space the racecourses, in line with government messaging, will encourage spectators to remain vigilant and use their own judgement while on course to keep everybody comfortable and safe.

“In order to protect racing’s key participants and minimise the risk of self-isolation, it may be necessary for a small number of restrictions to remain in place, but these will be removed as soon as it is deemed safe to do so.”

The British Horseracing Authority said in a statement: “It is very pleasing to hear that the planned easing of restrictions which were announced last week have today been confirmed.

“The return of spectators to race meetings in greater numbers in England represents a significant and much needed step along the sport’s plans for recovery from the impacts of Covid-19. We await further announcements from the Scottish and Welsh Governments on their Covid regulations later this week.

“The industry is working together to finalise the infection control measures that will be in place to protect the sport’s participants, particularly those working mainly in and around the Weighing Room Complex, which remains a higher-risk area.

“Full details of these plans will be published in the coming days.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA)

The Prime Minister also said at his Downing Street press conference that now was the right time to lift restrictions due to the “natural firebreak” of the school holidays.

“We also know if we were to now delay this fourth step, for instance to September, or later, then we would be reopening as the weather gets colder and as the virus acquires a greater natural advantage and when schools are back,” he said.

“We think now is the right moment to proceed when we have the natural firebreak of the school holidays in the next few days.”

Racecourses in England set to welcome return of full crowds

Officials at the Racecourse Association and British Horseracing Authority have welcomed Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement that the limit on numbers attending sporting events is likely to be lifted as part of the easing of Covid-19 restrictions in England on July 19.

Though a final decision will not be made until next Monday, the Prime Minister outlined plans that include the one-metre social distancing rule to be scrapped, as well as the compulsory wearing of face coverings.

The RCA, through its working groups and partnerships within the sport, will now focus its attention to supporting racecourses in preparing for full capacities and seeking similar clarification from devolved governments in Scotland and Wales.

Since May 17 there has been a cap of 4,000 allowed at meetings, except for Royal Ascot where up to 12,000 could attend as part of a Government pilot scheme.

Crowds were back at Royal Ascot this year
Crowds were back at Royal Ascot this year (David Davies/PA)

The news of the lifting of limited numbers will come as a boost to the sport, especially with big meetings such as the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on July 24, five days of Glorious Goodwood from July 27-31 and York’s Ebor meeting from August 18-21 on the horizon.

RCA chief executive David Armstrong said: “It has been 476 days since British racecourses were able to welcome racegoers without restriction. Clearly this has been a difficult time for racecourses on both a commercial level, we estimate the pandemic has cost racecourses £400 million, and human level — we have deeply missed the atmosphere and presence of racegoers.

“The clarity provided by today’s Government announcement is wonderful news for racecourses in England and we will continue to work closely with our industry partners and the devolved governments for an update from Wales and Scotland.

“With some of the sport’s marquee events to come including the Qatar Goodwood Festival, York’s Ebor Festival and the Cazoo St Leger Festival at Doncaster, our attention now turns to helping racecourses prepare for a fantastic summer.

“Certain restrictions may remain in place to protect racing’s participants, but we will work closely with our partners across the sport to remove these as quickly as is possible whilst maintaining their safety.”

Until recently, racing had been held behind closed doors since its resumption in June last year
Until recently, racing had been held behind closed doors since its resumption in June last year (David Davies/PA)

BHA chair Annamarie Phelps also reacted positively, saying: “We are delighted to hear the Prime Minister’s announcement today. Monday July 19 will be a significant day for all sports, and very much so for British racing.

“This news comes as a huge boost to an industry which relies so heavily on its nearly six million racegoing fans each year. A day at the races with the wonderful atmosphere generated by our racegoers is an experience unlike any other.

“Everyone involved in our sport has been looking forward to this news for the last 13 months, and worked tirelessly and with great patience to safely keep the show on the road in this time.”

However, Phelps added: “While racing is perfectly suited to spectators enjoying a sporting experience in a safe environment, it may remain the case that some protocols around the operation of sporting events for participants and officials remain in place in order to protect sports from the potential impact of positive cases and close contact self-isolation requirements, and permit international competitors.

“We are currently working with our industry colleagues to consider how this might apply to racing and how our racedays will therefore operate from July 19 onwards, and we await further clarity from Government.

“We also look forward to spectators being permitted to return to sporting events in Scotland and Wales in greater numbers in due course, and continue to engage proactively with the Devolved Administrations on this issue.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking during a media briefing in Downing Street
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking during a media briefing in Downing Street (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA)

The Prime Minister said that it is a “propitious moment” to ease coronavirus restrictions, suggesting it would be harder to end them in the autumn and winter months.

He told a Downing Street press conference: “If we do find another variant that doesn’t respond to the vaccines, if heaven forbid some really awful new bug should appear, then clearly we will have to take whatever steps we need to do to protect the public.

“But on balance, given the massive success of the vaccine rollout, given the fact that this is a propitious moment, a good moment to do it given the coming summer holidays, the natural firebreak we have there, and given the difficulty of then imagining us opening up in the context of the colder autumn/winter months, I think this is a balanced and cautious approach.”

BHA welcomes road map announcement

The British Horseracing Authority has underlined its commitment to getting both owners and racegoers back on course after Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined a possible mid-May date for the return of limited crowds to English sports venues.

Aside from a couple of trial events and a handful of fixtures before Christmas, racing has been staged behind closed doors since its return last June following the first national lockdown.

Owners were permitted to return in limited numbers in July and throughout the summer, but the third lockdown imposed on January 4 meant on-course attendance was again limited to essential personnel only.

The Prime Minister laid out his road map for the easing of coronavirus restrictions in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon, with a limited return of crowds put into step three of a phased recovery plan, with a date of no earlier than May 17.

Indoor events will be capped at 50 per cent capacity or 1,000, whichever is lower, and for outdoor events this will be 50 per cent capacity or 4,000, whichever is lower, with special provision for large, outdoor, seated venues where crowds can be safely distributed, allowing up to 10,000 people or 25 per cent of total seated capacity, whichever is lower.

Pilots will also run to examine how such events can take place without the need for social distancing, using other mitigations such as testing, the Government said and the BHA has indicated it will seek discussions regarding possible test events.

A statement read: “On behalf of British racing and all those who work in our industry, we very much welcome the government’s announcement today of a road map for the removal of the current Covid restrictions.

“The whole sport has worked hard to abide by our race-day protocols to allow racing to continue behind closed doors and support the many livelihoods that depend on our industry. British racing’s classification as an elite sport made this possible. But we do miss owners and we do miss spectators whose presence at meetings contributes so much to the thrill of our sport.

“We have already introduced additional measures to reduce the risks of transmission of the virus and have further options under consideration. We will now engage with government to highlight our ability to move beyond the current limitation on essential staff only as soon as that is possible and allow the return of owners.

“Racing continues to benefit from the incredible loyalty shown by owners. We will clarify as soon as possible when they can return to race-meetings, and when amateurs can resume riding.

“The government has also published details today on the potential timings for the return of spectators to elite sport. We have further discussions with officials scheduled which will enable us to draw up specific proposals for race meetings, including potential pilot events.

“We also expect to hear further details of the plans for Scotland and Wales which are not covered by today’s announcement.”

Betting shops are not due to reopen until April 12 at the earliest
Betting shops are not due to reopen until April 12 at the earliest (Liam McBurney/PA)

Non-essential retail will not reopen until April 12 at the earliest, meaning betting shops will remain closed for both the Cheltenham Festival and the Randox Grand National meeting at Aintree – two of the biggest betting events of the year.

The BHA statement added: “Whilst the publication of dates is a very positive sign, the absence of spectators from our big events is continuing to put a strain on racing’s revenues. This has been exacerbated by the closure of betting shops. Our financial discussions with government are ongoing.”

The Government’s plan sets out the lifting of restrictions in four steps. At each one, the success of the vaccine rollout, vaccine efficacy, the presence of variants and infection rates will be measured before deciding whether to take the next step.

The Prime Minister announced there will be a minimum five-week gap between each step – and easing of restrictions will happen on a nationwide, rather than a regional, basis.

Doncaster hosted a crowd pilot last summer
Doncaster hosted a crowd pilot last summer (David Davies/PA)

Pilot events for the return of spectators are expected to begin as part of the Government’s Event Research Programme from April.

These will use “enhanced testing approaches and other measures to run events with larger crowd sizes and reduced social distancing to evaluate the outcomes”.

Findings from pilots across the sport and cultural sectors will be brought together to develop a “consistent approach” to removing capacity limits as part of step four – which would start no earlier than June 21.

That date would fall two days after the end of Royal Ascot, but a limited attendance at Epsom for the Derby meeting, which begins on June 4, could be a possibility along with spectators at Goodwood’s May festival and the Temple Stakes fixture at Haydock on May 22.

Royal Ascot was held without spectators last year
Royal Ascot was held without spectators last year (Julian Finney/PA)

The Racecourse Association were satisfied with the news and is eager for racegoers to be “amongst the first sports fans to safely return”.

A statement read: “The RCA welcomes the announcement made by the Prime Minister outlining the route map out of national lockdown and a timeline for the safe return of spectators to major outdoor events.

“We will continue to work closely with our member racecourses, Government and relevant health and safety authorities to ensure that racegoers are amongst the first sports fans to safely return and enjoy a day’s racing.”

Mid-May return at earliest for racing crowds

Spectators are not expected to return to racecourses until mid-May at the earliest after Prime Minister Boris Johnson laid out his road map for the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

While schools are set to return on March 8 and grassroots sport will be reinstated not before March 29, along with larger groups being allowed to gather in parks and gardens, the Prime Minster is planning to allow limited crowds back to sports venues only from May 17 at the earliest.

Indoor events will be capped at 50 per cent capacity or 1,000, whichever is lower, and for outdoor events this will be 50 per cent capacity or 4,000, whichever is lower.

Racing has largely been behind closed doors since last June
Racing has largely been behind closed doors since last June (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The road map includes special provision for large, outdoor, seated venues where crowds can be safely distributed, allowing up to 10,000 people or 25 per cent of total seated capacity, whichever is lower.

Pilots will also run to examine how such events can take place without the need for social distancing, using other mitigations such as testing, the Government said.

Non-essential retail will not reopen until April 12 at the earliest, meaning betting shops will remain closed for both the Cheltenham Festival and the Randox Grand National meeting at Aintree – two of the biggest betting events of the year.

The plan sets out the lifting of restrictions in four steps. At each one, the success of the vaccine rollout, vaccine efficacy, the presence of variants
and infection rates will be measured before deciding whether to take the next step.

The Prime Minister announced there will be a minimum five-week gap between each step – and easing of restrictions will happen on a nationwide, rather than a regional, basis.

A socially-distanced trial event took place at Doncaster last September
A socially-distanced trial event took place at Doncaster last September (David Davies/PA)

Racing returned behind closed doors last June following the first lockdown.

Racegoers were permitted for trial events at Warwick and Doncaster last September, although the planned four-day pilot on Town Moor was cut to just one day on the instruction of the local authority.

Limited crowds were then permitted under the local tiers system in December, with Cheltenham hosting up to 2,000 spectators at its December meeting and both Sandown and Aintree welcoming racegoers at feature fixtures that month.

However, under current lockdown measures, no racegoers or owners are allowed – with the on-track presence limited to only essential personnel.

Pilot events for the return of spectators are expected to begin as part of the Government’s Event Research Programme from April.

These will use “enhanced testing approaches and other measures to run events with larger crowd sizes and reduced social distancing to evaluate the outcomes”.

Trainers William Haggas  (left) and Roger Varian practice social distancing at Royal Ascot
Trainers William Haggas (left) and Roger Varian practice social distancing at Royal Ascot (Edward Whitaker/PA)

Findings from pilots across the sport and cultural sectors will be brought together to develop a “consistent approach” to removing capacity limits as part of step four – which would start no earlier than June 21.

The Racecourse Association were satisfied with the news and issued a statement which read: “The RCA welcomes the announcement made by the Prime Minister outlining the route map out of national lockdown and a timeline for the safe return of spectators to major outdoor events.

“We will continue to work closely with our member racecourses, Government and relevant health and safety authorities to ensure that racegoers are amongst the first sports fans to safely return and enjoy a day’s racing.”

Boris Johnson says Government working to get sporting crowds back ‘as soon as possible’

Prime Minister Boris Johnson says his Government is working to get crowds back into venues “as soon as possible”.

Reports emerged on Tuesday evening the Government was exploring the possibility of spectators being allowed into venues by Christmas in areas with the lowest coronavirus infection rates.

He was reported to have privately told MPs that reopening sports grounds was a “personal priority”, but did not give any specifics on the issue when the matter was raised during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.

“I understand the frustration over fans and we hope to get crowds back in the ground as soon as possible,” he said in answer to a question from Karl McCartney, the Conservative MP for Lincoln.

Barring two successful trial events at Doncaster and Warwick in September, racing has been staged behind closed doors since the sport resumed on June 1 following the first Covid-19 lockdown.

An initial test event at Goodwood at the beginning of August was called off at the 11th hour, while Doncaster’s trial was cut from a planned four days to one after the local authority intervened due to fears over rising infection rates.

Newmarket also had its plans to welcome a limited number of spectators to the Cambridgeshire meeting called off in September.

The British Horseracing Authority said it is awaiting “further clarity” from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the issue of crowds.

A BHA spokesperson said: “We remain in ongoing liaison with DCMS regarding the return of spectators to sporting events, both through direct routes and racing’s seat on the ‘major sports’ group which supports the work of the Sports Technology and Innovation Group.

“We are currently awaiting further clarity from DCMS on the situation, though we are of course aware that this will be a cross-Governmental decision.”

British racing under ‘severe threat’ as crowd plans are scrapped

British racing faces a “severe threat” if crowds are not allowed back on racecourses for another six months – as suggested by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The stark warning was issued on behalf of racing’s tripartite leadership bodies (British Horseracing Authority, Racecourse Association and Horsemen’s Group) following Tuesday’s announcement that plans to get spectators back to sporting events from October 1 had been postponed in response to a national resurgence in coronavirus infection rates.

Barely 24 hours after Warwick had staged a seemingly successful pilot scheme with up to 450 racegoers, hopes were dashed that Newmarket’s Cambridgeshire meeting could hold something similar later this week.

A statement read: “The delay to the public’s return to sporting events is a serious blow to the horseracing industry and to the people and communities who depend upon it for their living.

“Our sport has worked hard with public health officials to return safely and carry out pilot events. The exemplary response from the spectators in following the measures we put in place has shown that organised events can be run safely. We look forward to a full evaluation of the pilots and for the evidence to be used to inform future decisions about sporting events.

“Despite all those efforts, our industry is now facing a severe threat.

“We are the second most attended spectator sport in the country. Without the millions of people who normally enjoy a day at the races, many people’s jobs are at serious risk, as are the businesses they work in.

“We know this is recognised from the regular discussions we have had with ministers and we thank them for their strong support in these difficult times.

“We have kept the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments updated on the financial impact of COVID and the effects on the rural economies in which so many of our racing staff live and work.

“We have told the UK Government our racecourses were facing a loss of £250 to £300 million of revenues this year, which in turn means less prize money flowing through to our participants and our owners.

“We will be conducting a further economic impact assessment and will work with Government to put in place financial assistance to protect livelihoods and rural communities.

A small crowd was on course at Warwick on Monday
A small crowd was on course at Warwick on Monday (David Davies/PA)

“We have worked closely with the betting industry during our safe return from lockdown. Responsible betting is part of the fun of racing. It benefits both industries, flowing back into racing to create jobs and fund the care of horses.

“But British racing does not benefit to the extent of our European counterparts for structural reasons. We have seen growing signs that our best horses are being lured elsewhere by the promise of greater financial rewards. We believe the case for urgent reform has been made. This will be part of the assessment we share with Government.”

Everything was in place at Newmarket to welcome back a crowd of up to 1,000 on each of the three days of its Cambridgeshire meeting – but for a third time, as at Goodwood and Doncaster previously this summer, plans had to be scrapped as infection rates prompted revised Government restrictions.

The Jockey Club, which owns Newmarket, has backed calls for the Government to support the industry.

Only owners and essential workers have been allowed at Newmarket this season
Only owners and essential workers have been allowed at Newmarket this season (David Davies/PA)

Group chief executive Nevin Truesdale said: “The two pilot events staged by racing showed that we can host people safely, with so much outdoor space for social distancing and stringent protocols in place. Nevertheless, we respect the Government’s decision to pause their pilot programme across sport as part of trying to reduce contact between people.

“Without paying spectators, the largest revenue streams for many sports have been cut off for six months to date and, with no prospect of a change soon, this threatens the survival of sports organisations and the many livelihoods they support.

“Now is the time that sport needs the Government to step in and provide direct support to the industry, as they did when awarding £1.57 billion to the arts in July. Sport and physical activity sustains 600,000 jobs and contributes more than £16 billion per year to the UK economy. British Racing alone contributes more than £4 billion a year in normal times, which clearly these are not.”

David Armstrong, of the Racecourse Association, called the postponement of the pilot events “incredibly disappointing”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivered the news racing was dreading
Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivered the news racing was dreading (PA Wire)

He said: “The news that all elite sporting pilot events are to be postponed is incredibly disappointing. The sport has worked tirelessly to develop protocols to allow spectators to safely enjoy a day’s racing, and early indications from our pilot events are that these were a success.

“All sports are suffering from the effect of zero admissions income, and racing is no different. It is imperative that discussions continue with Government to highlight the economic impact of this decision.

“My thoughts are with Amy Starkey and the team at Newmarket—this news will be difficult to take following weeks of work to prepare the site for customers.”

Earlier, Prime Minister Johnson had confirmed that steps needed to be taken – and ditching the pilot schemes for up to as long as six months was on the cards.

Speaking on Tuesday lunchtime in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Johnson said: “We will spare no effort in developing vaccines, treatments, new forms of mass-testing but unless we palpably make progress we should assume that the restrictions that I have announced will remain in place for perhaps six months.

“For the time being, this virus is a fact of our lives, and I must tell the
House and the country that our fight against it will continue.”

Boris Johnson confirms crowds will not return in October

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed that initial plans for spectators to return to sporting events from October 1 will not now go ahead.

The decision comes as a big blow to racing, and it was no surprise at all when Newmarket subsequently announced on its website that plans to welcome crowds of up to 1,000 at each of the three days of its Cambridgeshire meeting – beginning on Thursday – have been abandoned on Government advice.

Prime Minister Johnson also stated that the new restrictions coming into place may last for “perhaps six months”.

The latest course of action has been brought about by a rising coronavirus infection rate.

Newmarket had been hoping to hold a pilot event this week
Newmarket had been hoping to hold a crowd pilot event this week (David Davies/PA)

Speaking on Tuesday lunchtime in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Johnson said: “We have to acknowledge that the spread of the virus is now affecting our ability to reopen business conferences, exhibitions and large sporting events, so we will not be able to do this from October 1 and I recognise the implications for our sports clubs which are the life and soul of our communities.”

He added: “We will spare no effort in developing vaccines, treatments, new forms of mass-testing but unless we palpably make progress we should assume that the restrictions that I have announced will remain in place for perhaps six months.

“For the time being, this virus is a fact of our lives and I must tell the
House and the country that our fight against it will continue.”

The announcement comes barely 24 hours after Warwick staged a successful pilot event, with around 450 spectators on track.

Following the Prime Minister’s Commons update, the British Horseracing Authority spelled out its frustration at the delay of crowds.

In advance of a planned fuller statement from racing’s industry leaders, the BHA tweeted: “The delay to the public’s return to sport events is deeply frustrating news after so much effort has been put into carrying out pilots within the rules agreed with govt and local health authorities.”

Monday Musings: A Minor Miracle in the Numbers

Most numbers associated with the last two months of life in the UK, first under the imminent threat, and then quickly the awful reality, of the Coronavirus pandemic have been shocking, writes Tony Stafford. More than 28,000 deaths with at least 75% of them in the 75-and-above age group justifying the Government’s initial and apparently over-the-top strictures that it could be several months before those over 70 could be allowed freely to leave home except under highly-limited conditions.

But one statistic which has been little discussed is the most miraculous. The latest detailed data is up to April 22, showing that 119 NHS staff died from the virus. With more than 1.5 million people working throughout the NHS and a further 350,000, taking in temporary staff and also medical workers in the private sector, that means fewer than 1 in 15,000 have died. That said, many more will have been infected in differing degrees of severity and have recovered.

Considering the exposure to patients in hospitals suffering from the virus – Boris Johnson talked of having up to eight nurses and others attending to him during the most severe stages of his stay in ICU – those 119 deaths are truly miraculous. Approaching 200,000 people have been admitted to hospitals suffering from Covid-19. The overall death rate in the total population is closer to 1 in 2,500. In the NHS 60% of those that have died have been age 50 and above.

Numbers have been the key to the Government’s release of details over the last two months with sensitivities in the media and how it would react to the numbers being paramount. You can only draw that conclusion when upon the figure of 20,000 deaths being reached, even though it was inevitable for some time beforehand, it brought the usual BBC and Piers Morgan blame-game hysteria.

Much has been said about the rights and wrongs of allowing Cheltenham to go ahead. For it to have been cancelled, it would have meant a decision at least a week before the March 10 starting date. At that time, the daily briefings were still two weeks off, and the first figure I have found for daily deaths is the 15 on March 15, two days after Cheltenham finished.

Since the end of March I’ve kept a table of the daily fatalities and until early last week, the highest single number was an admittedly-shocking 980 hospital deaths on April 10. Then last Tuesday, with figures clearly on a downward curve among people dying in hospital, for the first time the increasing proportion of fatalities in care homes and elsewhere was included. Now April 10 is revealed to have had an even higher overall number, 1,152, one of eight days when the total death toll exceeded 1,000.

It’s still horrendous, but when the Government’s reaction to the situation initially instructed people to stay home, no single day had yet brought more than the 43 deaths, on Wednesday March 19, by which time I, and many in my advanced age group, was already locked away. The first three-figure “score” was the 149 on Monday March 24 but by eight days later it was 670 and soon after it reached those eight thousand-plus spikes.

As racing fans we’ve been denied so much normal action where, in my case, reading a book every two days, catching up on television and our once-a-week walk were only partial consolation; although somehow I’m almost a stone lighter! But then an hour on Racing TV yesterday brought home the frustration of our missing the scheduled Guineas meeting over last weekend.

It was great to see the last 30 years of what is probably the most significant race in the selection of stallions. Not all of them won the race, notably Dubawi, only fifth in his year to Footstepsinthesand, and both Kingman and Australia just a few years ago, stumped late on by Night of Thunder despite the winner’s across-the-course wanderings in the last 150 yards.

We saw Sea The Stars denying my 33-1 win only ante-post bet on Delegator and Camelot’s narrow defeat of formerly Ray Tooth-owned French Fifteen in two thrillers, but still pride of place goes to the extraordinary Frankel, off like a scalded cat under Tom Queally and thereafter never closer to his pursuers than his six-length winning margin over Galileo Gold. In 14 unbeaten runs, this highest-rated horse of all time gets my vote over another Guineas hero, Brigadier Gerard from the 1970’s, and Sea Bird II, a brilliant Derby winner from my youth a decade earlier. Can Frankel’s romp really have been nine years ago?

The timely reminder of the pre-eminence of that race comes with racing deriving positive vibes from recent meetings with Government. May 15 is now being suggested as a likely starting point with Lingfield close to London and Newcastle in the north providing the initial hubs for behind-closed-doors sport. Both have hotels, in the case of Lingfield, part of the grandstand, while Newcastle’s well-appointed Gosforth Park Hotel is a walk along the avenue of rhododendrons which always brightens the spring and especially the summer meetings there.

My first visit to Newcastle was in my Press Association days to cover a jumps meeting one May Bank Holiday in the early 1970’s. Arthur Stephenson dominated the card that early evening and I still remember the leisurely stroll down after lunch in the hotel and the surprising discovery that the horses had gone out of sight behind the trees down the far side. I found it difficult to find them again when they came back into view.

Racing has advantages over other sports in that you need not be there to get the impression that you are; in fact sometimes you get only a limited view of the race compared with viewers at home. A commentator’s crescendo as the horses near the line is much more vital than any crowd noise. The big races that have continued in Hong Kong and Australia without the public have given the UK authorities a blueprint of why and how it should be possible, while as I’ve said before, it must help that the Health Secretary’s East Anglian constituency includes Newmarket.

I haven’t been able to check this fact, but one friend yesterday told me that the Minister is also godfather to one of John Gosden and Rachel Hood’s children. If it is true that can’t hurt either.

The ambitious plan for two weekends of Group races in the lead up to the revised proposed Guineas meeting on the first Saturday of June means that if racing does get the go-ahead, it will start with a flourish. The bookmakers will do wonderful business and I can imagine action-starved horse racing enthusiasts jamming the phone lines and internet connections to get on.

Bookmakers do not always get the best of press coverage, but I was gladdened to hear last week that the 2019-20 Levy yield at £97 million is £2 million higher than the top estimated figure. It seems to make the BHA’s “promise” of races at reduced prize money more than niggardly. Apart from the better races, foreign owners laugh at what’s on offer here day to day. As trainers and owners will tell you, the one thing that never reduces are BHA and Weatherbys’ administration costs.

But in these times, I prefer to take a glass half-full attitude rather than the faux-combative criticism of Government. The Nightingale hospitals haven’t really been needed and within the awful figures, at least one miracle – those 119 deaths where thousands were being predicted – exists whatever the point-scoring after-timers think.

- TS