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Arrangements could be put in place to help Newbury race alongside vaccination service

Discussions between Newbury and the British Horseracing Authority could lead to the racecourse continuing to act as a vaccination centre on days when racing takes place.

Since last Thursday the Berkshire track has been used as a Covid-19 vaccination hub, providing up to 1,500 jabs daily. The service was temporarily halted due to the jumps fixture on Wednesday afternoon.

A BHA spokesperson said: “The BHA supports the idea that the vaccination service is a national priority and therefore the aim is to make arrangements which allow racing events to take place alongside the vaccination rollout where possible.

“We would consider any such proposal from Newbury and work with them on possible arrangements for future racedays.”

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Newbury said in a statement on its website: “When the NHS first approached Newbury Racecourse to use one of the grandstands as a local vaccination centre, they were made aware of our scheduled racing meeting on Wednesday, January 20 and all future fixtures. It was also made clear that under the BHA and government guidance for elite sport with our current layout, the vaccination centre could not operate on live racedays.

“We understand the NHS considered this carefully and given the centre is not providing vaccinations to the public seven days per week, they have planned their vaccination programme accordingly to work around the two racedays we host in the next 42 days.

“Following the success of the first week of the vaccination centre with positive feedback from patients, we now have an established operational model that the NHS wish to use moving forward. As a result, we are now able to approach the BHA to see if an exception can be made to the regulations for future racedays, allowing the vaccination centre to operate alongside racing if required.”

Jumps racing took place at Newbury on Wednesday
Jumps racing took place at Newbury on Wednesday (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

It added: “Newbury Racecourse is extremely proud to play a small part in the fight against COVID-19 capitalising on the abundance of space we have to offer and have played a role throughout the pandemic as a community hub, acting as a Primary Care Unit during the first lockdown and operating a Meals on Wheels service to some of the most vulnerable and elderly in the area.

“Together with West Berks NHS, the local GP surgeries and the host of volunteers, we remain completely committed to supporting the local community and surrounding area during this challenging time.”

Newbury’s next fixture is scheduled for Saturday, February 13.

Brian Hughes expresses support for BHA coronavirus policy

Champion jockey Brian Hughes has given his backing to the British Horseracing Authority’s medical team after reports the ruling body is considering the introduction of a new coronavirus testing system.

Racing was the first elite sport to return last June following a three-month shutdown to combat the outbreak of Covid-19.

However, while strict protocols have been in place ever since – with all attendees required to complete a health questionnaire prior to each meeting and undergo temperature checks before being allowed entry – coronavirus testing has not been implemented, unlike in some other sports.

With a more virulent strain of the virus causing a significant rise in positive cases since Christmas, football’s Premier League and the EFL have moved to a more robust screening process, with players now being tested twice a week.

According to reports on Wednesday, the BHA is currently weighing up the possibility of following a similar model for jockeys.

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Hughes said: “I’m in support of keeping everybody safe. I feel Dr Jerry Hill (chief medical adviser) of the BHA has done a very good job in keeping us all safe – all the protocols and biosecurity measures that have been put in place I feel have worked very well.

“All the precautions that have been put in place are for our benefit. I feel it is working well, but if they feel that (testing) is necessary for the sport, I have no objections.

“From trainers, to owners, to stable staff, jockeys’ valets and all people that work at the races, everyone involved has pulled together.

The field pass the empty grandstand at Doncaster earlier this week
The field pass the empty grandstand at Doncaster earlier this week (Tim Goode/PA)

“We all want to race and want to keep racing. We all want to do it safely, and I feel that has been done very well up until now.

“Everyone is learning all the time about Covid and the way it’s changing. Anything we can do to keep everyone safe is only a good thing.”

Conservative MP Laurence Robertson, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Racing whose constituency includes Cheltenham, told the Daily Mail that testing should be introduced.

He said: “It would be a good idea for more testing to be done at racecourses, particularly if we can get a rapid rollout of quick turnaround tests.

“Last summer we were restricted to testing people showing symptoms, but that is no longer the case.”

Measures to try to prevent the spread of coronavirus on racecourses have been strengthened in recent months, with face masks made mandatory in October and owners prevented from attending since the turn of the year.

Redcar Races – June 21st
Jockeys have to wear face masks (Tony Knapton/PA)

A BHA spokesperson said: “Racing’s coronavirus control protocols are approved by UK Government. Racing is a predominantly outdoor, rural, non-contact sport and it was agreed by DCMS and Public Health England that for this reason – allied to the stringent, bespoke controls that have been put in place on racecourses – when racing resumed it would not require an ongoing mass-testing programme, but instead would utilise a strict health screening approach.

“The sport’s protocols are working well, and the industry has acted very responsibly in terms of observing Government guidance. As a result there has been no evidence observed of transmission of the disease on racecourses since the sport resumed on June 1, from around 800 fixtures.

“However, we are constantly monitoring the situation and liaising with the industry and training hubs. We take an agile approach, and our protocols are under constant review to determine how racing can continue to strengthen our approach and best safeguard our people.

“Owing to the new variant of the disease the picture is changing – and should evidence show it is necessary, then testing is an option that may be helpful. As ever, we will be led by the science, data and evidence.”

New lockdowns announced but racing to continue behind closed doors

Racing is to continue in Britain despite the announcement of new national lockdowns in England and Scotland.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday evening that a third national lockdown would be imposed in England, saying the new Covid-19 variant – which is 50 per cent to 70 per cent more transmissible – was spreading in a “frustrating and alarming” manner.

“As I speak to you tonight, our hospitals are under more pressure from Covid than at any time since the start of the pandemic,” he said in an address to the nation.

“I know how tough this is, and I know how frustrated you are and I know you have had more than enough of government guidance about defeating this virus, but now, more than ever, we must pull together.”

The first national lockdown in March saw all professional sport suspended, with racing able to successfully recommence on June 1 behind closed doors and under strict protocols.

It has continued since then among the tiered restrictions in place across the country, and the British Horseracing Authority confirmed that would remain the case.

Racing resumed at Newcastle on June 1 behind closed doors under strict protocols
Racing resumed at Newcastle on June 1 behind closed doors under strict protocols (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

A statement from the BHA read: “Following this evening’s broadcast, we can confirm racing will continue behind closed doors during the upcoming national lockdown.

“Attendance will be limited to those essential to the staging of fixtures and strict adherence to British racing’s Covid-19 protocols will continue to be required for all who attend.”

Earlier in the day a lockdown was announced in Scotland by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, but Scottish Racing – the body which represents Ayr, Hamilton Park, Kelso, Musselburgh, which is due to race on Thursday, and Perth – moved to allay any fears.

A tweet from Scottish Racing read: “Following today’s announcement that Scotland is to re-enter full Covid restrictions, @ScotGov has confirmed that racing in Scotland can continue behind closed doors.

“Only individuals essential to staging the fixtures should attend race meetings and are required to continue to follow the strict protocols already in place.

“Unfortunately, no owners will be permitted to attend a racecourse until further notice.”

Review of gambling laws will seek to ensure legislation is ‘fit for the digital age’

Sports minister Nigel Huddleston has confirmed a wide-ranging review of gambling laws will look at betting advertising in sport.

The review of the 2005 Gambling Act has been announced by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, as the Government seeks to ensure gambling legislation is fit for the digital age.

Huddleston told the House of Commons on Tuesday: “We will consider gambling advertising, including sports sponsorship, while taking into account the extremely difficult financial situation that many sports organisations find themselves in now, as well as broadcasters, as a result of Covid.”

In response to a question from Ronnie Cowan, the Scottish National Party MP for Inverclyde, about whether the review would seek to speak to those with a lived experience of the harms of gambling addiction, Huddleston said: “The Secretary of State and I have already met with many victims and their families and we will continue to do so.

“In terms of sport, if there is evidence of harm coming from sponsorship and advertising, we will act, and I welcome the scrutiny that he and others will pay to this review as it progresses.”

The terms of reference for the review state: “A significant channel for gambling brand marketing is sponsorship of sports teams and events, including shirt sponsorship and similar deals with sports bodies.

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“Commercial arrangements with gambling operators are a significant source of income for British sports and teams, particularly horse racing and football teams.

“While the government has always been clear that sporting bodies must consider their responsibility to the welfare of fans and supporters when agreeing such deals, we have equally recognised their right to benefit from commercial deals.

“However, with growing public concern about the relationship between sport and gambling, we are seeking evidence on the positive and negative outcomes of this relationship to make sure we can strike an appropriate balance in developing policy.”

Conservative MP Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) outlined the financial contribution made by betting companies to sports such as horse racing.

He said: “Can I join (Conservative MP Craig Whittaker) and just remind (Nigel Huddleston) of the enormous contribution which betting companies make to horse racing to the tune of about £350 million a year, which is a very large amount to that sport even in ordinary times.

“At the moment, like other sports, it’s going through very, very difficult times and without that contribution, horse racing would not survive.”

Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston
Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston (David Davies/PA)

Mr Huddleston responded: “Horse racing is of course a vital industry in the UK. I can confirm that the Levy actually is not due for review on horse racing to 2021, it’s not explicitly part of this review, but the role that gambling has and (its) link with sport, we recognise that there are some challenges but also many upsides and we will consider those as part of this review.”

British Horseracing Authority chief executive Nick Rust said in a statement: “Betting on horse racing is enjoyed by millions of people safely and responsibly, with a low prevalence for gambling-related harm.

“Despite the low levels of problem gambling in the sport, racing promotes responsible gambling and is committed to working with the betting industry to further reduce risk. We will also work closely with our partners in the betting and racing industry to formulate our response to the consultation.

“We are pleased to hear that the review will be evidence-based and we look forward to proposals that are proportionate and focused on those at risk. We know the Government is aware of the potential impact on related industries such as British racing and the 80,000 livelihoods it supports.

“The Minister, Nigel Huddleston, made clear in his address that the challenging conditions that sports find themselves in, and the importance of legitimate commercial relationships between sport and gambling, will be considered as part of the review.

British Horseracing Authority chief executive Nick Rust
British Horseracing Authority chief executive Nick Rust (Victoria Jones/PA)

“Racing and betting’s unique, interdependent relationship has been recognised by Government in many ways, including through the Horserace Betting Levy. British racing has laid the groundwork for the gambling consultation with an industry group meeting for several months.

“Detailed submissions and representations were also made to the recent Lords Special Inquiry, which highlighted the ‘special position’ of racing and betting.”

Rust welcomed the announcement that the Government is to look again at the timetable for reviewing the Levy.

Rust added: “We welcome the announcement from the Minister that DCMS will examine in 2021 the timetable for reviewing the Levy. Racing industry leaders agreed that there was an urgent case for reform as part of our plans to recover from Covid-19 and have presented a united front to Government.

“As the Minister outlined in the House today, there are ongoing conversations between the BHA and Government on Levy reform. We look forward to working with DCMS officials and ministers in 2021 to ensure that the Levy is sustainable and fit for the digital age.”

Boris Johnson gives go-ahead for return of limited crowds

Spectators are set to return to sports venues – including racecourses – next week as coronavirus restrictions are eased in areas with lower infection rates.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that outdoor and indoor venues in tier 1 and 2 areas would be allowed to admit spectators on a limited basis after the end of the national lockdown on December 2, but did not confirm what the capacity limits or percentages would be.

It has been reported that 4,000 spectators or 50 per cent capacity limits – whichever is lowest – would be in place in tier 1, dropping to 2,000 or 50 per cent for indoor venues.

In tier 2, it has been reported it would be 2,000 outdoors and 1,000 indoors, or 50 per cent capacity.

Racing has taken place behind closed doors since its resumption in June, with the exception of two small pilot events at Warwick and Doncaster.

Johnson also said outdoor grassroots sports and indoor sports facilities like gyms would be able to reopen.

A limited crowd attended the first day of the St Leger meeting at Doncaster
A limited crowd attended the first day of the St Leger meeting at Doncaster (David Davies/PA)

Johnson said in a statement to the House of Commons: “Spectator sports and business events will be free to resume inside and outside with capacity limits and social distancing, providing more consistency with indoor performances in theatres and concert halls.”

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Spectators had been due to be allowed to return to stadiums from October 1 but the Government pressed pause on that decision due to a rise in infections nationwide.

Last Thursday the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport announced a £300million ‘Winter Survival Package’ of loans and grants to sports which are facing financial losses as a result of the absence of fans from stadiums, with up to £40m available to racing.

A joint-statement issued on behalf of the British Horseracing Authority, Racecourse Association and The Horsemen’s Group welcomed the latest developments, adding: “The change to restrictions announced by the Prime Minister will now be considered by racecourses and the BHA’s medical team.

“Further engagement will also be required with local public health officials. We thank ministers and officials at DCMS for their support which was crucial to today’s announcement, and all those involved across government and in Parliament.

“The details of the government’s new approach to tiering are not due to be announced until later in the week. Until this has been published and individual racecourses are made aware of the restrictions in their area, it will not be possible to confirm which venues will be admitting spectators.

“We continue to encourage the UK government to allow betting shops to reopen in all areas as part of the change to restrictions.”

BHA chief executive Nick Rust: This is more good news for racing
BHA chief executive Nick Rust: This is more good news for racing (Victoria Jones/PA)

BHA chief executive Nick Rust said: “This is more good news for racing and for our many millions of fans who have been unable to watch in person the sport they love since March.

“We know the numbers are limited to begin with and not all venues will be allowed to admit spectators, but this is progress. I am confident that all our racegoers will follow the government’s public health guidelines when they return to racing and this will allow us to increase the numbers attending.

“We have always said that racing will act responsibly and we all look forward to getting back on the track.”

RCA chief executive David Armstrong said: “Following on from last week’s announcement of financial support, this is a very welcome development for racecourses across England. Even with limited numbers, racecourses can start to reopen facilities for racegoers, hospitality guests and owners.

“Work continues to prepare for larger-scale pilots across the sports sector and racing will continue to play a key role in this vital recovery phase.”

Charlie Liverton, chief executive of the Racehorse Owners Association, said on behalf of The Horsemen’s Group: “This is welcome news and a further step forward for racing after a challenging period for the sport.

“I am grateful to all those across the industry and government who have worked hard to get us to this position and look forward to constructive conversations on owner attendance at racecourses. Owners and other participants have played a vital role in ensuring racing could continue behind closed doors and under tight restrictions.

“Their support continues to be valued enormously and I very much hope all owners will be able to be back on course soon.”

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said last week there was “definitely a chance” of some venues being able to reopen on a limited basis by Christmas in the areas with the lowest infection rates.

He later confirmed the detail around spectators returning in a tweet that said: “Sports fans back in stadia from 2nd Dec 4K or 50% of capacity in Tier 1, 2K or 50% of capacity in Tier 2.

“A big step forward for fans as we work towards fuller capacities.

“Thanks to pilot hosts & fans for showing this can be done safely.”

Owners still able to attend meetings – but new restrictions from Thursday

Owners will still be able to attend race meetings in England when the new Government coronavirus lockdown comes into effect on Thursday – but numbers will be reduced and time on course restricted.

No more than two owners per horse will be able to attend, complying with the restriction that limits social mixing between households.

Time on course for owners will be limited as was the case when they returned to racecourses in July. They will be able to arrive 45 minutes before their horse runs and asked to make their way home as soon as they can after the race.

Racecourses will not be able to provide hospitality, in line with the Government’s decision to close hospitality settings including restaurants, cafes and bars.

Owners look at Eponina in the parade ring ahead at Leicester
Owners look at Eponina in the parade ring ahead at Leicester (Tim Goode/PA)

A statement from racing industry leaders said: “These restrictions will be in place for the duration of the national lockdown in England, which is due to finish on December 2. Different rules are in place in Scotland and Wales, and owners should check the position with the relevant racecourse.

“The decision to allow racing to continue behind closed doors in England – with a limited number of owners attending – recognises racing’s status as an elite sport. Racing’s participants and owners have acted with great responsibility and professionalism since the sport resumed on June 1. Strict controls have been in place and there is no evidence that the virus has been transmitted at a meeting behind closed doors.

“Owners and participants attending meetings during the national lockdown will be expected to adhere to Government’s travel guidance, and should travel directly to and from the venue without stopping where possible, and avoid car sharing with anyone outside their own household or support bubble.

“Continued observance of these measures is vital to ensure that the sport continues behind closed doors.”

James Given to quit training and take up BHA role

James Given will retire from training early next year to take up the role as director of equine health and welfare with the British Horseracing Authority.

Given, who has also been a qualified vet since 1990, began his racing carer as assistant to Mark Johnston in 1995, before starting training in his own right in 1998.

His big-race winners include the popular Hugs Dancer, who claimed the 2002 Ebor and the 2003 Chester Cup. He went on to be beaten less than three lengths in the 2003 Caulfield Cup before finishing ninth in that year’s Melbourne Cup.

More recently Given has enjoyed Group-race success with Trick Or Treat, Lady Gloria, Indian Days and Dandino.

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He is also a long-standing member of the BHA’s ethics committee, a trustee of the British Racing School and has been a member of the industry’s Horse Welfare Board since its inception in early 2019.

Given said: “I am delighted to be joining the BHA and welcome the opportunity to strive for ever improving welfare standards for racehorses.

“The current standards are world leading, but there is no time to rest on our laurels in a world demanding greater accountability. I look forward to working with colleagues across the industry, to show that racing is a compassionate sport that puts the welfare of horses at the centre of all we do. I know I am joining a team that shares and represents these ideals.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as a trainer and am eternally grateful to all the people who have helped me along this journey – to the owners, many who have become friends, and the outstanding people who have been part of my team, over many years of hard work.

“I am also grateful to all the horses, fast and slow, willing and less so, that it has been a privilege and a pleasure to look after.”

Given will join the BHA in January 2021 and will formally stop training and hand in his trainers’ licence upon starting his new role.

Brant Dunshea, chief regulatory officer for the BHA, said: “We are extremely excited to welcome James to this role. He brings with him not only extensive clinical experience as a veterinarian, but also first-hand experience of training racehorses at the highest level.

“He has already been integral to the development of the industry’s welfare strategy through his involvement on the Horse Welfare Board, this will complement the equally important regulatory requirements of the role.

“We are delighted that James will be able to continue the excellent work of David Sykes, who has made significant progress in his time at the BHA in modernising the equine health and welfare department and improving the quality of life of our horses. We are grateful to David for everything he has done on behalf of the sport.”

Funding confirmed for fixture list between January and April next year

A total of 448 fixtures have been confirmed by the British Horseracing Authority for the period from January to April next year.

Provisional dates for fixtures during the period from May to December have also been published, albeit these dates will be confirmed in due course subject to further information being available in relation to the return of spectators, the size of the horse population and the level of finance available for the fixture list from all sources.

While the total number of Flat fixtures has reduced, the number of Flat races will remain unchanged. This is due to a reduction in the total number of all-weather fixtures during the period but extending the length of cards at floodlit fixtures to include up to nine races so that the total race numbers remain similar.

With Covid-protocols continuing, the temporary rule which permits jockeys to ride at only one fixture per day will be extended into 2021.

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Richard Wayman, chief operating officer for the BHA, said: “Although the current unprecedented levels of uncertainty make planning for the future challenging, the publication of a fixture list and minimum prize money levels for the first four months of next year provides the sport with clarity over racing’s plans for the immediate future.

“In addition, by publishing the confirmed dates of major fixtures for the remainder of the year, we hope this will help owners, participants and racecourses begin to make their plans for 2021.

“We continue to discuss with government a consistent approach to allowing sporting events to go ahead with spectators as soon as possible but in developing the fixture list for the beginning of next year, we have focussed on creating a schedule that maximises off-course betting turnover and, where possible, reduces the costs of staging fixtures.

“In doing so, we have also sought to reduce the pressures on racing’s workforce of servicing the fixture list including by staging extended cards on the all-weather with a corresponding decrease in fixture numbers.

“We are particularly grateful to the Horserace Betting Levy Board for their continued financial support which has enabled us to confirm that pre-Covid minimum values will remain in place for mid and lower-tier races, whilst also retaining the appearance money scheme that is popular with many owners.

“Their enhanced support, however, is not sustainable, and ahead of racing presenting proposals for fixture funding for the remainder of the year, efforts continue to generate additional support, including – at the government’s request – producing a submission setting out the economic impact across the whole of racing, including what will be lost by racing without the public through the winter.

“Moreover we are continuing to press the case for urgent reform of the Levy, which would help racing to become more self-sufficient and reduce the need for government spending on the sport, the likes of which we are seeing in other racing nations at present.

“British racing is rightly admired around the world but without progress in this key area, we risk becoming uncompetitive with our international colleagues, which could have catastrophic and long-lasting implications for the future of our sport.”

In total, 1,366 fixtures have been provisionally scheduled for 2021 so far. In 2020 there were 1,481 fixtures programmed, plus a further 10 fixtures which had not yet been allocated to specific courses, making a total of 1,491.

This represented a reduction of 20 compared to 2019. Of these 1,491 fixtures, 233 were BHA fixtures. Decisions on how many BHA fixtures will be allocated in 2021 will be made in due course depending on wider factors.

Oisin Murphy vows to prove innocence after testing positive for cocaine

Champion jockey Oisin Murphy has vowed to do “everything that I can” to prove his innocence after testing positive for metabolites of cocaine at a meeting in France earlier in the year.

Murphy was tested by France Galop at Chantilly on July 19, where he partnered The Lir Jet to finish second in the Group Two Prix Robert Papin.

The rider was informed in August of his positive result and subsequently organised a hair sample test, which returned a negative result, according to the Professional Jockeys Association.

A statement issued on his behalf by the PJA said: “On July 19, 2020 Oisin Murphy was selected for urine testing at Chantilly racecourse. On August 19 he was informed by France Galop that his ‘A’ sample had returned positive for metabolites of cocaine.

Oisin Murphy steered Kameko to glory in the 2000 Guineas earlier this season
Oisin Murphy steered Kameko to glory in the 2000 Guineas earlier this season (Nigel French/PA)

“On the same day, Oisin organised for an independent laboratory to undertake hair sampling to prove his innocence. The hair sample was taken on August 22, with the collection process filmed by the laboratory for authenticity.

“The laboratory analysed multiple 0.3cm segments of Oisin’s hair and on August 26 the results of the hair test returned completely negative for metabolites of cocaine, which was entirely expected as Oisin has never taken cocaine.

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“These results have been shared with France Galop and he awaits the results of France Galop’s analysis of his ‘B’ sample.”

Murphy maintains his innocence, adding: “I have never taken cocaine in my life and I will do everything that I can to prove that I have not taken cocaine.

“I want to thank those who are supporting me and in the meantime I want to keep riding winners and focus on my career.”

Murphy later admitted his relief the case was now public knowledge, although he would have preferred to have waited until the results of both tests were returned before commenting.

He told Racing TV: “I had to release a statement today as the story had got round, but it is a weight off my shoulders. I’d been riding to the best of my ability and had a great week last week, but something needed to be said today – and I’m pleased it’s out there.

“People will examine every ride now, and if I give one a bad ride, they’ll probably say it’s because of this, but I have a brilliant support team and I am innocent. I think those closest to me believe in my innocence, so I’ve been able to push it out of my head.

“I’ve got to trust in France Galop and try to carry on as normal. A lot of important things are going on in the world at the moment, and this is crucial in my career, but it’s out of my control.

“Of course (there was a sense of disbelief). I don’t come into contact with drugs, I didn’t ever expect to hear from France Galop, BHA or wherever else I ride around the world. I don’t even take pain killers – I take an inhaler, and that’s about it.

“I don’t know the next steps. I’ll have to hear back from France Galop, which could take a few weeks. In an ideal world the headlines wouldn’t have come out today – we could have waited until we had a clearer picture – but now we have to wait on the ‘B’ sample.”

Oisin Murphy celebrated Group One glory with Alcohol Free at Newmarket last weekend
Oisin Murphy celebrated Group One glory with Alcohol Free at Newmarket last weekend (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Murphy, who is retained rider to Qatar Racing, enjoyed a landmark first Classic victory aboard Kameko in the 2000 Guineas back in June and last week partnered Alcohol Free to Group One glory in the Cheveley Park Stakes.

He is also leading the way in the Flat jockeys’ championship with 111 winners to his credit at the start of racing on Thursday, 13 ahead of William Buick in second place.

The British Horseracing Authority has been informed of the matter, and a spokesperson said: “We have been made aware that there is an ongoing anti-doping matter in France in relation to Oisin Murphy, which is currently the subject of further analytical investigation.

“We will continue to liaise with the Professional Jockeys Association and France Galop, and assess any new information as it becomes available.”

Phelps vows to fight for return of crowds

British Horseracing Authority chair Annamarie Phelps has promised to do all she can to convince Government crowds should be back on courses before next March.

Phelps described the decision to abandon plans for sporting crowds to return from October 1, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson instead indicating they may be absent for another six months, as a “devastating” turn of events which has put racing in a “quite perilous state”.

However, in an interview on Sky Sports Racing, she also suggested the projected hiatus until next spring may prove to be a “backstop” measure which can perhaps be brought forward in further discussions with Government.

Racing has so far held two crowd pilot race days, at Doncaster and Warwick this month, before a resurgence in the national infection rate of the global coronavirus pandemic brought a return of stricter measures to try to mitigate its spread.

Phelps said: “It was devastating news, I have to say – not just for those racecourses that had invested and prepared for the pilots … but to have them first of all delayed, and then the news this week, has been tragic.

“It puts us in a really quite perilous state.

“It is going to have a massive impact on the income to racecourses.

“We hope, and are assuming, we’ll be able to carry on behind closed doors throughout all this … but unless we get racegoers back on to racecourses, the losses to the racecourses are going to be an estimate of anything between £2million and £4million a month.

“We think we’ve probably lost £250million to £300million, possibly more, in the last 12 months for racecourses.

“It is a perilous situation.

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“Without racegoers, it is perilous at all levels – and particularly for some of our top-level racing.”

The BHA, she confirmed, is hoping that Levy reform will unlock much-needed and sustainable financial help in years to come and that racing may also be able to access a crisis contingency fund via Government.

She added: “We are looking at trying to establish exactly what does this mean for us, financially and economically, so that we can go back to Government … to say how can they help us to get over this.

“What we don’t want to do is see the demise of the industry or long-term permanent damage done to it.”

A return of crowds would be a lifeline through an inevitably tough winter.

Asked if she believes that could happen, Phelps said: “We’re going to work on it as hard as we can.

“I really, really hope so – we’ll do everything we can.

“Most importantly, we need to work with Government to find a way to get the racegoers back on the track.

“What we need to do is … make sure we’re putting the case really strongly, which we are … that there is no evidence to show we’re increasing the transmission of the virus.

“We’re hoping that we can begin to work with Government to try to find some solutions to this in the shorter term, and we hope that six months is just a very long backstop and that we’ll be able to bring that forward.”

She is convinced racing has already demonstrated, albeit with just two fleeting opportunities, that limited crowds can return safely.

Asked if the BHA believes there is a case which can be presented to continue, she said: “Of course we do.”

Phelps also regards the racecourse, following the measures implemented there by the BHA, as one of the safest places amid the pandemic.

“Of course it is – but people have got to get to and from the racecourses,” she said, acknowledging as well though that the public perception of crowds on racecourses is critical to a Government trying to persuade millions nationwide to “do the right thing” to avoid infection.

“There is much more concern about (those) social aspects than there is about the regulated areas,” added Phelps, who is confident racecourses can host crowds safely.

“From what we’ve seen, (we think) they can.

“We’d like to ensure that Government are evaluating those (crowd) pilots properly, and making sure they didn’t lead to any transmission of infection.

“We don’t think there’s been any transmission on racecourses so far.

“It’s (Government’s) decision … they’re not basing it as far as we can see on the science, of what happens on the racecourse.

“What they are more worried about, and what we all should be worried about, is what people are doing off the racecourse.

“This is about trying to encourage people [general public, nationwide] to follow the rules.

“They [the Government] don’t want people’s private lives to be so constrained – funerals and weddings are really limited – and then for them to see people in great big (sporting) crowds.

“I think they’re trying to encourage people to do the right thing.

“That may not seem fair on us, and I can see why people are really frustrated. I’m frustrated, we all are with that.”

Rust warns of ‘dreadful impact’ if crowds have to stay away

British Horseracing Authority chief executive Nick Rust has spelled out that there will be a “dreadful impact” on his sport if crowds are not permitted for the next six months.

Rust, speaking after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Tuesday that plans for spectators to return to sports events from October 1 are on hold because of rising rates of coronavirus infections, confirmed he and his counterparts from other sports have subsequently discussed the situation with Government.

Following that meeting with Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Rust projected that racing will lose owners if the current situation persists – as Prime Minister Johnson suggested it may well, through the coming winter months.

In an interview on Sky Sports Racing, however, Rust also emphasised that he and his colleagues will continue to make robust representations about the success of two crowd pilot events held at Doncaster and Warwick this month.

He hopes too that a “strong relationship with Government” can still serve racing well in an hour of dire need – with ominous financial crises predicted by many.

Asked if racing could continue for six months without paying customers, or racecourses might be forced out of business, he said: “I don’t know about that, but it will obviously have a dreadful impact – which is why so much time and money has been invested in the pilots.

“We put ourselves at the front of the queue for that, because of the disciplined way racing returned behind closed doors after the lockdown.”

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Further crowd trials were due to take place at Newmarket’s Cambridgeshire meeting this week, but it has been confirmed – to no one’s surprise, in the circumstances – that those plans have been scrapped.

Rust added: “It’s really frustrating to see the pilots cancelled, but we have got a recovery plan which has nine strands to it.

“We’ve been getting on with that and will do all that we can to help ourselves along the way, but we will need Government support to get through this.”

The lack of turnstiles cashflow, he predicts, will bite as hard as anywhere at the top level of British racing.

“You can’t run a Cheltenham Festival without a crowd and sustain the levels of prize-money that are in place there for the future,” he said.

“You can sustain the day-to-day prize-money at smaller meetings, where media rights income is the main source of income, but there is no doubt that as things stand it’s going to have a dreadful impact on us.

“Government is aware of that, and the silver lining is that it’s pretty clear that (Chancellor of the Exchequer) Rishi Sunak, who is the constituency MP for Middleham, is working with Oliver Dowden, specifically under the Prime Minister’s instructions, to deliver support for sport.

“We will be going for meetings with their officials over the next few days to outline what we need and how we can access it as soon as possible.

“We’re in these meetings every day. We have a strong relationship with Government – that’s what we’re on every day and can be held to account for it.”

Rust acknowledges and shares the concerns of all in racing, nonetheless.

“I can understand that today people in racing will be feeling frustrated – I know I’m certainly very frustrated,” he said.

“There is no doubt that we are going to lose some owners. We are trying to do all we can to retain them.

“The sport has been so vigilant – we’ve run 390 race meetings now since June 1, and there is no evidence of transmission of the virus on the racecourse.

“I think we ran two very successful days at Doncaster and Warwick. It’s our job to to continue to try and ensure that we convince Government to support these events.”

The alternative is a huge financial shortfall.

Rust added: “The impact on our sport over the next few months – we’ve already said the impact on our sport this year of having no crowds in place could be up to £300million.

“Obviously, that pain is going to continue. I reiterated that to the Secretary of State again today.

“With regards to getting us back to crowds, we believe the pilots that have been done still need to be evaluated and we need to get the evidence out there that shows that people are safer in that environment than they are in a number of other environments that are currently being permitted.”

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.

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“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.”