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New guidance outlined as English tracks prepare for capacity crowds

British horseracing has issued new guidance to racegoers as it makes final plans for the safe return of full crowds in England from Monday.

The Government confirmed earlier this week that the fourth step in the Covid roadmap will go ahead from July 19, allowing venues to return to full capacity with no social distancing.

The Scottish and Welsh Governments have since announced their own rules, and racegoers are advised to check in advance with racecourses in Scotland and Wales to ensure they understand the variations and differences in key dates.

While English racecourses will no longer have limits on crowds from next week, as legal restrictions come to an end, the public has been asked to observe a number of “requests”.

Those requests include being vaccinated against coronavirus and taking up the Government’s offer of free lateral flow tests, so spectators can “consider taking one before you travel” to a racecourse.

The Government has said it will encourage high-risk venues to use a system of Covid certification – and while British racing will not be introducing such a system at this stage, the British Horseracing Authority and the Racecourse Association are “working with DCMS to develop the detailed operation guidance needed to safely introduce certification”, should it be required.

On behalf of the sport, David Armstrong, chief executive of the RCA, said: “We thank all our racegoers for the responsible behaviour they have shown since they were able to return to racecourses, and we are very excited to welcome back all racegoers from Monday in England and later in August in Wales and Scotland.

“As an outdoors event, people can have confidence in attending a race meeting in safety.

“Nevertheless, we encourage all to continue to follow the recommended advice and in particular to check on any restrictions that are still in place in Scotland and Wales. The safety of our racegoers will always be our top priority.

“We continue to liaise with our colleagues from other major sports and local and national authorities to ensure we are all operating to the highest levels of public safety. That includes planning for a system of Covid certification should that be required.”

The BHA also released updated Covid-19 guidelines and operating procedures for participants, with some “additional infection prevention and control measures” remaining in place in an attempt to “safeguard the industry from the risk of Covid-related disruption”.

The weighing room complex will remain a “strictly controlled area”, with participants entering the weighing room asked to wear face covering and continue to socially distance.

Elsewhere on course, the use of face coverings is recommended, particularly in enclosed and crowded areas.

Like spectators, participants are also encouraged to bolster their protection and reduce the risk of transmission of coronavirus by accepting both doses of the vaccine and completing regular lateral flow tests to identify positive cases in advance of raceday.

The BHA’s chief medical adviser, Dr Jerry Hill, said: “Racing has demonstrated throughout the pandemic our ability to conduct race meetings safely and sensibly, with participants adapting quickly to new processes and following rigorously the infection control measures in place.

“While the full return of spectators and the further easing of restrictions is welcome, with cases continuing to rise, racing must do what we can to protect our people and industry – especially against the ongoing risk of 10-day self-isolation for close contacts of infected individuals.

“The best way to bolster protection is through vaccination, accompanied by regular lateral flow testing, but we will also retain some measures on course to help protect those participants working in higher-risk indoor areas, particularly the weighing room complex.

“As ever, I want to thank everyone for their adherence to the protocols and continuing to behave responsibly on course. Avoiding disruption to the racing industry must remain our utmost priority – and everyone can play their part in this respect.”

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.”

Racegoers to return to tracks in Wales next week

Spectators in Wales will be able to join those in England and Scotland in attending race meetings from next week after the Welsh government announced the public can return to sporting events on Monday.

Racegoers returned to tracks in England and Scotland on May 17, albeit in reduced numbers, and Chepstow’s meeting on June 11 will mark the first occasion Welsh fans can get back on course.

In both England and Wales, a maximum of 4,000 racegoers are permitted – excluding the pilot event at Royal Ascot which allows 12,000 people – while the limits in Scotland vary from track to track, with Ayr having a cap of 250 and up to 1,400 at Hamilton.

Racegoers watch the action at Haydock Park
Racegoers watch the action at Haydock Park (Tim Goode/PA)

The next stage of the road map out of Covid-19 restrictions is pencilled in for June 21, although it is not expected to confirm until June 14 if it will go ahead, and what guidelines will apply to sporting events in England.

David Armstrong, chief executive of the Racecourse Association, said: “The government said when it published the road map that it wanted Covid restrictions to be lifted from June 21 at the earliest, but it has also said repeatedly that it wants to proceed with caution.

“Racing is pushing hard for the maximum attendance at race meetings from that point and to remove the current rule that has a lower limit for outdoors sports compared to those that take place in stadia with ticketed seating. Our venues have very significant outdoors space, where transmission rates are lower, allowing spectators to be distributed over large areas.

“We may not find out what the guidelines are until a week before this change comes into effect but will be ready to reconfigure racecourses depending on decisions made by national and local authorities, who license each event.”

Royal Ascot is set to have a crowd of 12,000 on each day of its five-day meeting later this month
Royal Ascot is set to have a crowd of 12,000 on each day of its five-day meeting later this month (Julian Finney/PA)

Julie Harrington, chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority, added: “I’m very positive about the ability of racing to take place safely as we’ve demonstrated throughout the long period of racing behind closed doors. I have been able to make that point directly to ministers and am delighted that Royal Ascot has been selected as a pilot event.

“We are now awaiting the government’s review of social distancing rules, which need to be relaxed if we are to welcome back more spectators from June 21.

“There is a lot of speculation in the media, but the government has told us no decision has yet been made. We are working closely alongside other elite sports to seek clarity from government at the earliest possible moment. There are a number of major sporting events shortly after June 21, such as the Euros, Wimbledon, the Open Golf and the British Grand Prix.

“We thank all those owners and spectators attending racing at present for their patience in bearing with restrictions and look forward to the day when these can be safely removed.”

Bobby Beevers hails response to Autism In Racing initiative

The founder of the Autism In Racing initiative has been astounded by the “100 per cent positive” reaction to its launch.

Bobby Beevers, a broadcaster for SIS and raceday presenter, came up with the idea after being diagnosed himself recently.

Beevers was prompted to undertake a series of questionnaires about autism when, while his daughter Sophia was being tested for the condition, his mother and his wife Rachelle began to piece together similarities between the two.

“Because Rachelle had worked in nurseries and worked with kids with autism she knew what to look out for, things like flapping hands and running around,” he said.

“She spoke to my mum, who told her these were things I used to do as a kid.

“One thing I do is talk passionately about racing, because I’m interested in it. If the person I’m talking to shows a subtle expression that they are not really interested in what I’m saying, I don’t pick up on it and just keep talking. I’ll also talk to anybody as if they are my best friend – as many in the press room will know!

“When Sophia was diagnosed in the first lockdown I wanted to find out for myself if I was too, and spoke to my GP. The first assessment was over Teams – but I had another face to face, and after filling in a few more forms they came to the conclusion that I was also autistic.”

It is still quite a big leap from being diagnosed with a condition to then doing something which will help others in a similar situation, but that is what Sheffield-based Beevers – a Rotherham United fan – set out to achieve.

“It was when Sophia was in the process of being diagnosed Rachelle said she’d love to make everything a lot more accessible for people with autism,” he added.

“When she said that, it was when I started thinking racing could step up to the mark.

“Crowds and noise are two major factors, but autism is such a broad spectrum – it affects people in different ways. I’m fine with crowds – but for Sophia, while I haven’t taken her to a football match yet, I would imagine we might take ear defenders out of caution.

“She’s fearless, though. We can take her to a theme park, and she’ll go on the rides no problem.”

Mobile sensory spaces will be piloted at three tracks
Mobile sensory spaces will be piloted at three tracks (Autism In Racing)

Beevers wasted no time and went right to the top by speaking to British Horseracing Authority chair Annamarie Phelps, who was immediately on board with his vision.

“I went to Annamarie, and she was the first person in racing that I told that I was on the waiting list for an autism assessment. Actually admitting that to someone made me think it was a good thing,” he said.

“She told us she was 100 per cent behind the idea. I put together a team, and we were having meetings over Zoom – building up relationships including with Arsenal.

“The reaction has just been 100 per cent positive. Twitter can be toxic at times – but the support behind this, everyone has just been brilliant.

“The amount of followers in the first week, the response from people in and outside racing has been brilliant. People have been sending me messages about their situation and told us they were wishing us all the best. We’ve got off to a great start and we have so much planned going forward. It’s important we get this year, a trial year, right.”

Haydock Park is set to be one of the racecourses with a 'sensory room' to benefit racegoers with autism
Haydock Park is set to be one of the racecourses with a ‘sensory room’ to benefit racegoers with autism (Tim Goode/PA)

One of the initial stages is to trial autism-friendly sensory spaces at Doncaster, Haydock and Musselburgh later this year.

“It could be that people have shied away from taking their family racing for fear of what might happen when they get there,” said Beevers.

“But by putting these mobile sensory rooms in, a safe a supportive place on the course, they might think again now.

“We need to plan where these rooms go. They need to be in the right place – you can’t just plonk them anywhere.

“But if you want to spend all day in them you can, or come and go after visiting the paddock. It’s all fine.

“The hope is in maybe 10 years’ time there might be one on every course, but at the minute it is a mobile room. We’re hoping to go down the same route as football, who converted hospitality boxes into sensory rooms. That would be fantastic if we could do that, but it might be a case of building one from scratch.”

A sensory space
A sensory space (Autism In Racing)

Those who know Beevers will agree he is full of energy, and in this instance his enthusiasm has clearly worn off on others.

“Racing has got behind this unbelievably, and from the start I said I just wanted to give autism a voice,” he added.

we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet and want to make a change.

“Hopefully anyone who wanted a career in racing – be that a stable lad, jockey or whatever – but might have been put off by their autism, this initiative will hopefully show them they don’t have to be, because the support is there for them.

“We’ve got provisional dates from the racecourses when the first days will be, but they’ll be announced when everything is finalised. Hopefully it will be something special.

“The team I work with have all been very supportive, and we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet and want to make a change.”

To keep in touch with developments within the initiative follow @autisminracing on Twitter.

BHA announces saliva test pilot scheme for riders is under way

A pilot scheme of raceday saliva tests for jockeys to detect cocaine and other banned substances is now under way.

The joint-venture, developed by the British Horseracing Authority and the Professional Jockeys Association, began this week, with tests taken at Kempton on Monday and Lingfield on Tuesday.

Announced in February on the same day as jockey Philip Prince received a six-month suspension following a positive cocaine test, the intention is that oral swabs will be able to quickly indicate the presence of any banned substance, above the existing thresholds, in a rider’s system.

Under the pilot, any jockey who does not test negative would be stood down from riding for the day, with racing set to become the first major sport in Britain to utilise on-the-day screening for banned substances through oral swabs, should the pilot prove successful.

Brant Dunshea, the BHA's chief regulatory officer
Brant Dunshea, the BHA’s chief regulatory officer (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The BHA said the pilot will continue over a period of two months, “during which time the testing methodology and raceday procedures can be assessed and improved where necessary, prior to a decision being taken as to whether the matrix can be rolled out on a more permanent basis”.

BHA chief regulatory officer Brant Dunshea said: “Saliva testing is a progressive next step for our testing and surveillance of prohibited substances. In particular, the fact that it provides near-instant results means that we are now able to screen for the substance on the day of race.

“The fact that it is a more cost-effective methodology will also allow us to significantly ramp up our testing capacity – something that we are supporting further through the allocation of an enhanced testing budget.

“This should serve to act both as a deterrent to those who might consider using prohibited substances and provide reassurance to those who are competing on raceday.”

Scottish National and Greenham moved to Sunday as mark of respect for funeral of Duke of Edinburgh

The high-profile meetings at Ayr and Newbury scheduled for Saturday have been switched to the following afternoon as a mark of respect for the funeral ceremony of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

It was announced on Friday the Duke of Edinburgh had died at the age of 99, with his funeral to take place at Windsor Castle next weekend at 3pm. A national minute’s silence will be observed as the ceremonial royal funeral begins.

Sporting bodies have been in discussions regarding plans for next Saturday’s fixtures, with the Football League announcing that matches scheduled to begin at 3pm will be rearranged.

Jockeys, owners and trainers stand for a two-minute silence at Aintreee
Jockeys, owners and trainers stand for a two-minute silence at Aintree (David Davies/Jockey Club)

The British Horseracing Authority has now confirmed no racing will take place in Great Britain between 2.45pm and 4.15pm – and as a result, the Coral Scottish Grand National fixture at Ayr and the Dubai Duty Free Spring Trials meeting at Newbury will now be held on Sunday.

Saturday’s meetings at Bangor, Thirsk, Brighton and Nottingham will go ahead but with different start times to ensure races do not clash with the ceremony. Start times will be announced on Monday.

The BHA said in a statement: “British racing will continue to appropriately reflect the period of national mourning at fixtures through to Saturday, April 17, including wearing of black armbands and flags flying at half-mast.”

The sponsors of the Scottish National feel the switch “is definitely the right thing to do”.

it would feel entirely inappropriate to stage the race next Saturday under the circumstances.

“This is definitely the right thing to do out of respect for the occasion and the Royal family, and we would like to commend the BHA and the various stakeholders for the speed and flexibility they’ve shown in making this decision,” said Simon Clare, Ladbrokes Coral PR director.

“Scottish Grand National day is a day of celebration of one of the sport’s most prestigious races and it would feel entirely inappropriate to stage the race next Saturday under the circumstances.

“The fact we are racing behind closed doors means it is much easier to shift a big meeting back a day than in a normal year, and we are very appreciative of ITV’s support in agreeing to broadcast the meeting on Sunday.”

British racing to receive £21million through sports survival package

Leaders of British racing have welcomed the government announcement that £21million of loan funding will be made available through the sports winter survival package.

The money will be lent to the Levy Board due to its role in providing central funding of industry costs of race-day regulation, equine welfare and industry training, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has announced.

The funding is to ensure essential race day integrity costs and related health and safety expenditure are safeguarded, enabling the Levy Board to continue their programme of financial support and funding into the industry, which has suffered as a result of Covid-19.

British Horseracing Authority chief executive Julie Harrington said: “We are extremely grateful to officials at Sport England, DCMS and the Treasury for their support in agreeing this funding to racing.

“We are grateful also to the Levy Board for agreeing to our proposal and borrowing this money to support the central funding of racing.

“This money will help ensure racing continues behind closed doors despite the absence of spectator revenues. This will benefit our racecourses, our participants and their communities, and the vital role racing plays as an employer and contributor to the rural economy.”

David Armstrong, chief executive of the Racecourse Association, added: “The RCA and its Members are very grateful to the Levy Board, DCMS and Sport England for putting in place this vital funding for the sport.

“Racecourses have suffered lost turnover of over £325m since the pandemic began and this funding will provide a crucial bridge for both racecourses and horsemen as we begin the long road to recovery.”

Racing industry launces rapid Covid-19 testing pilot

An industry pilot scheme to offer routine pre-raceday Covid-19 testing for racecourse attendees, including jockeys, valets and officials, will begin on Monday.

Funded by the Horserace Betting Levy Board, the pilot, which will last for an initial four-week period, will use regular and repeat Lateral Flow Testing (LFT) to detect positive Covid-19 cases well in advance of raceday, with the aim of reducing the risk of transmission on course and any potential disruption to the industry.

The pilot has been designed to support racing’s existing infection control measures. It will seek to establish whether routine testing of higher risk individuals can help further safeguard the industry and its people against new variants of the virus during the gradual easing of lockdown.

Dr Jerry Hill, the British Horseracing Authority’s chief medical adviser, said: “Advances in testing means that it can now be delivered in a more rapid, convenient and targeted way. Rapid lateral flow testing is being used routinely in local communities and other sectors to support the easing of lockdown restrictions, detect cases early and break chains of transmission.

“The pilot can help provide valuable insight into the practicalities of utilising rapid testing of asymptomatic individuals, to reduce the risk of transmission and protect our industry and its people from disruption as lockdown eases and we move towards the return of spectators.

“By focusing testing on individuals working predominantly indoors and who have multiple contacts on a raceday, we can mitigate risk for those most likely to be exposed to the virus.

“On behalf of all involved in the pilot, I’d like to sincerely thank the Horserace Betting Levy Board for agreeing to fund the testing process, and The Racing Foundation for committing to a financial support package for any jockeys or valets who need to self-isolate, should they receive a positive result”.

Paul Struthers, chief executive of the Professional Jockeys Association, said: “The diligence of participants, including jockeys and valets, in following racing’s protocols has resulted in no known on-course transmission of Covid. This pilot can help establish whether pre-race testing can further improve safety on course, and we are supportive of it.

“On behalf of our members and valets, I would also to thank the Racing Foundation for once again offering support during this pandemic. Being able to offer financial support to jockeys and valets who take part in the pilot and test positive will at least provide some financial security during any period of self-isolation.”

British Horseracing Authority welcomes resolution to Elliott investigation

Officials at the British Horseracing Authority have welcomed the resolution of the investigation into the image of Grand National-winning trainer Gordon Elliott posted on social media.

A hearing by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board referrals committee banned Elliott from training for 12 months – with the last six months suspended – after an image emerged last weekend of Elliott sat on a dead horse.

The BHA had already imposed an interim suspension on Elliott runners in Britain until the conclusion of the investigation.

A statement read: “We welcome the fact that the Irish authorities have acted swiftly. The suspension will be reciprocated here in Great Britain. The existing restriction on Mr Elliott having runners in Great Britain will stay in place until the suspension takes effect on March 9.

Envoi Allen has moved from Gordon Elliott to Henry de Bromhead
Envoi Allen has moved from Gordon Elliott to Henry de Bromhead (PA)

“The IHRB Referrals Committee pointed to the fact that the photo showed appalling bad taste and demonstrates a complete absence of respect for the horse. We endorse these comments, and the view that respect is an integral and essential part of the duty of those in charge of animals.

“Today’s decision confirms that horses will not be able to run at the Cheltenham Festival or Grand National Festival in the name of Gordon Elliott.

“However, if horses are transferred directly to other licensed trainers prior to March 9 – when the suspension is due to commence – they will be able to run.”

The Cheltenham Festival is scheduled to get under way on March 16, with the Grand National meeting starting on April 8.

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.”

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.

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.

“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.”

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.”