Racing protocols remain unchanged following latest Government guidelines

New coronavirus guidelines issued by the Government on Monday will not necessitate any changes to the British Horseracing Authority’s current protocols for behind-closed-doors racing.

A new three-tier system for England has been unveiled as the Government tries to tackle the rising number of Covid-19 cases, with differing levels of restrictions imposed depending on whether an area is judged to be on medium, high or very high alert.

The BHA’s chief medical adviser Dr Jerry Hill has considered that new guidance and discussed it with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, with no need for any immediate revision to current practices – although he reminded all in the sport of their responsibility to follow the protocols in place.

He said: “Following close consideration of the detail behind the new Government guidelines, and discussion with DCMS, we can confirm that the new protocols do not affect the existing behind-closed-doors guidelines for British racing.

“We do, however, urge everyone involved in British racing who is taking part in any racing-related activities to check the restrictions in their local area and follow the relevant Government advice.

“It also goes without saying it remains critical that all of our industry participants follow Government’s and British racing’s coronavirus protocols at all times, whether at work or at home, to ensure that racing can continue behind closed doors.

“The BHA, in liaison with other stakeholders, have in place an on-going process of reviewing our guidelines to ensure they stay up to date with a rapidly changing situation and we anticipate the next version to be published soon.

“Participants should check and the Racing Admin website regularly to ensure they are following the latest advice.”

Tory MP calls for renewed crowd pilots at racecourses

A Tory MP has called for horse racing pilots to resume with social distancing in place.

The sport has so far held two crowd pilot race days, at Doncaster and Warwick last month. Doncaster was all set to allow a restricted crowd to the entirety of its St Leger, but the local Public Health Authority put a stop to the event before the first afternoon had concluded.

Previously, Goodwood’s hopes of hosting 5,000 people at the final day of its big meeting in July were also dashed in similar circumstances, and a planned pilot at Newmarket’s Cambridgeshire Festival was cancelled amid a resurgence in the national infection rate of Covid-19.

Racegoers at Doncaster on the first day of the St Leger meeting
Racegoers at Doncaster on the first day of the St Leger meeting (David Davies/PA)

With stricter measures in place, no further pilot events are on the horizon, but speaking in the House of Commons on Thursday, Tewkesbury MP Laurence Robertson called for a change of approach.

“I have to stress that it (horse racing) is not a wealthy sport in the best of times and at the moment it is suffering very, very acutely,” said Robertson.

“Almost 50 per cent of the revenue of racecourses comes from paying customers, spectators who go every day, it is a seven-day-a-week sport and, of course, at the moment they have lost that entire revenue.

“There have been a couple of trials, of pilots, which seemed to go very well, so it really is rather disappointing that the Government stopped any further pilots or trials, especially when, of course, racecourses are vast areas and social distancing would be very, very easy there.

Hopes of crowds being allowed at final day of Glorious Goodwood were dashed at the 11th hour
Hopes of crowds being allowed at final day of Glorious Goodwood were dashed at the 11th hour (Edward Whitaker/PA)

“There’s also question marks about why hospitality suites could not be opened when we can all go to a restaurant where there might be 50 people, 100 people, again suitably socially distanced – why can that not be replicated at a sporting arena?”

He added: “Sport is a very, very valuable asset to many people’s lives both physically and mentally, and we really do have to be careful that in containing the coronavirus disease, which we all want to do, we do not inadvertently cause other health problems in doing so.”

Quarantine exemption still possible for British jockeys at ParisLongchamp

British-based jockeys riding at ParisLongchamp this weekend may yet be exempt from self-isolation on their return – with the British Horseracing Authority set to make a submission to Public Health England on Tuesday.

As things stand, those who ride in France this weekend would need to self-isolate for seven days under the elite sportsperson’s exemption, rather than the standard 14 days.

Earlier in the season, Frankie Dettori was forced to choose between riding Palace Pier and Mishriff at Deauville, then completing a spell in isolation, or being available for York’s Ebor meeting – and he chose France.

With the likes of Dettori, Ryan Moore, Andrea Atzeni and champion jockey Oisin Murphy keen to be able to ride at Newmarket’s Future Champions Day the following weekend, an ease in the restrictions would be most welcome for them.

The exemption the BHA is seeking would also include trainers and stable staff.

A BHA spokesman said: “Our COVID-19 protocols are kept under constant review.

“The existing protocols around elite sportspeople and essential support staff – which includes jockeys, trainers and stable staff – travelling to countries with self-isolation restrictions allow for the period of self-isolation to be reduced to a minimum of seven days upon completion of the necessary testing.

“We are currently looking at these protocols with a view to making a submission to Public Health England that they might be adjusted, which may include a full exemption from self-isolation for the purposes of training and competition if a strict testing regime and rigorous travel and separation protocols are adhered to.

“We will look to provide further updates in the next 24 hours.”

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.”

Jockey Club Racecourses ‘revise up’ £75 million lost revenue

Jockey Club Racecourses expect revenue losses to exceed initial estimates of £75 million, following the announcement that crowds will be absent from sporting venues for the near future.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a number of new restrictions on Tuesday, because of rising Covid-19 infection rates, and called a halt to the pilot events for returning spectators to elite sport.

He warned the new constraints could be in place for up to six months, raising the prospect of the Cheltenham Festival having to be run behind closed doors in March.

Cheltenham is one of 15 tracks run by JCR, and group chief executive Nevin Truesdale is seeking further discussion with Government as to how long restrictions may be in place and what support could be offered in the meantime.

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He said: “Organisations in the sport and events sector are facing significant financial challenges after six months with no spectators or visitors to their venues.

“Previously we had estimated that revenues at Jockey Club Racecourses would be down this year by around £75 million out of an annual turnover that is normally circa £200 million, but that figure is being revised upwards on the basis we won’t have any level of spectators back from October 1.

“We need to discuss more details of this with Government – both in terms of the potential period we are looking at and the direct support for the industry that is now needed – but also making the case that restaurants and hospitality sales for example should be treated in the same way as the high street would make a real difference.

“In the meantime we will continue to race behind closed doors, as the teams have done a great job doing safely since racing resumed on June 1.”

Ascot has almost completed its Flat season entirely behind closed doors, with only three race days left in 2020.

The track staged the Royal meeting without spectators in June – and its other headline fixture and seasonal finale, British Champions Day, will also have to go ahead without racegoers on October 17.

Ascot’s director of racing and communications Nick Smith said: “Unfortunately we will not be able to welcome crowds on race days at this time in line with Government policy.

“In the short term, we will be refunding or offering rollovers to all who have booked for our October race days, including QIPCO British Champions Day.

“Champions Day entries were very strong, and the ante-post markets reflect that a high-class renewal is on the cards, so we are focussing on that.

“International interest is high – and like Royal Ascot, there will be Worldpool betting through the Hong Kong Jockey Club.”

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.”

Newmarket scraps crowd pilot plans

Crowds returning to racecourses appear further away than ever after it was confirmed Newmarket’s pilot scheme this week has been abandoned on Government advice.

Flat racing’s Headquarters was all set to play host to 1,000 spectators over each of the three days of the meeting, which begins on Thursday.

However, due to a rising coronavirus rate in large parts of the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has taken steps in an attempt to slow it down.

As a result, plans to introduce spectators gradually back into sporting venues from October 1 have been placed on hold.

A statement on Newmarket’s website read: “Following guidance that the Government’s programme of spectator pilots has been postponed, the Cambridgeshire Meeting will take place at the Rowley Mile 24th to 26th September as a behind closed doors fixture.

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“This will be limited to participants, racehorse owners and essential raceday personnel observing the existing strict health and safety protocols that have been in place across British Racing since the sport resumed without spectators on June 1.”

The Government decision to put the return of crowds on hold comes as a huge blow to racing, just 24 hours after a successful pilot event at Warwick on Monday was attended by around 450 spectators.

Earlier this month, Doncaster was all set to allow a restricted crowd to its St Leger meeting – but even before the end of a successful first day, the local Public Health Authority put a stop to the final three days of crowds.

Previously, Goodwood’s hopes of hosting 5,000 at the final day of its big meeting in July were also dashed in similar circumstances.

All cancelled pilot events came at huge costs to the racecourses involved.

Amy Starkey, who runs Newmarket Racecourses as East Regional Director for Jockey Club Racecourses, said: “We respect the Government’s decision to postpone its programme of spectator pilots across sport as part of trying to reduce interaction between people.

“Sadly, this means the Cambridgeshire Meeting will take place without the limited number of spectators who the team worked so hard to prepare to welcome in a safe way. We will now continue to work with the rest of the industry, Government and our local authority on when it might be possible for spectators to return in the future.

“Unfortunately it now looks like we will not have any visitors to a raceday for the duration of our 2020 Flat season at the Home of Horseracing.

“I’m proud of the role Newmarket Racecourses has played in ensuring that racing has been able to continue behind closed doors, as we will be doing again this week.”

Ascot has also confirmed its four scheduled race days in October will take place behind closed doors – including Qipco British Champions Day on October 17.

A statement posted on the track’s website read: “Unfortunately we will not be able to welcome crowds on race days at this time in line with Government policy announced today.

“In the short term, we will be refunding or offering rollovers to all who have booked for our October race days.”

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.”

Newmarket trial in doubt following Gove announcement

Newmarket’s planned crowd trial later this week has been thrown into doubt after Cabinet Minister Michael Gove announced the phased return of spectators to sporting events will be “paused”.

A successful trial took place at Warwick on Monday and Newmarket is due to stage its own test event with 1,000 spectators on each of its three-day Cambridgeshire meeting beginning on Thursday.

However, concerns around the rising coronavirus rate has prompted the government to put on hold a planned return of spectators to sporting events from October 1.

“It is the case that we’ve been piloting some open air venues, and we do want
to be able in due course to allow people to return to watch football and other
sporting events,” Gove told BBC Breakfast.

Around 450 spectators attended Warwick's pilot event on Monday
Around 450 spectators attended Warwick’s pilot event on Monday (David Davies/PA)

“But it is the case that we just need to be cautious at the moment and I think
a mass reopening at this stage wouldn’t be appropriate.”

He added: “It was the case that we were looking at a staged programme of more people returning – it wasn’t going to be the case that we were going to have stadiums thronged with fans.

“We’re looking at how we can, for the moment, pause that programme. But what we do want to do is to make sure that as and when circumstances allow, (we) get more people back.”

Claims of Doncaster link to Covid-19 outbreak proves false alarm

The British Horseracing Authority has been advised that a coach party thought to have visited Doncaster’s pilot crowd event last week and subsequently linked to a cluster of Covid-19 cases in Wales did not actually travel to the track.

Wales’s Health Minister Vaughan Gething pointed to a rugby club outing to Town Moor, which stopped at a “series of pubs on the way”, as one of two possible sources of the outbreak which has resulted in a local lockdown in Rhondda Cynon Taf.

However, Doncaster Racecourse issued a statement on Wednesday evening underlining it had no ticket bookings for any groups from the south Wales region and had not been contacted by the Welsh Government or NHS.

The BHA has subsequently been informed by Public Health Wales that the group had not attended the first day of the St Leger meeting as initially reported.

A statement said: “The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has been told by Public Health Wales (PHW) that a coach party from south Wales – now part of a Covid lockdown area in the Rhondda Cynon Taf – did not visit Doncaster Racecourse as reported.

“The BHA had been seeking further information about the case on behalf of Doncaster Racecourse, which had not been contacted by public health officials as part of a Test & Trace process and had no knowledge of the supposed visit.

“PHW confirmed that no contact had been made with Doncaster Racecourse because the group had not attended the pilot event last Wednesday, September 9, the first day of the St Leger Festival.

“PHW expect a formal clarification will be provided by the Welsh government as soon as possible. The BHA has passed on the information to ARC, which runs Doncaster Racecourse.”

The Welsh Government later said the group had not entered the racecourse as originally planned.

Around 2,500 spectators were on course for the first day of the St Leger meeting last Wednesday, although the planned four-day trial was curtailed after that opening card on the instruction of the local authority.

Doncaster refutes claims crowd pilot could be coronavirus case source

Doncaster racecourse has rejected claims from the Welsh Government that a “significant” cluster of Covid-19 cases in Rhondda Cynon Taf could be connected to last week’s crowd pilot at the track.

Around 2,500 spectators were on course for the first day of the St Leger meeting last Wednesday, although the planned four-day trial was curtailed after that opening card on the instruction of the local authority.

Wales’s Health Minister Vaughan Gething pointed to a rugby club outing to Town Moor, which stopped at a “series of pubs on the way”, as a possible source of the outbreak which has resulted in a local lockdown.

He said: “Our contact tracing teams have been able to trace about half of these cases back to a series of clusters within the borough.

“The rest are evidence of community transmission. There are a number of clusters within Rhondda Cynon Taf, two of which are significant.

“One is associated with a rugby club and a pub in the lower Rhondda. And the other with a club outing to the Doncaster races, which stopped off at a series of pubs on the way.”

However, Doncaster reported it had no ticket bookings for any groups from the South Wales region and had not been contacted by the Welsh Government or NHS.

A statement from the track said: “As a condition of running the pilot event last week, we were required to implement a full track and trace database that took the details of all attendees that would be on site, linked to an e-ticket and photo ID system on entry that would verify attendance.

“Doncaster Racecourse has received no contact from any organisation, including the NHS or the Welsh Government, to verify the attendance of any individuals at last week’s event for the purposes of track and trace. In addition, we do not have any ticket bookings for any groups from the South Wales area for Wednesday’s event.

“We will be contacting the Welsh Health Minister as a matter of urgency to clarify the situation.”

Ben Curtis handed 28-day ban following Covid-19 breach

Ben Curtis will be able to ride from Saturday after being given a 28-day ban, with 14 days suspended, for breaching Covid-19 protocols at Newmarket last month.

The rider was escorted from the track and stood down immediately for two weeks after he entered the owners’ zone on August 28, in contravention of the strict measures employed by the British Horseracing Authority to allow racing to continue.

Curtis last week had an application to lift that initial suspension turned down, but a full hearing of the independent disciplinary panel took place on Friday.

Curtis admitted he had used the incorrect owners’ entrance on arriving at the track, as well as contravening the Covid-19 protocols by crossing into the owners’ zone, where he had been filming a promotional video with two owners. He denied he had done so intentionally and any suggestion he had brought racing into disrepute.

In his evidence, Curtis said “he made a mistake on the day” that led to him entering the wrong area, with the rider adding he was “burnt out, exhausted and tired” after a busy period following the resumption of racing in June.

He stated his actions were not deliberate and put the cost of his enforced two-week absence at between “£10,000 and £12,000”.

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After hearing evidence from Gemma Steve, Jockey Club Racecourse’s head of operations for the east region, who was manning the owners’ entrance on August 28, and considering three other witness statements, the disciplinary panel found Curtis had breached Covid-19 regulations as well as rule (J)19, in that he had acted “in a manner prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct and good reputation of horseracing”.

Trainers William Haggas and Hugo Palmer had both written letters of support for Curtis, along with Dale Gibson, the Professional Jockeys Association’s executive director, and that was taken into account by chairman Philip Curl and his panel of Chloe Fairley and Steve Winfield.

In handing down the 28-day ban, with 14 days suspended for six months and the other two weeks backdated to August 28, Curl said: “We’ve tried to balance the seriousness of breaches of these Covid regulations with the mitigation in your case, which includes your character, your excellent record, the facts of this case, the loss you have already suffered from not riding and the financial consequences of that.”

However, Curl did issue a note of caution to all riders going forward that any future breaches are not certain to result in similar verdicts.

He said: “We wish to make it clear – perhaps you could spread the word in the weighing room – jockeys should not assume in the future that in Covid cases part of the penalty would be suspended.

“In the particular circumstances of this case, and your circumstances, we feel we can suspend part of it, but the weighing room is not to assume that is always going to be the case.”

The suspension entry point suggested under BHA rules for breaching Covid-19 protocols is three months and following the hearing, PJA chief executive Paul Struthers thanked the panel for reaching what he described as a “sensible” verdict.

He said: “We would like to thank the disciplinary panel for a fair hearing and for reaching an entirely sensible and rational conclusion on the appropriate sanction, bearing in mind Ben has already served a costly two-week suspension as required under racing’s Covid-19 protocols.

“We note that we have never had cause to complain about any decision, whether or not we agree with it, since the advent of the current judicial panel under the chairmanship of Brian Barker CBE QC.

“However, it is very disappointing that, through those instructed by its in-house compliance team, the BHA was seeking a three-month suspension, a punishment which would have had a catastrophic and immediate impact on Ben’s career and well-being.

“No doubt the BHA will try to justify this, but given the facts of the case and when compared to action taken by other sports, it is a stance that is impossible to fathom and was one with which the panel clearly didn’t agree.

“Unfortunately, the actions of the BHA’s compliance team were once again cause for concern and frustration. These actions damage the otherwise excellent relationship that the PJA and its members have with the BHA.

“Having sought to persuade a panel to take someone’s livelihood away for a quarter of a year for what amounts to a professional misjudgement, it is crucial for the BHA to hold others it regulates and itself to the same standards it expects of licensed jockeys and trainers.

“Ben is grateful to the support he has received from racing professionals and once again apologises unreservedly for his mistake.”

Shane Crosse to miss Leger ride on Galileo Chrome following positive Covid-19 test

Shane Crosse will miss the ride on Galileo Chrome in Saturday’s Pertemps St Leger at Doncaster after testing positive for Covid-19.

One of the leading apprentice jockeys in Ireland, Crosse was due to partner Joseph O’Brien’s progressive colt in the final Classic of the British Flat season on Town Moor, as well as his stablemate State Of Rest in the bet365 Champagne Stakes.

Crosse had also been booked for some high-profile mounts on the second afternoon of Irish Champions Weekend at the Curragh on Sunday, but will now have to sit out the action after returning a positive test ahead of travelling to the UK.

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Dr Jennifer Pugh, senior medical officer for the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, said in a statement on Friday afternoon: “Shane was completely asymptomatic and was very surprised to learn of the test result. He was not unwell and hadn’t engaged in any high-risk behaviour. He is now in isolation for 14 days and has worked with us on identifying his close contacts.

“We have been in communication with Public Health today, notified them of the test, and they are happy with the steps we have taken. It means that those who have shared a car with him, and those who live with Shane, have been informed they must also self-isolate for 14 days. As directed by Public Health, contact tracing commenced on Friday morning and testing will be carried out today of all close contacts of the index case.

“We have been prepared for this and have responded accordingly, and this case reinforces just why we have had such strict protocols in place since racing resumed on June 8. These measures ensure that social distancing is taking place at racecourses, and face masks and coverings are mandatory both inside and outside.

“Shane is employed by trainer Joseph O’Brien and we have been working with Joseph this morning to provide contact tracing and testing of Shane’s close contacts. Joseph’s horses will run today as planned, but as a precaution these horses will be taken care of by staff from other yards.

“Public Health are satisfied with our protocols and the measures we have taken, and for racing to continue under strict protocols behind closed doors.”

Crosse rode at Navan on Thursday and at Galway and Cork earlier in the week, but Dr Pugh confirmed it was not a necessary requirement for all jockeys riding at those meetings to be tested.

She added: “The only people that need to be tested are Shane’s close contacts, so his family, the people he’s travelled to the races with and so on – the advice has been clear on that throughout.”

Padraig Beggy and Emmet McNamara are due to travel from Ireland to ride in the St Leger after being booked to partner Aidan O’Brien’s pair of Dawn Patrol and Mythical respectively.

Pugh confirmed the pair are “unaffected” by Crosse’s positive test and free to make the trip across the Irish Sea.

Monday Musings: Lies, Damned Lies, and…

Don’t look now, but York starts on Wednesday and every year for me that means the beginning of the end of summer, writes Tony Stafford. The nights start to draw in; evening race meetings begin at 4 p.m. and if they want to stage ten-race cards as they have been doing recently, they’ll need to be over by 8 p.m. at the latest, except on all-weather.

I’m still not going racing, instead waiting for the day that, like the French, the British (and Irish) public can attend. Harry and Alan are going up to York and have got a great deal in the Marriott at the mile and a half gate. All they need now are some of the highly-regulated owners’ badges to go their way. Wednesday looks good apparently, but some of the other days are more questionable. It might be a case of watching on the hotel telly.

There’s been a fair amount of goalpost-moving lately. I’m delighted that I can get back from today to ice-rink chauffeuring. In the end Mrs S and her skating chums didn’t have to resort to chaining themselves to the Downing Street railings like latter-day suffragettes to get their pleas heard. Now she needs to see if she can still skate after six months off since her latest leg operation.

But the biggest movement, and one more than relevant to someone who has meticulously – as you all will be aware – kept the Covid-19 UK daily death figures since mid-March, immediately after the conclusion of the Cheltenham Festival, is how they are reported.

Spikes and the now seemingly-defunct “R” number have kept us all in check – bar the odd quarter of a million on Bournemouth, Brighton or Southend beaches when it got really hot. But in the middle of last week, suddenly the Government finally proved that there really are “three kinds of lies - lies, damned lies and statistics” as commonly attributed to the American writer Mark Twain, though whose true origin may predate that great wordsmith.

Back in mid-April, in the week to April 12 there were 6,425 recorded Coronavirus UK deaths, an alarming figure that mercifully began to reduce steadily. By mid-July we were in the realms of below 500 a week and still falling. During the same period, testing was increasing exponentially from the starting point of barely 10,000 tests – in other words, at that time people were really only tested when it was obvious they had the virus. But, by July, between 100,000 and 200,000 tests were available every day.

Then suddenly last week, the Ministry – amid renewed local lock-downs where clusters of positive tests were revealed – concluded it would no longer count as Coronavirus deaths, anyone tested as having the virus but who died more than 28 days afterwards.

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So from July 31, when the brave new world came in, and when positive tests were going back up again to 1,000 plus each day the daily deaths in the UK were not. Starting on the last day of July the number of deaths has been 5, 1, 18, 14, 18, 12, 3, 5, 17, 14, 20, 18, 11, 3 and 5. Those numbers are probably smaller than many other routine causes of deaths in a population of 60 million. In all honesty, if that is the basis by which it’s judged, shouldn’t we be getting back to normal?

If they don’t yet have a vaccine ready, shame on them. There have been plenty of people willing to act as paid guinea-pigs, especially if their jobs have disappeared. You might even say if the figures can be presented thus, what’s all the fuss been about?

To the racing. It’s expected to be fast ground at York – amazing news for anyone who has been waiting for the action to start at the Test match at Southampton over the past few days, and they are the conditions I prefer to see on the Knavesmire. Frankie Dettori won’t be there but as the great man approaches his 50th birthday in December, he is showing a rare facility for making correct choices.

While the racing goes on at York, he’ll be staying in Deauville having had the news on Friday that the newly-re-imposed 14-day self-isolation period for people returning from France and some other countries has been modified for elite sportsmen. They, it seems, need only face a seven- or eight-day spell under specific conditions in self-isolation at home before resuming full activity.

Frankie was anxious not to miss either Mishriff, the French Derby winner, impressive again at Deauville last Saturday, or the unbeaten St James’s Palace hero Palace Pier in yesterday’s Prix Jacques Le Marois. That fast-improving colt came through to beat Alpine Star with the older horses led home by Circus Maximus, and best of the home team, Persian King, well beaten off. He is now being lined up for the QE II Stakes at Ascot in the autumn.

Alpine Star had been narrowly pipped in the French Oaks by the Donnacha O’Brien-trained Fancy Blue who went on to take the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood with authority. Jessica Harrington trains Alpine Star, and the two Irish fillies – along with the Aidan O’Brien-trained Peaceful – comprise a formidable trio of mile/ten-furlong star sophomores.

None of them will be at York, but the best of the lot among the Classic generation of females will be.

Potential opposition to Love in Thursday’s Yorkshire Oaks again seems to fall principally on Frankly Darling, who disappointingly failed to provide much of a test at Epsom for the Coolmore filly as she added the Oaks to her 1,000 Guineas honours in spectacular style. The four-year-old Manuela De Vega is smart but conceding lumps of weight? Hardly! Dettori’s absence from York – he’s staying en France an extra week – tough! – to wait for a Wesley Ward runner in next weekend’s Prix Morny.

That will still give him time for the requisite eight and a few more days before teaming up with Enable in Kempton’s September Stakes, a cleverly-thought-out target from John Gosden which obviates the need to tackle Love before the Arc. Enable won the September Stakes two years ago as a prelude to her second win in Paris in October. How they would cherish a third as a six-year-old after the shock of being caught close home by Waldgeist last year.

The York meeting opens with another Gosden star, Lord North, the major loss this week for Dettori judged on the four-year-old’s upward-mobility this summer. Winner of six of his nine career races with two seconds and a luckless eased last of eight in the other, Lord North has progressed from a laughably-easy Cambridgeshire winner to outclassing his Prince Of Wales’s Stakes opponents at Royal Ascot. James Doyle is the beneficiary, as he was at Ascot when Dettori rode Mehdaayih. Who’s to say Lord North cannot progress enough to beat Ghaiyyath, as well as the 2,000 Guineas winner Kameko and possibly Magical in the Juddmonte International?

We won’t have Saturday’s Ebor Handicap runners until around 1 p.m. today and I can’t wait to see which potentially top-class horse Messrs Gosden, Haggas or Varian will have lined up to win it. Even though the total prize pool has been slashed from £600,000 to a relatively frugal £250,000 I’m sure there will be enough horses to fill the 22 available stalls. It would be great if a hard-knocking horse from the North could see off the aristocrats from Newmarket.

Another race that I’m looking forward to is Friday’s Nunthorpe Stakes, not least because Wesley Ward is bringing a lightly-raced but clearly talented juvenile to tackle Battaash, Art Power and A’Ali. His Golden Pal, runner-up after making the running to The Lir Jet in the Norfolk Stakes will be going there as a maiden with form figures of 22, having earlier been beaten when favourite for a Gulfstream Park maiden in the spring.

He will be echoing to a large degree the pre-Nunthorpe record 13 years ago of the John Best-trained juvenile Kingsgate Native, a 66-1 debut runner-up in the Windsor Castle Stakes and then second again in the Molecomb at Goodwood.

Backed down to 12-1 (among many, by me!), Kingsgate Native easily beat Desert Lord with future stallions Dandy Man and Red Clubs the next two home. I note the weights will be unchanged from then, so Battaash carries 9st11lb; three-year-olds Art Power and A’Ali 2lb less and Golden Pal only 8st1lb. He will have Andrea Atzeni, who rode him at Ascot, back on board.

I know the other three are highly-talented, and it would be another feather in the Charlie Hills cap if Battaash could win a second Nunthorpe, but I’d much prefer Wesley’s undying love for British racing to get a reward after a couple of less than wonderful years. He certainly seems to have all his ducks in line this time.

So in conclusion, I say enjoy York, if you are, like Harry and Alan, fully documented-up. If not, the wonderful coverage – free and flourishing on ITV though I still doggedly stick to Racing TV – deserves watching for all four days. Please then, start taking off the restraints, Mr Boris. Five months using only two tanks of fuel has been sacrifice enough.