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Racing crowds will return as pandemic restrictions ease next week

Racecourses in England will be able to welcome customers through their gates from next Monday after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced step three of the road map out of lockdown will go ahead as planned.

The British Horseracing Authority responded to the Prime Minister’s confirmation by giving the green light for crowds to return from May 17 – up to a maximum of 4,000 or 50% of capacity, whichever number is lower.

The first meetings able to race in front of a crowd will be Redcar and Carlisle on Monday afternoon – before Leicester and Windsor race in the evening.

Ffos Las race on Monday too, but the Welsh Government has still to announce a change to protocols – so for the time being, meetings will continue behind closed doors there.

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The partial lifting of coronavirus restrictions means the Cazoo Derby meeting will be run in front of paying customers next month, and Royal Ascot will also have a crowd – although because stage four does not begin until June 21, it remains unclear whether that showpiece meeting will be able to host 10,000.

Since lockdowns began last March, spectators on racecourses have been restricted to pilot events at Doncaster and Warwick in September and limited crowds at a handful of meetings in December.

In a joint-statement issued by the BHA, the Racecourse Association and the Horsemen’s Group, it was also confirmed that owners will also be allowed to see their horses and meet with their trainers and jockeys in the parade ring from next week.

Richard Wayman, Chief Operating Officer of the BHA, said: “It is extremely exciting that we are finally able to welcome racegoers back to our racecourses.

“It will allow racing’s many fans to come back to the sport they love after more than a year away. We know there is a huge public demand for families and friends to meet up, outdoors, enjoy great food and drink and the unique social occasion of a race meeting.

“In addition, from next week, racing can once again offer our owners the opportunity to feel much closer to the action on a racecourse by returning to the parade ring. Racing’s leaders very much appreciate the commitment and patience shown by owners over the past year when their attendance and experience at racecourses has been restricted by the pandemic.”

David Armstrong, chief executive of the RCA, said: “This next step in the Government’s road map is hugely important milestone in the recovery of British Racing.

“Racecourses are very excited to welcome racegoers back and to be able to offer them a full race day experience whilst extending our provision for owners to whom the sport remain greater in for their continued support.

“Lockdown began almost 14 months ago, and it has been a very challenging journey for the industry and for racecourses in particular through several false starts and aborted pilot events. May 17 marks a key step on the return to normality.”

Charlie Liverton, Chief Executive of the ROA said: “Owners have played a critical role in keeping horse racing going behind closed doors throughout the past 12 months, contributing over £30million a month in training fees alone.

“While the invoices have continued, the ability to go racing and be a part of the race day experience has been greatly hindered as the country, and the wider industry, dealt with the pandemic at large.

“It is therefore a welcome step that come May 17 owners can get a step closer to the action with a return to the parade ring.

“There is more work to be done, and we will continue to work with the BHA and RCA to improve the race day experience for owners, while recognising this milestone in the Government’s roadmap.”

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.”

Owners set to return to racecourses from March 29

Owners are on course to make a limited return to the track from the end of March.

An update issued to owners and other industry stakeholders by the British Horseracing Authority on Monday morning confirmed planning is under way for owners to be admitted to racecourses again in England and Scotland on March 29, although further guidance is awaited in Wales.

The BHA underlined racing is “enormously grateful to owners for their patience, understanding and unwavering support” and their return will “mark a significant step in the move to normality – and will be welcomed by the entire industry”.

Owners and trainers watch from the bandstand at Kelso
Owners and trainers watch from the bandstand at Kelso (Ian Rutherford/PA)

A “phased, risk-managed approach” approach will be employed, with owners asked to follow the BHA’s Covid requirements and protocols, and initial numbers will be controlled with facilities also limited.

The update said: “Unless agreed otherwise with local authorities, from March 29 to April 12, access to the racecourse will be limited to a maximum of two owners per horse, as was the case initially when owners returned in July 2020.

“Racecourses are not able to provide hospitality at this stage, due to government restrictions, but light refreshments will be available and there will be no time limit on how long owners are able to remain on course.

“We aim to increase access to a maximum of six owners per horse from 12 April, following the further easing in government restrictions. At this point, racecourses will also be permitted to reintroduce outdoor hospitality.

“Specific arrangements remain subject not only to government guidance, but also local authority decision-making, and therefore conditions may vary according to racecourse area.

Ludlow was one of the first tracks to welcome back crowds in December
Ludlow was one of the first tracks to welcome back crowds in December (David Davies/PA)

“Racecourse officials are currently liaising with their local authorities and will contact owners directly ahead of each fixture with further details of any local requirements.”

Crowds have been largely absent since the fixture list resumed in the summer, following two months without any racing during the early stages of the pandemic.

Two pilot events did take place at Warwick and Doncaster, before a brief return of spectators in December until lockdown returned as coronavirus cases increased again.

BHA planning for return of owners and amateur riders on March 29

British racing has confirmed plans to welcome owners and amateur riders back on course from March 29 – with a mid-May return of spectators, in line with the Government’s road map for easing coronavirus restrictions.

The British Horseracing Authority announced its proposed schedule on Friday evening, following this week’s publication of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s four-step route towards the end of lockdown over the coming months.

The BHA outlined its phased intentions after meetings with Government officials – with a schedule which confirms both this year’s Cheltenham Festival and the start of the new Flat season on March 27 will take place entirely behind closed doors.

Next month's Cheltenham Festival will take place behind closed door
Next month’s Cheltenham Festival will take place behind closed doors (David Davies/PA)

Measures such as the return of amateur riders, suspended during the current lockdown, and owners are set to be introduced on a timeline which mirrors dates in the Government’s road map.

The first key date identified by the BHA is March 29, the second step in the national road map – when it is hoped owners can begin to attend meetings and amateurs ride again, both with the resumption of point-to-points and at fixtures under rules.

A BHA update read: “Following the publication on Monday, February 22 of the UK Government’s plan to ease lockdown restrictions in England, the industry Covid-19 group has carefully studied the implications for racing in England.

“Any changes to racing protocols will move in parallel with the steps set out in the road map and are therefore dependent on the Government’s timetable.

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“Since the plan was published on Monday February 22, the BHA and senior racing executives have engaged with Government to agree how racing can unwind its own restrictions.”

The BHA also announced details of arrangements available to owners as of March 29 – with enhancements to their raceday experience permitted only after the next step on the road map, from April 12 at the earliest.

The update added: “At this stage (March 29), racecourses will not be able to provide hospitality – and strict attendance rules will remain in place, including, including a health screening process.

“Further enhancements to the owner experience will be permitted from Step Two, which comes into force from Monday April 12 at the earliest.

“In line with the resumption of outdoor hospitality on that date, our goal is for racecourses to be able to re-introduce outdoor hospitality for
owners, in line with Government guidance.”

In line with the Prime Minister’s announcement at the beginning of this week, the return of racecourse crowds can be anticipated from May 17 – Step Three of the roadmap – with earlier pilot sports and leisure events already mooted in Government advice.

The BHA added: “British Racing is keen to play a role in pilots organised through the Government’s events research programme.

“British Racing will be making representations for racecourses to be allowed to host up to 10,000 spectators at Step Three, in line with the guidance on other spectator arenas, instead of the 4,000 for outdoor events.”

Crowds have been largely absent from British racecourses since the fixture list resumed last summer, following two months without any racing during the early stages of the pandemic.

Two pilot events did take place at Warwick and Doncaster, before a brief return of spectators in December until lockdown returned as coronavirus cases increased again.

The BHA’s chief operating officer Richard Wayman said: “We are all eager to open up our racecourses once again to owners, spectators and our amateur jockeys.

“Owners have continued to support racing through the difficult winter months, and we will work together as an industry to get them back as soon as possible, recognising that the Government timetable is still subject to conditions being met.”

Welcoming the news, Charlie Liverton, chief executive of the Racehorse Owners Association, said: “Owners have continued to support the industry unwaveringly through this period of lockdown.

“The financial contribution of some £30m a month that owners make to trainers, jockeys, racing staff and all those in the rural economy who are indirectly supported is critical to have enabled the industry to derive the majority of its income streams since June 1, 2020.

“We thank you for that support. Owners have not been able to watch their horses on the racecourse of late and we wholly recognise the desire to be able to return to the racecourse at the earliest opportunity.

“Working with industry stakeholders these discussions remain ongoing.”

No change to Grand National date as Aintree rules out delay

This year’s Randox Grand National meeting will take place in its scheduled slot after Jockey Club Racecourses ruled out delaying the Aintree showpiece.

There had been calls from some parts of the industry to push back the fixture, which will run April 8-10, to the following week after Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled his road map to lifting lockdown restrictions on Monday.

Non-essential retail, including bookmakers, is pencilled in for reopening on April 12 – two days after the National – meaning only punters with online accounts will be able to have a wager on what is the biggest betting race of the year.

Following talks with stakeholders, it has been decided there is not enough certainty around the plans, among other factors, to move the meeting with just six weeks to go.

Tiger Roll was denied the chance to win a third successive Grand National last year
Tiger Roll was denied the chance to win a third successive Grand National last year (Nigel French/PA)
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Dickon White, who runs the Randox Grand National Festival at Aintree as the Jockey Club’s north west regional director, said: “Since the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday, we’ve consulted with various stakeholders and weighed up the pros and cons of attempting to delay the Randox Grand National Festival to a time when the country may have moved into ‘Step Two’ of lockdown restrictions lifting.

“We’ve reviewed multiple aspects, including people being at home and available to watch the racing and showcase our sport to the maximum audience; the impact on other racing fixtures in the UK and Ireland and feasibility of any delay; and the impact on hundreds of participants across 21 races at Aintree and beyond.

“We’ve considered whether there is any financial upside for the sport when all parts of such a move are accounted for; whether it is responsible to cause such a rush on betting shops just as they open again with a pandemic ongoing or if the Government intended for this to be more gradual; and whether we would disappoint fans by creating clashes with other sports events.

“This has been a really difficult time for the retail and on-course betting industry and we very much hope that retail outlets will reopen on Monday, April 12, but like so much in this pandemic, this is far from certain at this stage.

“The Prime Minister has been clear that timings for lifting restrictions in England are best case and not guaranteed, while already we know outlets will not be open in Scotland.

“With timings fluid and several downsides of delay, as well as some upsides that may or may not happen, there is not a solid enough basis to move one of the biggest racing fixtures in the calendar just six weeks out. Therefore, the three-day meeting will remain in its planned Thursday 8th to Saturday, April 10 slot.”

He added: “It has been interesting to listen to views on this and we are always happy to do so. The Randox Grand National is the People’s Race and it is a shame that those wishing to have a flutter this year will be limited to online and mobile platforms, rather than being able to drop into the bookies.

“With the national vaccination programme under way, including using facilities at Aintree Racecourse, we very much hope our way of life can return in the fullest sense just as soon as possible.”

York staying positive as potential date for racegoers’ return outlined

Officials at York racecourse welcomed the news they could be able to admit a full crowd to the Ebor Festival in August.

While the Knavesmire venue narrowly misses out on the possibility of a limited crowd at the Dante meeting which finishes on May 14 – three days before the Government could revise restrictions on spectators at English sports venues – they are instead focusing on the positives.

With Prime Minister Boris Johnson announcing his route out of the pandemic, pilot events trialling “enhanced testing approaches and other measures” will be held before a potential lifting of all restrictions on sports and entertainment events from June 21 at the earliest.

The Government’s road map sets out the lifting of lockdown restrictions in four steps. At each one, the success of the vaccine rollout, vaccine efficacy, the presence of variants and infection rates will be measured before deciding whether to take the next step. There will be a minimum five-week gap between each step.

James Brennan, York’s head of marketing and sponsorship, said: “You could look at it that we’ve just missed the cut-off for the Dante meeting and Chester have missed it for their May meeting, but you could go on and on.

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“I suppose the silver lining is we now feel as an organisation we’ve got a positive direction to travel. The Ebor is always our centrepiece and it’s later in the road map as it’s later in the year.

“I think there will be some more clarification around larger venues and as long as everything goes smoothly between now and then, and as long as there are no mutant strains, we can aim at something.

“There may be a few more bumps on the rollercoaster, but we can perhaps look forward to the Ebor meeting with a little more conviction.”

Brennan believes the space between the possible resumption of full sporting crowds and the beginning of the Ebor Festival could be an advantage.

He added: “It seems like there’s a nice period of time between the June 21 date and August 18 for people to have learned a few things, and we’ve got a date in July to help us decide how it will all operate by then.

“At the moment, as the Ebor meeting is later in the road map and that is our centrepiece meeting, we can feel fortunate about that. Whatever event you are running, there will always be someone on the wrong side of the deadline, as we found out today.”

Goodwood are looking forward to potentially welcoming a small crowd back for their two-day meeting on May 21 and 22.

They are also hoping to be back to full capacity for the five-day Glorious Goodwood Festival, which runs from July 27-31.

Adam Waterworth, managing director at Goodwood, said: “It’s still a case of digesting what the Prime Minister said – but it sounds like great news.

“From our point of view, as important or more important, is the idea that hopefully from June 21 the idea is of a full return to normality, with all restrictions gone.

“I’ve listened to the statement and I’ve read the response, but I’ve not had chance to study it in any detail yet – but at face value if that means we’re back to full crowds by the end of June, then for the big meeting at Goodwood, that’s fantastic for Glorious.”

BHA welcomes road map announcement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mid-May return at earliest for racing crowds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chester announces mass testing plans in hope of May crowds

Officials at Chester are hoping a combination of mass Covid-19 testing and social-distancing measures will allow up to 5,000 racegoers to attend the Boodles May Festival.

The track announced in a statement it has developed a “sector leading mass lateral flow testing programme” upon entry for spectators at the three-day festival, with the results expected to be returned in less than 20 minutes.

The mass-venue testing could take place in three separate sites, enabling 1,800 lateral flow tests per hour to take place at the racecourse, with all attendees assigned a specific site and allocated entry time.

Chester Race Company is mapping out its strategy before the Government’s imminent announcement on the road-map out of the current lockdown, with the track having also become the first NHS large-scale coronavirus mass vaccination centre in its borough on Monday.

Racing was held behind closed doors at Chester last year
Racing was held behind closed doors at Chester last year (Tim Goode/PA)

Chief executive Richard Thomas: “We were really keen to ensure that our local area could benefit from a mass vaccination centre and are very pleased to be able to support the NHS with their essential vaccination programme.

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“Meanwhile, in anticipation of the Government’s road map announcement, we have been working very hard with local authorities to build a clear operational procedure plan that hopefully could allow us to safely welcome back a limited number of spectators for the Boodles May Festival.

“The delivery of mass on-site testing is at the core of our stringent health and safety measures. Chester Racecourse could provide on-site testing facilities for 5,000 attendees per day, with results expected in less than 20 minutes.

“Our overall aim is to deliver a safe, secure environment for an enjoyable three days of racing – and we hope that testing will give an added confidence to our attendees, customers, and staff, whose health and safety is of paramount importance.

“We’re proud of our innovative approach here at Chester and are keen to be one of the first venues to be able to bring crowds back safely to live sport.

“Chester is known for providing a unique race day experience for all attendees, and we have developed a number of new socially-distanced concepts which will deliver an exemplary level of safety and service – while ensuring the experience is the very best for all of our customers.”

The Chester Cup is one of the highlights of the May Festival
The Chester Cup is one of the highlights of the May Festival (Martin Rickett/PA)

If permitted, Chester would offer all racegoers table service for food and drinks, plus designated seating areas for everyone, with all-weather cover, giant screens and even personal bookmaking facilities.

Contactless order and collection points for food and drink would also be implemented across the course, with staggered arrival and departure times for guests, multiple testing areas and a one-way system in place.

Thomas added: “It will certainly be a ‘different’ racing experience this year – but it will be a very special one, with absolute attention to detail to ensure our racegoers have the best experience possible – something we pride ourselves on always delivering here at Chester Racecourse.

“We will of course be operating within all Government guidelines and hope the new experience which we are offering will be something which is welcomed by those attending – whom we hope will feel safe and secure, but also able to enjoy the best possible time at the racing.”

A socially-distanced pilot event was held at Doncaster last September
A socially-distanced pilot event was held at Doncaster last September (David Davies/PA)

Racegoers made a fleeting return to the track after the fixture list first resumed last June, with Doncaster staging a trial event at the St Leger meeting – although a planned four-day exercise was cut to just one day under a local authority ruling.

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

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

Racing leaders braced for ‘most critical period’

Racing is facing its “most critical period” since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, industry leaders have warned.

Deep concerns have been aired about the potential impact from the introduction of affordability thresholds for online betting customers, with the Gambling Commission currently undergoing a consultation process on on remote customer interaction, while the continued absence of spectators from racecourses and Brexit issues are also prominent.

The British Horseracing Authority has submitted a response to the Gambling Commission on behalf of the industry, and a statement issued from the sport’s tripartite members said: “The submission focuses on the economic consequences for racing and jobs in rural areas, the lack of evidence in support of the intervention and the disproportionate impact on people who bet safely and lawfully.

“The BHA, the Racecourse Association and The Horsemen’s Group discussed the industry’s response at a meeting last week and believe there could be a disastrous impact on racing’s finances and its recovery from Covid-19.

Racegoers made a brief one-day return at Doncaster's St Leger meeting as part of a crowd trial scheme - but racecourses still remain empty
Racegoers made a brief one-day return at Doncaster’s St Leger meeting as part of a crowd trial scheme – but racecourses still remain empty (David Davies/PA)
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“Racing supports the Government’s review of the 2005 Gambling Act and its intention to address the potential for harm. It agrees that gambling laws should be fit for the digital age as well as recognise the economic contribution made by the betting industry and associated industries such as horseracing.

“The BHA’s members believe this is the appropriate way to consider a significant intervention such as a new affordability threshold and that parliamentarians should examine any resulting proposals.”

Racecourse Association chief executive David Armstrong said: “Racing is approaching the most critical period since the beginning of the pandemic.

“With external regulatory issues facing us in the form of the Affordability Review, the Gambling Act Review and Brexit plus no immediate prospect of racegoers returning, the next six months will be the most crucial period on our recovery journey.

“The support from the Members Committee at this time is very welcome – the industry must pull together in these challenging times.”

On the subject of spectators and the impact of the pandemic, BHA chief executive Julie Harrington said: “A majority of our work, and of leaders across the industry, is currently focused on a range of financial issues that are vital to racing recovering from the impact of Covid.

Empty bookmaker pitches at Goodwood
Empty bookmaker pitches at Goodwood (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“We have to plan for a range of possibilities and are working with government and other sports on the return of spectators and owners as soon as that is possible. We thank our owners for their patience and continued support amidst the current uncertainty.”

Charlie Liverton, chief executive of the Racehorse Owners Association, said: “The effect of Covid-19 continues to impact British Racing, both on and off the racecourse. The potential ramifications of Government reviews including the Gambling Act and the Affordability Review are concerning, and the support from the Members Committee in tackling these challenges is very welcome.

“Owners continue to support the industry week in, week out, and we extend our sincere thanks once again for their contributions. The return of owners to the racecourse remains a key objective, working with the RCA and BHA to open up racecourses to racegoers as soon as regulations allow.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BHA states ‘racing continues’ following shutdown rumours

The British Horseracing Authority has been given no indication from Government that a stoppage of elite sport in Britain is imminent, the PA news agency understands.

Rumours on social media on Sunday evening suggested a shutdown of sport, including racing and football, was under consideration in a bid to reduce the rising rate of coronavirus.

However, it understood that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has contacted the ruling body of racing to inform that no such discussions have taken place, and no formal meetings were planned for Monday.

On Monday morning, the BHA posted on Twitter: “British racing continues behind closed doors this week”, followed by a list of fixtures scheduled to take place on Monday and Tuesday.

The BHA also later tweeted a reminder to all participants to follow the Covid-19 protocols in place – both on course and in yards.

Racing to continue behind closed doors in Ireland

Racing in Ireland will continue behind closed doors following an extension of coronavirus restrictions announced by the Irish Government on Wednesday.

The Irish Government website confirmed professional, elite sports, horse racing, greyhound racing and approved equestrian events only are permitted to continue behind closed doors. No other matches or events are to take place.

Racing has been staged without spectators since it returned in Ireland on June 8 following the Covid-19 lockdown, with limited numbers of owners making only a brief return to the course in September before they were again excluded under strict protocols.

Meanwhile, it has been agreed that the ban on UK travel should continue until midnight on Friday evening. Trainer Gordon Elliott has two horses – Quilixios and Duffle Coat – entered for the Grade One Finale Hurdle at Chepstow on Saturday.

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From Saturday, all passengers coming from the UK will be required to possess a negative PCR test acquired within 72 hours of travelling.

Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said: “They will have to present that negative test at the border management unit at an airport or at the ferry terminal.

“Failure to do so will be subject to either a fine of 2,500 euros or up to six months imprisonment penal provision, to make sure we get compliance.”

The provision is certain to remain in place until at least January 31, he said.

He added: “We expect other countries to be doing something similar and we’ll work in co-operation with other countries, and with the European Commission, to monitor and manage how this affects individuals.

“The cabinet’s agreed provisionally to apply the same measures to other jurisdictions, other red-list countries.

“We will work first of all introduce to the UK provisions, and we will work in the next week with European Commission and others, people involved in the travel industry, in terms of how we broaden and apply the same measures too from other jurisdictions.”

Jockey Robbie Power has clarified his riding plans during the current situation, announcing on his Twitter feed that he will stay in Ireland rather than travelling to Britain – including to partner horses trained by Colin Tizzard, as he has for much of the season so far.

He wrote: “Due to the increased number of covid 19 cases in Ireland and the UK and the uncertainty over travel restrictions I have decided to stay in Ireland with my family until restrictions ease.

“I’ve been in quarantine since the 1st of January and look forward to getting back riding on both sides of the Irish Sea as soon as restrictions allow.”

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.”

No spectators permitted in England as Covid-19 restrictions tighten

Racing will take place behind closed doors for the immediate future after the Government announced stricter Tiers will come into force across many parts of England from Thursday in an attempt to combat rising coronavirus rates.

It was announced at end of November that outdoor venues in Tier 1 and 2 areas in England would be allowed to admit spectators again following the latest national lockdown in England, with up to 4,000 spectators permitted in Tier 1 areas and up to 2,000 in Tier 2.

Hundreds of punters were allowed through the turnstiles at Haydock, Kempton, Lingfield and Ludlow on December 2, while December 5 saw racegoers on course for the Tingle Creek meeting at Sandown and Becher Chase day at Aintree.

More recently members have returned to Cheltenham for the first time since the Festival in March, but just days later it was announced more areas of the country would move into Tier 3 and Tier 4, quashing hopes of a crowd for the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day.

And with Covid-19 cases still on the rise due to a more virulent strain, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced in the House of Commons on Wednesday that three-quarters of the country will be in Tier 3 or Tier 4 by Thursday, including every area which homes a racecourse in Britain.

He said: “Unfortunately, this new variant is now spreading across most of England and cases are doubling fast.

“It is therefore necessary to apply Tier 4 measures to a wider area…even in most areas not moving into Tier 4, cases are rising too, and it is therefore necessary to apply Tier 3 measures more broadly too.

“The new variant means that three-quarters of the population are now going to be in Tier 4 and almost all of the country in Tiers 3 and 4.

“And I know that Tier 3 and 4 measures place a significant burden on people, and especially on businesses affected, but I am afraid it is absolutely necessary because of the number of cases that we’ve seen.”

The British Horseracing Authority announced on Tuesday that owners will no longer be able to attend meetings held in Tier 4 areas from New Year’s Day and owners living under Tier 4 restrictions are not permitted to attend race meetings in Tiers 1-3.