BHA extends suspension of horseracing beyond April
On Wednesday the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) announced that they’d be suspending racing indefinitely due to the escalating coronavirus crisis in the UK.
Racing was officially suspended on March 18th before the government imposed a strict UK lockdown which introduced stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures to prevent the spreading of COVID-19.
Cheltenham Festival was one of the last horseracing meetings to run normal operations and allow mass crowds.
Initially, the BHA had hoped for racing to return on May 1st but as the British government have extended the lockdown to sustain the reduced rate of infection, officials decided to prolong the racing suspension. For now, all meetings will take place behind closed doors.
Although a new date has not yet been set, plans are in motion to ensure that the sport is ready to resume as soon as it is possible and appropriate following government guidelines.
A scheme has been initiated to schedule meetings behind closed doors at several racing hubs with on-site hotels that include Newcastle and Lingfield. The concept has been circulating among BHA officials for some time and it would allow jockeys, trainers, owners and officials to social distance during races.
BHA Chief Executive, Nick Rust said on the matter: “It’s right to continue this suspension until the pressure on the NHS allows for a resumption.”
He went on to say that horseracing was postponed to prioritise public health concerns and limit the growing “demand on the NHS so we can assure the safety of those taking part.”
“We’ll continue to develop a range of options drawing on the expertise of our participants and racecourses. But for now, we are all focused on supporting the national effort, maintaining social distancing restrictions and taking care of our people and our horses.”
The BHA has predicted that meetings with crowds will not be possible until June at the earliest, which is where there will be greater clarity regarding rules and restrictions on mass gatherings.
As soon as this becomes evident the BHA said they will make an announcement to customers and fans.
In an interview with the Racing Post, trainer Richard Fahey praised the BHA for establishing a plan to resume racing and extended his gratitude to the efforts of all those involved in the process.
He said: “I’m happy with what the group are proposing but nobody wants to race while we are in lockdown and they have everything in place for when racing is ready to return.”
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), as of 10AM on April 20th, the UK has recorded 114,221 positive coronavirus cases and the death toll in Britain has risen to 15,464.
While these are significantly high numbers, the number of daily cases and deaths in the UK is now growing at a much slower rate. These declining figures offer a glimmer of hope and a sign that the coronavirus crisis is past its peak in Britain.
How has the UK lockdown impacted horse racing?
In a letter sent to trainers by the BHA last week, they implied that British racing faces losing an estimated £193 million in revenue if the government lockdown is extended until July, with trainers being the worst-affected group in the sport.
Rupert Arnold, chief executive of the National Trainers Federation, expressed that the news would not come as surprise to most trainers, given the severity of the situation.
The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) predicts that UK unemployment will rise to two million in the second quarter of 2020 due to the coronavirus lockdown. Many within the sport of horse racing are eager to return to normal operations, perceiving it to be the best way to protect businesses, people and horses.
Rupert Arnold said: “We all want to get going as soon as we can but the best balance we can strike is to be as prepared as we possibly can and to have a plan in place so we are able to start as soon as the right conditions are met.”
There is no doubt that when meetings across the UK, including Royal Ascot, Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National return to normal operations, racing officials will ensure fans of the sport are given an experience they’ll never forget.