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Return to Racecourses: BHA Recovery Plan for British Racing

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has released a nine-step racing recovery plan outlining regulations of how to safely return spectators to racecourses. The racing recovery plan follows multiple unsuccessful horseracing pilot events to test whether the return of crowds to racecourses could be done in a ‘covid-secure’ way. 

Boris Johnson initially declared that the aim was to begin a phased return of crowds to elite sporting events from the 1st October. However, it was announced in September that an October return was no longer possible due to a spike in COVID-19 cases.

As racegoers desperately await the day they can return to experiencing the sport they love, we examine what the Recovery Plan for British Racing entails and the future for British horseracing.

What is the Recovery Plan for British Racing?

The Recovery Plan for British Racing is a strategy created by racing industry leaders, outlining the next phase of crowds returning to racecourses. The plan follows the COVID-19 Operational Plan, which was released in March.

The key focus of the racing recovery plan is to allow as many spectators to return to racecourses as safely possible, maximising revenue and providing the best possible experience for spectators. All goals have been set with social distancing and government guidelines at the forefront. 

The plan outlines explicitly nine goals to be met within the horseracing industry as we edge closer towards the return of spectators to racecourses.

Charlie Liverton, Chief Executive of the Racehorse Owners Association, has highlighted how the Recovery Plan for British Racing prioritises the conversation of the future of horseracing. While there are many steps to take, he is confident that the industry can work together to complete these actions.

What are the nine goals within the Recovery Plan for British Racing?

The Recovery Plan for British Racing strategy outlines the nine following goals for the safe return of spectators to racecourses:

  1. To provide the best experience to spectators with maximum racecourse attendance as safely possible
  2. Health and safety of staff, participants and attendees, adhering to social distancing guidelines
  3. A fixture list and race programme to be put in place for 2021 with the wellbeing of horseracing staff, participants and attendees at the forefront
  4. Reduce the industry’s cost base and identify new opportunities to increase revenue
  5. Maximise prize money as much as possible
  6. Agree on a spending plan
  7. Retain key investors
  8. Safe, high quality and consistent offers to race day and betting customers
  9. Foundations for longer-term recovery of British racing

How will the nine recovery goals be achieved?

The BHA has acknowledged that whilst these nine goals have been put in place, there are still many challenges to face.

In terms of revenue, The BHA has said this cannot return to normal until crowds are fully back at racecourses. Reduced costs mean that prize money will be impacted as the industry aims to work within their current financial constraints.

Nick Rust, the Chief Executive of the BHA, has highlighted the importance that the Recovery Plan for British Racing has been agreed by leaders from all parts of the horseracing industry and that ‘working together works.’ He commented on how the ‘commitment shown by leaders in signing up to this recovery plan demonstrates a continued willingness to maintain a unified approach through the tough battles ahead.’

When will UK racecourses fully reopen?

Currently, there is not a specific date as to when UK racecourses will fully reopen to the public now that the target date of the 1st October has been abandoned. 

It was confirmed that the new government restrictions such as the 10 pm curfew and rule of six will be in place for 6 months if the COVID-19 figures do not improve. As a result, it is likely that spectators will not be able to return to racecourses until the first half of 2021. As soon as COVID-19 cases begin to ease, the government will be in a position to ease restrictions and could consider the return of spectators to sporting events once again. 

The return of crowds to racecourses remains the highest priority within the BHA recovery plan as financial stability continues to remain a substantial concern for the racing industry. The BHA has informed the government that the horse racing industry could lose up to as £300m this year as COVID-19 continues to keep fans away from racecourses, placing many livelihoods at risk.

Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) stated that ‘it’s important that we take a cautious, phased approach to bring further fans back to stadiums as soon as possible.’

What happened to horseracing pilot events?

It has certainly been an emotional rollercoaster for horseracing pilot events in the UK so far. It was hugely disappointing when 5,000 racegoers were told they could no longer attend Glorious Goodwood back in July as a result of rising cases of COVID-19.

Positivity resumed once again as the government announced that DoncasterWarwick and Newmarket racecourse would all play host to three new pilot events, only for the St Leger Festival to be told to resume behind closed doors after just one day. 

The St Leger Festival at Doncaster Racecourse was due to welcome back racing fans from 9th – 12th September 2020. It was initially planned that there would be around 3,640 admissions on Wednesday, increasing to 6,202 for the remaining three days. The racecourse had been modified into several smaller zones with clearly marked entry and exit points for health and safety. However, local health officials stated that spectators could no longer attend the festival after the opening day, with the remainder of the festival taking place behind closed doors.

The pilot event at Warwick Racecourse on 21st September 2020 was allowed to continue with extremely reduced capacities, which was made up of members, staff and owners. Although the number of spectators was not what was originally planned, the racecourse said it was ‘significant for the industry’. 

The final horseracing event that was granted pilot status was the Cambridgeshire Meeting at Newmarket Racecourse, which was sadly was not able to host the return of spectators. The meeting which took place from 24th – 26th September was instructed to take place behind closed doors. Whilst disappointing, the rise in COVID-19 cases, places the industry in a difficult position, where health and safety must be at the forefront. 

Horseracing was the first sport to return behind closed doors. With the industry working so hard to maintain a clear strategy with the racing recovery plan; hopefully, it won’t be too long before racegoers can return to their beloved racecourses once again.

We are particularly looking forward to returning the Cheltenham Festival in 2021, as well as Royal Ascot; a meeting which has been greatly missed this year.

If you’re thinking of attending one of these iconic meetings in 2021, please head over to our Cheltenham and Ascot hospitality pages for your chance to celebrate British racing once again.

Want to attend Cheltenham or Ascot in 2021? Register to be placed on our priority list!