Update from the Resumption of Racing Group

Latest from the British Horseracing Authority on the plan for the resumption of racing:

Resumption planning

As noted in last week’s update, the plan for the resumption of racing is based on a range of models, which can be adapted as circumstances require to support the transition to a normal fixture list, in accordance with any gradual easing of Government restrictions.

At this stage, we are not ruling out any model for resumption; all scenarios are being considered.

On current planning, we anticipate that the early stage models for resumption would allow for horses to race behind closed doors under strict conditions at locations which meet specific criteria around risk mitigation and infection control.

Once finalised, these criteria will be used to identify which racecourses may, in principle, be able to fulfil the safety requirements of racing behind closed doors under the strictest resumption models.

Although jump racing will not take place before 1 July 2020, all flat and jump racecourses will shortly be invited to apply to host fixtures, to demonstrate how they are able to meet the conditions specified in each model. The Resumption of Racing Group will share with racecourses the assessment criteria and additional information about the submission process.

Dr Jerry Hill, the BHA’s Chief Medical Adviser, who will play a key role in working with individual racecourses one on one, continues to work with medical advisors from other sports to coordinate planning around resumption in relation to risk mitigation and social distancing.

Early next week, Brant Dunshea will meet representatives of other racing jurisdictions, including France, Ireland and Germany, to discuss how different countries are planning for resumption.

Fixture list and race planning

When racing resumes, the intention is to keep the race programme as close to normal as practicable, with opportunities for all classes and ages of horse, including two-year-olds. We are working on a fixture list and an outline race programme for the first two months following resumption, which we intend to publish within the next fortnight. This will provide a sense of how the calendar would look on resumption.

It is likely that the size of the fixture list will be restricted initially. As explained in our previous update, with no income from crowds and the potential continued closure of betting shops, racecourse revenues will be significantly reduced, which means there will be a greater reliance on the Levy Board to meet the costs of resuming racing. As well reducing the number of fixtures that we can afford to stage, this will inevitably impact prize money values. We can’t provide exact figures on this yet, and we are still exploring various options that might be available to support or supplement prize money until crowds return and/or betting shops re-open.

Field sizes will also be limited initially to 12 runners per race. This is based on risk modelling, which indicates that field sizes of 12 or fewer reduces the risk to participants on the track and assists with social distancing requirements at the racecourse. We recognise that this will increase competition for places, so to help counteract this, we plan to extend the number of races on a card including by staging more divisions.

Even though we intend to provide a balanced programme, it is likely that due to competition for places, some horses, particularly those that are lower rated, may find it difficult to get a run in the early stages of resumption. Indeed, this may be similar to the sort of situation that we usually face in the autumn. When conditions allow, more fixtures will be added and we also anticipate extending the Flat season beyond its normal end date, and so the connections of such horses may wish to take this into account in determining their plans. In summary, we have tried to reach a balance between minimising avoidable risk and providing as many opportunities as possible for horses to be able to run.

We have taken in a similar risk mitigation approach in relation to jockeys, with analysis from the BHA’s medical department indicating that the more experienced riders are less likely to suffer injuries. Consequently, only the more senior jockeys will be able to ride under initial plans. This will be reviewed continually as resumption progresses.

Finally, to further reduce risk for participants of infection from the virus in the early stages of resumption, no individual will be permitted to attend more than one fixture per day. Attendance will be limited to only those personnel required to deliver the race fixture, with the number able to attend determined by public health restrictions in place at the time. These restrictions on attendance will be continually reviewed and gradually eased to accommodate connections, including owners, and other raceday staff in line with Government guidance.

2020 Flat Pattern Programme

Last week we outlined our best-case scenario planning for some of our principal races. Under this plan, our aim is to run the Guineas in early June, with Royal Ascot commencing on 16 June (as per its traditional slot), and the Derby and Oaks in early July.

Whilst the timing of these key races is of course dependent on when and how racing can resume, our intention is to ensure that, regardless of the circumstances, the principal races will be able to perform the essential role assigned to them: i.e. to help identify the best horses and those, therefore, which will be most highly-prized for subsequent breeding purposes.

In addition, the aim is to rescue a number of lost Pattern and Listed events from the early part of the spring and stage them during the second half of May. These races will provide a critical mass of ‘trial’ events, covering the spectrum of distances and age-groups, to act as useful prep-races in order to help ready our highest calibre of horses prior to the Guineas, Royal Ascot and Derby.

We are acutely aware of the responsibility to support the development of these horses and will try to provide trainers with sufficient notice to prepare horses for major races.

Government relations

The BHA, acting on behalf of the industry-wide Public Affairs Group and alongside other major sports, has been meeting the UK Sports Minister by phone every week since lockdown commenced. These conversations will continue on a regular basis, alongside discussions with senior officials at Number Ten and Defra. We will also continue to liaise with the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales.

These conversations have provided an opportunity to discuss the matter of resumption for all sports and the conditions that will have to be met – principally around safety of participants and social distancing to minimise the risk of infection. We have used these opportunities to emphasise the unique position of horse racing, both as a sport with human and equine competitors, and an industry that supports tens of thousands of jobs, directly and indirectly, across the country.

Yesterday, the UK Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, appeared before the DCMS Select Committee and outlined that the resumption of sporting events should be in line with the five tests for lifting lockdown, as set out by the Government last week. The Secretary of State said that he will be working with sports, such as racing, to understand how resumption can work in practice, before seeking Government permission to allow them to take place.

Racing’s Public Affairs Group engaged with the DCMS Select Committee ahead of the Culture Secretary’s appearance and provided background information on aspects of resumption planning to help brief Committee Members and support the session. The Public Affairs Group will also be providing evidence to the DCMS Select Committee inquiry into the impact on sport of covid-19, which is scheduled to begin in early May.

There is also ongoing work to liaise with MPs at a local level, prioritising those MPs with racing businesses in their constituencies. Laura Farris, the MP for Newbury, has submitted a written question for next week’s DCMS Questions in the House of Commons, which will ask the Government to update on how it is supporting the racing industry.