All British racing set to go behind closed doors later in the week
The partial shutdown of British racing due to the coronavirus pandemic began on Sunday evening as the BHA announced fixtures are likely to be run without spectators from later this week, meetings could be cut back and discussions had taken place with the government about next month’s Randox Health Grand National.
While no specific start date was given by the BHA for the lockdown, Martin Cruddace, chief executive of leading racecourse group Arena Racing Company (Arc) predicted on Sunday it could happen within 48 hours and last until the end of June in a “worst-case scenario”.
Representatives from British racecourses and horsemen will meet with the BHA on Monday to discuss the recommendations of racing’s Covid-19 industry steering group, which met on Sunday, with restrictions on spectators likely to initially last until the end of March and the number of fixtures limited due to possible staff absences and to support “the wider effort to free up critical public services.”
Nick Rust, BHA chief executive, added in a statement: “Racing has worked hard to look after our customers and our staff by following the government’s guidance and taking proportionate action.
“We will agree plans to limit attendance to participants and staff only at race meetings from this week and put in place the contingency plans developed by the industry.”
On Sunday, the UK government revealed people over 70 will be asked to self-isolate “within the coming weeks" for their own protection as the number of positive cases of Covid-19 leapt by 232 to 1,372 from 40,279 people tested. The virus has claimed 35 lives in Britain and nearly 6,500 globally.
Ireland’s leaders also ordered pubs and bars to close until March 29 and travel restrictions were imposed in Germany and America in an attempt to stop the virus spreading.
The BHA continues to liaise with government over its response to the potentially fatal illness, with discussions having also taken place about the Grand National meeting at Aintree in Liverpool, with an decision to be made “as soon as possible” over the fixture, which takes place from April 2-4. No one from Aintree was available for comment on Sunday.
Punters' confidence increased marginally in the meeting being on with 'no' out to 1-2 on Betfair's 'will racing go ahead' market for Aintree, having been as short as 1-5, with over £170,000 traded.
Britain is the last of the major racing jurisdictions to move to impose restrictions on crowds after similar actions were taken in Ireland, France, America and Australia last week, with the decision coming as pressure mounts on the government to limit mass gatherings and major events in other sports, including football, cricket, rugby and golf, already being cancelled or postponed.
Leading owner/breeder Chris Wright called for racing to be behind closed doors from no later than Wednesday “with a real risk of racing being abandoned for months if we, as an industry, do not act immediately and decisively”, while trainer Charlie Fellowes said such a move would be the “lesser of two evils” for the sport.
He said: “It looks like coronavirus could be particularly devastating for racing, full stop. So if there is any way we can carry on behind closed doors then that has to be the lesser of two evils.
“I have full faith in the BHA approach and in those making the decisions, but the potential of losing the Flat season altogether scares me like nothing else. We’ve got to do what we can with it and to try to keep the show going.”
The possibility of the Flat season being significantly impacted by Covid-19 was laid out starkly by Arc boss Martin Cruddace on Sky Sports Racing on Sunday, although he added that there was also an opportunity for racing to work positively with bookmakers for the benefit of both parties while other sports stopped completely.
He said: “The only thing we can do as a responsible company and, dare I say it, an industry, is to follow the government’s advice. We are outliers with other parts of the racing world, but I think we should be prepared for an imminent change.
“My own personal view is that could be within the next 48 hours. We’re planning, worst-case scenario, end of June. It is absolutely possible we won’t race again in front of a crowd until the end of June. If it happens before then, great.
“We also need to support the bookmaking industry as it’s a symbiotic relationship. Right now we could be one of the few sports that is there every day for people to bet on and we have a responsibility to work with them to know what we can do for them and the ecosystem of horseracing.”
Racing will take place without a crowd at Kelso on Monday after comments were made by the Scottish government last week about plans to limit gatherings to 500 people, while action has taken place without crowds in Ireland since Friday.
Visa restrictions have been put in place by the UAE, where Dubai’s $35 million Dubai World Cup fixture will be run without a crowd, but passport holders from the UK and Ireland are among those not impacted by the ban.
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