Races to be capped at 12 runners with senior riders only under resumption plans
Field sizes will initially be restricted to a maximum of 12 runners and only senior jockeys will be allowed to participate under the latest plans revealed by the BHA for the resumption of racing in Britain.
Both measures follow risk assessments designed to minimise the potential for injury and reduce any potential pressure on the NHS, a key consideration in racing’s proposals to restart the sport following its stoppage since March 18 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The moves would also allow for better social distancing, an issue which was raised in specific relation to racing by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden during a select committee session on Wednesday, as will a limit on individuals from attending more than one fixture a day.
In a letter to trainers, the BHA also acknowledged that such restrictions would lead to increased competition for places in the reduced fixture list, particularly for lower-grade horses.
The BHA said: “This [proposal] 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 have taken in a similar risk mitigation approach in relation to jockeys. Consequently, only the more senior jockeys will be able to ride under initial plans. This will be reviewed continually.
“We recognise [field-size restrictions] will increase competition for places, so 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.”
Last week the BHA extended the suspension of British racing from its initial restarting point of May 1 to an unspecified date, as well as outlining that no spectators would be permitted until at least June at the earliest.
A number of plans have been put forward for resuming racing, including the use of hub racecourses, such as Newmarket, Lingfield and Newcastle where those needed to run a fixture, such as jockeys, stable staff and officials, could stay close by or onsite in hotels.
The BHA resumption of racing group is “not ruling out any model for resumption” and both Flat and jumps courses are soon to be asked to apply to host fixtures and demonstrate they are able to potentially operate under strict risk management and infection protocols.
“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,” the BHA letter said.
“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.”
Behind closed doors racing is set to restart in Germany and France from early next month, with Ireland running a similar system when the sport restarts there. Brant Dunshea, the BHA’s chief regulatory officer and chair of the resumption of racing group, is due to meet officials from those racing nations next week to discuss their plans.
The Classics in France and Germany have been rescheduled as part of the reformed racing programmes, while in Britain under a “best-case scenario” the 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas will take place in early June and the Oaks and Derby in early July with certain trial races for each rescued by the BHA and run in the second half of May.
Alongside this, the BHA outlined in its letter that “the intention is to keep the race programme as close to normal as practicable” providing racing for all classes and ages of horse, including two-year-olds.
A fixture list for the first two months of racing after resumption will be published “within the next fortnight”, according to the regulator, providing a "sense of how the calendar would look" when racing comes back.
However, the BHA reiterated that with betting shops closed and no income from crowds, prize-money for races when the sport returns will be impacted.
The letter said: “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 as 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.”
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