Three regional hubs may kickstart British racing after shutdown
Momentous plans for regional racing in three centres for up to a week at a time are being drawn up to restart British racing as close as possible to the BHA's self-imposed shutdown until the end of April.
Discussions have been taking place about the best way to resume racing after action was put on hold for six weeks as a result of revised government guidance around social distancing, limiting unnecessary travel and support for medical cover at mass gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a letter to stakeholders sent out last week, Brant Dunshea, the BHA’s chief regulatory officer and leader of the resumption of racing workstream, said the organisation was “planning for a resumption from the 1st of May”, and the sport’s regulator continues to have regular dialogue with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about industry matters.
The Racing Post understands one way forward that has gained notable traction is operating racing on a regional basis with a racecourse, or racecourses, in the south, midlands and north selected to host consecutive fixtures over a sustained period of up to a week at a time.
One of the key elements within this would be the planned reduction of movement for participants to near zero. The focus has been around racecourses with on-site hotels, with the exception of Newmarket, where all those needed for a raceday to take place, such as jockeys, stable staff and officials, can stay throughout the duration with horses dropped off and taken away each day.
Additionally, racecourses’ feasibility for staging the meetings are reportedly being assessed through their ability to have action repeatedly take place over a prolonged period, their overall safety records for horses and jockeys, their proximity to virus epicentres and their location relative to major horse populations.
It is understood the plans are being put together with consideration for participant safety and with the aim of minimising any impact on the NHS, with reduced field sizes and the use of experienced jockeys only among the possible ways of helping to boost safety measures.
To what extent the amended fixtures would be funded by the Levy Board is not yet clear.
Racing taking place behind closed doors would be expected as part of a resumption with Dr Jenny Harries, England's deputy chief medical officer, saying on Sunday that it could be "up to six months" before life returned to "normal", as 1,228 people in the UK were reported to have died as a result of Covid-19.
One location which is almost certain to be included once any form of regionalised racing starts is Newmarket, where there are two racecourses, veterinary hospitals and a significant horse and human population to service fixtures. One source with knowledge of the discussions said: “Newmarket is the best place for it.”
Trainers in the town have already adopted a proactive approach around any potential return of racing in May, with conversations being held with racecourse officials and medical staff.
William Jarvis, chairman of the Newmarket Trainers Federation, said: “We’ve been talking about the resumption of racing and we’re trying to be proactive in this. I think that not only would it be of huge benefit for the industry, I think it would be a boost for the nation.
“I think if we could be seen to be a leader going forward it would be a huge benefit, and I think it’s very feasible. We’ve spoken to racecourse management and we believe that if we’re given permission to stage a race meeting in May then that would be completely possible. We think we could get in private ambulances, retired doctors, paramedics and we’ve had discussions with people about this.”
With original fields for the Qipco 1,000 Guineas and 2,000 Guineas scrapped, all races scheduled for May 2-3 will have five or six-day entries and Jarvis believes trainers in Newmarket will be ready to go as soon as needed.
“It would be nice to know a couple of weeks in advance if racing was going ahead,” he said. “However, if we were told on a Sunday that there would be racing next Saturday and we needed to make entries on the Monday then we would absolutely be prepared to do that.”
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