Return of owners to racecourses scheduled for March 29 as BHA sets out roadmap
Racing has set out its own roadmap for the return of owners and spectators to English racecourses, with the end of March and the middle of May pencilled in for the two groups.
The plans to allow owners back from March 29, in line with the government timetable to permit larger gatherings outdoors, means this year's Cheltenham Festival will be run entirely behind closed doors, as will the opening day of the Flat turf season at Doncaster on March 27.
Spectators will not be back until May 17 at the earliest, with the BHA planning to admit racegoers when the government enters stage three of its strategy for lifting lockdown, which is based on ministers being satisfied with infection and vaccination rates.
Officials at Doncaster, as well as those from other tracks, have already made themselves available to host any pilot meetings in the coming weeks, which may be needed to ensure the safe return of spectators from May 17.
While nearly 250,000 spectators attended the four days of the Cheltenham Festival last year, crowds have been almost entirely absent from racecourses since, apart from two pilot events at Doncaster and Warwick in addition to a brief period of small-scale attendances in December.
March 29 will also mark the the return of amateur riders to England's racecourses in line with the government's lifting of its ban on all grassroots sport. The date dovetails with the return of point-to-point racing in England, announced this week by the Point-To-Point Authority.
The BHA's chief medical adviser Dr Jerry Hill said: "Since racing resumed, the BHA has worked hard with stakeholders to implement strict protocols designed to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus.
"As we approach these crucial coming weeks, these actions have been agreed upon in line with government guidance in order to ensure our racecourses remain safe environments for all throughout the gradual easing of lockdown restrictions."
BHA chief operating officer Richard Wayman said: "We are all eager to open up our racecourses once again to owners, spectators and our amateur jockeys.
"Owners have continued to support racing through the difficult winter months and we will work together as an industry to get them back as soon as possible, recognising that the government timetable is still subject to conditions being met."
Owners have been denied entry to racecourses since the country was plunged back into lockdown in early January and the news was welcomed by Racehorse Owners Asscociation chief executive Charlie Liverton.
"Owners have continued to support the industry unwaveringly through this period of lockdown," Liverton said. "The financial contribution of some £30 million a month that owners make to trainers, jockeys, racing staff and all those in the rural economy who are indirectly supported is critical.
"Owners have not been able to watch their horses on the racecourse of late and we wholly recognise the desire to be able to return to the racecourse at the earliest opportunity. Working with industry stakeholders, these discussions remain ongoing."
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