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Controversy as Leicester races on despite coronavirus lockdown

Leicester was only given the green light to race on Tuesday morning
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Racing was at the centre of controversy on Tuesday after a decision was made to stage a meeting at Leicester despite it coinciding with a lockdown of the city, triggering no-shows from several trainers and stalls handlers.

The evening meeting was given the go-ahead by local health officials and the BHA, but had to proceed using flip starts after only four stalls handlers reported for duty because of concerns, while several trainers withdrew runners.

With so little time to deal with the fallout from health secretary Matt Hancock’s statement to the House of Commons on Monday evening, when he announced a local lockdown in the city of Leicester after a spike in coronavirus cases, the BHA was only able to confirm the decision to race late on Tuesday morning, a decision that triggered criticism from trainers including Alan King and Graeme McPherson.

Leicester stewards were forced to hold an inquiry before racing, when they decided to allow the meeting to go ahead without the use of starting stalls. 

Starting stalls were not in use at Tuesday's meeting
David Maykels, Leicester's general manager, said: "At ten to eleven this morning we were off and then ten minutes later we were on. It was quite frenetic.

“It was about half an hour later that we were told about the issue with the starting stalls handlers with only four willing to come – they are the safest people on the course.

"Only two local security staff said they wouldn't be okay about turning up but our medical team have been most supportive of racing and they are the experts.

"We wanted to race – we lost six meetings last year. We felt we are the safest place in Leicester and it was important to race for racing and for Leicester.

"If we hadn't raced tonight I could see other courses not racing in coming weeks."

Maykels added: “Jerry Hill [BHA chief medical adviser] sent an email asking for staffing information – how many locals would be working here today and how many people in total would be at the course?

"The BHA wanted a local authority decision and we got it verbally at 10.30, but they wanted it in writing. Since the BHA measures have been put in place we feel we are the safest place in Leicester and the testing we have is over and above government guidelines.”

The scene at Leicester before racing went behind closed doors
The day's events mark not only the first major challenge to the BHA’s return to racing plans since the resumption on June 1, but also a test of its agility in the short timeframe provided by Hancock’s intervention on Monday evening

The authority underlined that all decisions were made under the specifics of the Leicester situation and with little realistic possibility of moving the meeting at such short notice. 

Responding to the criticism of trainers and the action by stalls handlers and security stuff, a BHA spokesperson said: “A number of individuals, including trainers and stalls handlers, have exercised their right not to travel to the race meeting at Leicester tonight. 

“There are strict protocols in place at all race meetings including health screening and social distancing which ensure that the racecourse is one of the most controlled working environments, and local authorities indicated that the race meeting should go ahead. 

“However, we entirely understand and respect the decisions taken by those individuals. Trainers have been informed that no penalties will be imposed with regards to withdrawn horses.”

On Monday Hancock announced that non-essential businesses would have to close from Tuesday in the city as it dealt with a spike in Covid-19 cases. Schools will also shut from Thursday. Leicester City Council said on Monday night there had been 944 confirmed cases in the last two weeks.

The racecourse is on the outskirts of the city in Oadby. A map has been published to show which areas of Leicester will be impacted by the local lockdown and Oadby is one of them.

The area affected by the local lockdown includes Oadby, where Leicester racecourse is situated
While racing went ahead, bookmakers in the city have not escaped the impact of the new tighter restrictions. Local independent bookmaker Mark Jarvis has closed 14 of its 18 shops in Leicester and the surrounding area.

Lee Watts, of Mark Jarvis, said: "It is very localised. Unfortunately we’ve had to shut 14 today but we’re still trading at another four.  Matt Hancock said initially that we would be looking at two weeks. 

"The company has spent a substantial amount of money – as have all other bookmakers – to make sure that we supply PPE, move FOBT machines and ensure the two-metre rule is observed.

"Representatives of the local council have made visits to assess how many people we can have in each shop, which they did across all bookmakers. 

"Of course public health is paramount but this is not ideal. It [the outbreak] is on the east side of Leicester and they have nominated certain areas [affected by the restrictions]. But it’s something that we’ve got no control over." 

Coral and Ladbrokes confirmed that 16 of their shops across the city have been closed in accordance with the renewed lockdown.

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At ten to eleven this morning we were off and then ten minutes later we were on. It was quite frenetic

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