Horseracing to continue across UK behind closed doors amid coronavirus outbreak

Jack de Menezes
The Independent

Horseracing in the United Kingdom will go behind closed doors until the end of the month after the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) confirmed meets across England, Scotland and Wales will continue to go ahead without spectators.

A meeting on Monday of the Racecourse Association, The Horsemen’s Group and the BHA saw racecourses across Britain shut to the public from Tuesday, with Taunton and Wetherby set to be the first venues forced to close their doors after Kelso decided to trial the move on Monday.

But while the ban does not yet include the Grand National meet at Aintree, which gets underway on Thursday 2 April with the main event on Saturday 4 April, the government’s expectation that the worst of the coronavirus outbreak is yet to come leaves the Festival facing the prospect of being ran behind closed doors.

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The move comes after more than 150,000 racegoers attended last week’s Cheltenham Festival, which attracted widespread criticism despite organisers following government guidelines not to close their doors to the public.

A statement from the BHA read: “Racing industry leaders have confirmed a plan to continue racing behind closed doors from tomorrow. Any fixtures that take place in England, Wales and Scotland, initially until the end of March, will take place without spectators and with restrictions on the number of attendees.”

The decision not to fully cancel meets is to enable those who depend on the horse racing industry as their main source of income to be supported during what will be extremely difficult months, with planned cards for every day across the remainder of the month.

The statement added: “The intention is for scheduled race meetings to take place wherever possible. However, the situation is very fluid at present and decisions may have to be made to cancel meetings. Every effort will be made to notify customers and the betting industry at the earliest opportunity.

“With race meetings due to happen every day, the aim is to agree a programme that is sustainable, in the light of possible staff absences, including in critical roles, in order to protect industry staff and support the wider effort to free up critical public services.”

France has taken a stronger stance in their action by suspending all horse racing until 15 April at the very least, while bookmakers’ are predicting huge losses over the next few months – though the BHA’s decision does at least ensure races will still go ahead and help betting shops to remain open.

The chief executive of the BHA, Nick Rust, said:“Racecourses and racing yards are embedded in their local communities and we are acutely aware of our responsibilities to protect public health.

“The restrictions we are putting in place to close racing to spectators and limit attendees will reduce demand on public services. We also have a range of measures in place designed in response to the government’s guidance on public health and we will continue to update these as appropriate.

“We acknowledge that today’s decision will also impact on local businesses, especially hotels and restaurants, who are struggling at this time. We are following the government’s advice to strike a balance between protecting public health and maintaining business activity and will continue to do so. We thank our customers and staff for their support.”

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