BHA chief Annemarie Phelps will lobby Government to let crowds back onto racecourses before March

BRITISH Horseracing Authority chair Annamarie Phelps has promised to do all she can to convince Government crowds should be back on courses before next March after confirming the sport’s finances are in a “perilous” position.

Lifeblood: BHA chair Annamarie Phelps says the decision to stop crowds returning to racecourses on October 1 is “devastating” for the sport. Picture: PA

Phelps described the decision to abandon plans for sporting crowds to return from October 1 as a “devastating” turn of events which has put racing in a “quite perilous state”.

Racing has held two crowd pilot race days, at Doncaster and Warwick this month, before a resurgence in the national infection rate of the global coronavirus pandemic brought a return of stricter measures to try to mitigate its spread.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Phelps said: “It was devastating news, I have to say – not just for those racecourses that had invested and prepared for the pilots... but to have them first of all delayed, and then the news this week, has been tragic.

“It puts us in a really quite perilous state. It is going to have a massive impact on the income to racecourses.

“We hope, and are assuming, we’ll be able to carry on behind closed doors throughout all this... but unless we get racegoers back on to racecourses, the losses to the racecourses are going to be an estimate of anything between £2m and £4m a month.

“We think we’ve probably lost £250m to £300m, possibly more, in the last 12 months for racecourses. It is a perilous situation. Without racegoers, it is perilous at all levels – and particularly for some of our top-level racing.”

The BHA, she confirmed, is hoping that Levy reform will unlock much-needed and sustainable financial help in years to come and that racing may also be able to access a crisis contingency fund via Government.

She added: “We are looking at trying to establish exactly what does this mean for us, financially and economically, so that we can go back to Government... to say how can they help us to get over this.

“What we don’t want to do is see the demise of the industry or long-term permanent damage done to it.”

A return of crowds would be a lifeline through an inevitably tough winter.

Asked if she believes that could happen, Phelps said: “We’re going to work on it as hard as we can. I really, really hope so – we’ll do everything we can.

“Most importantly, we need to work with Government to find a way to get the racegoers back on the track.

“What we need to do is... make sure we’re putting the case really strongly, which we are ... that there is no evidence to show we’re increasing the transmission of the virus.

“We’re hoping that we can begin to work with Government to try to find some solutions to this in the shorter term, and we hope that six months is just a very long backstop and that we’ll be able to bring that forward.”

The BHA is appealing to everyone in racing who tests positive for Covid to come forward so necessary safeguards can be put in place.

Chief executive Nick Rust says this is crucial so not to undermine the sport’s campaign for spectators to return to racecourses as soon as possible.

“We have had some reports of potential cases,” said Rust before stressing those cases had yet to be verified.

“We have to be very, very careful in our personal lives if we’re to help ensure that racing maintains its positive position.

“Come forward if you have a case and let us know, so we can isolate things as best we can to keep the show fully on the road.

“I know it affects your own livelihood but for the good of the sport overall you must come forward and give us the news so we can help track and trace and manage the environment.

“We will do all we can to make sure any outbreaks we do have are kept separate from the rest of racing’s herd so that we can continue.”

Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today.

Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers.

So, please - if you can - pay for our work. Just £5 per month is the starting point. If you think that which we are trying to achieve is worth more, you can pay us what you think we are worth. By doing so, you will be investing in something that is becoming increasingly rare. Independent journalism that cares less about right and left and more about right and wrong. Journalism you can trust.

Thank you

James Mitchinson