Coronavirus sends horse racing behind closed doors

A general view of the entrance to Kelso Racecourse. where the meeting was staged behind closed doors today. (Picture: Ian Rutherford/PA Wire)A general view of the entrance to Kelso Racecourse. where the meeting was staged behind closed doors today. (Picture: Ian Rutherford/PA Wire)
A general view of the entrance to Kelso Racecourse. where the meeting was staged behind closed doors today. (Picture: Ian Rutherford/PA Wire) | PA Wire
RACING is to take place ‘behind closed doors’ until the end of March – and possibly longer – in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
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Wetherby and Taunton’s meetings on Tuesday will be the first to take place under new public health protocols announced by the British Horseracing Authority.

The announcement came as racing began at Kelso on Monday without spectators present at the behest of the Scottish government.

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Racing in Britain will be staged behind closed doors at all fixtures from Tuesday, initially until the end of March, starting with the meetings at Taunton and Wetherby, the British Horseracing Authority has announced. (Picture: John Stillwell/PA Wire)Racing in Britain will be staged behind closed doors at all fixtures from Tuesday, initially until the end of March, starting with the meetings at Taunton and Wetherby, the British Horseracing Authority has announced. (Picture: John Stillwell/PA Wire)
Racing in Britain will be staged behind closed doors at all fixtures from Tuesday, initially until the end of March, starting with the meetings at Taunton and Wetherby, the British Horseracing Authority has announced. (Picture: John Stillwell/PA Wire) | PA Wire

In accepting that the continuation of racing is crucial to the economic viability of horse racing, the BHA say that the intention is for scheduled race meetings to take place wherever possible.

A statement went on: “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.

“The plan was agreed today by the sport’s tripartite leadership, including the Racecourse Association (RCA), The Horsemen’s Group and the governing body, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA).

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“The BHA is notifying the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport of the plan agreed today. Racing has continued to observe the Government’s request for a proportionate response that takes into account public health and the impact on jobs and businesses.”

No decision has been made on the viability of the Grand National taking place at Aintree on April 4.

Racing leaders are also conscious about the need not to place the NHS, and organisations like the St John Ambulance, under greater pressure at a time of national crisis.

There’s also an accept that protocols may have to change if a jockey, trainer or member of stable staff tests positive for Covid-19.

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BHA chief executive Nick Rust, who lives in North Yorkshire, 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.”

Ironically the BHA offices at High Holborn in London have been closed until further notice - because some members of staff are self-isolating as the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread.

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A small number of the team have displayed mild symptoms which may be consistent with the coronavirus. As yet, however, the cases are not confirmed.

As a result, those members of staff are self-isolating - and all office-based staff are working from home.

A statement released by the BHA read: “The office at 75 High Holborn will be closed to all staff and visitors from Monday March 16 until further notice.

“This is due to a small number of office-based BHA employees self-isolating, in line with Government guidance, having experienced mild symptoms that could potentially be consistent with coronavirus (Covid-19). We emphasise that these are not confirmed cases.

“All office-based staff are being asked to work remotely, purely as a precaution.”

The BHA added on Twitter: “The building is currently undergoing a deep clean and will be reopened when practicable.”