Royal Ascot in balance – but racing is planning for return of sport

ALL race fixtures in May and June – including Royal Ascot – are to be effectively called off, it was confirmed last night.

This year's Royal Ascot meeting is among the latest Covid-19 casualties - for now.
This year's Royal Ascot meeting is among the latest Covid-19 casualties - for now.

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However the Resumption of Racing Group, comprising industry leaders, said this was to pave the way for the publication of a new fixture list and it was still hoped that racing could resume in May.

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No date has been set for racing’s resumption in the wake of this week’s talks between senior figures from the British Horseracing Authority and Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston.

No racing has taken palce in Britain since Wetherby's meeting in March.

And while Prime Minister Boris Johnson signalled in his 10 Downing Street press conference that the Government intends to set out a three-point plan next week to get the economy moving, he declined to say when the current lockdown will be lifted.

The Yorkshire Post understands more details on sport – and the conditions that will have to be met for its resumption – will be given by Ministers in the economic recovery strategy.

In the meantime, racing intends to finalise and finesse plans for meetings to be held behind close doors as soon as Ministers give the green light.

Yet, while there was no official confirmation that Royal Ascot will be postponed or cancelled, it is increasingly unlikely that the flagship fixture, due to take place in mid-June, will be able to go ahead.

Onlookers watch Wetherby's behind closed doors meeting on March 17.

Even behind closed doors, field sizes would be restricted to 12 runners per race and there would be no overseas participation.

However the BHA stressed that the “aim” is still “to run the Guineas in early June, with Royal Ascot commencing on 16 June (as per its traditional slot), and the Derby and Oaks in early July”.

It also said that the cancellation of May and June fixtures was “for logistical and technological reasons” only. “We cannot make widespread changes to the race programme without cancelling new fixtures and replacing them with new ones,” they added.

Meanwhile the statement issued on behalf of the Resumption of Racing Group said a draft plan for a week’s fixtures is being developed for trainers.

“We will then subsequently publish the rest of the provisional programme up until the end of June,” it said. “This will be as close as possible to the original programme for the period, which means we will be looking to stage roughly the same number of races by type, class and distance.

“Ahead of this, we will issue a fixture cancellation notice for all fixtures that were originally scheduled to take place during May and June. This simply reflects the fact that we will be publishing a new provisional programme and does not seek to pre-empt or pre-judge any Government decisions around lockdown or resumption.”

It added: “The initial resumption of racing will be a staged and measured process, with only a small number of fixtures initially, subject to advice from public health authorities. This will be kept under continual review, with further fixtures added in a phased and controlled manner as circumstances permit.

“We will also look to confirm prize money values as soon as possible. In normal circumstances, racecourses provide approximately half of prize money, but with betting shops, which drive media rights income, closed and no crowds, their contributions will be significantly impacted.

“Every effort will be made to keep prize money as high as possible, but reductions below recent levels are inevitable.”

However it has been confirmed that races will be restricted to the most experienced riders, including apprentices claiming a 3lb weight allowance, when the sport returns – no racing has taken place in Britain since Wetherby’s meeting on March 17.

“This aims to support risk management and infection control by minimising the number of people in confined areas. The decision will be reviewed continually as resumption progresses,” explained the statement.

“We also intend to limit field sizes to 12 runners, at least initially. In response to queries that we have received, there are no plans to restrict the number of runners that any owner or trainer can have in a single race.”

Those watching developments closely include former Derby-winning trainer Roger Charlton as the unbeaten Quadrilateral waits for her chance in the Qipco 1000 Guineas.

The Fillies’ Mile winner has headed the ante-post market for the Newmarket showpiece all through the winter, but when she will go for glory remains up in the air.

The 1000 Guineas should have been run this weekend but the trainer reports Jason Watson’s mount to be doing well.

Charlton said: “I think she’s wintered very well really. She came into training quite late last year and she was always a well-grown, strong filly. She hasn’t actually grown much, but she has put on weight, she weighs 500 kilos, which is quite a lot for a three-year-old filly. She’s a very attractive, easy to train filly and she toughed it out in the Group One at the end of the year.”

Asked if the delay to the Classic was a hindrance or perhaps a potential benefit in terms of further maturing, Charlton said: “It’s a difficult question. We’re all in a very changing world, not only horse racing but everything else, and we’ve really got to the stage now where the horses are ticking over.”

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