York Racecourse officials still unable to fix date for racing’s return on Knavesmire

OFFICIALS at York stay it is still too early to set a firm date for racing to return to the Knavesmire following the coronavirus crisis.

No definitive date has been set for racing's resumption at York.

They continue to be in regular talks with the BHA and other industry leaders who, in turn, are waiting for the Government to sanction the sport’s return on June 1.

Even though a provisional fixture list has been published for the first week in June, it will be conditional on Ministers agreeing to ease the lockdown later this month and racing being able to maintain protocols on social distancing.

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As well as last week’s season-opening Dante festival, York had previously announced that its fixture on May 30 – its first Saturday meeting of the campaign – had been cancelled.

The bronze sculpture of Lester Piggott at York during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Now its two day Macmillan meeting on June 12 and 13, and another standalone Saturday fixture on June 27, have also been called off.

The reasons are two-fold: the British Horseracing Authority cancelled every meeting in June so it could redraw a fixture list, in the event of the sport being given clearance to resume, and York feeling that it was not in a position to stage racing because of the work that would be required to make the Knavesmire secure.

Last night, the BHA signalled its intention to publish a fixture list for June 9-30 on Friday.

In other developments, York is no longer selling advance tickets for its two-day John Smith’s Cup meeting on July 10-11, one of the traditional centrepieces of its fixture list, or its Music Showcase meeting on July 24-25.

Former champion jockey Paul Hanagan - pictured winning York's Gimcrack Stakes in August 2017 - is looking forward to riding his 2,000th winner.

Details have been removed form the racecourse’s website, but James Brennan, York’s head of marketing, said that both meetings could still go ahead.

He said the course was awaiting further instruction from the BHA and that it didn’t make sense to be selling tickets when there was so much prevailing uncertainty.

Tickets for the flagship four-day Ebor festival in August do remain on sale, though officials accept that it might have to be staged on a ‘behind closed doors’ basis. All options remain open.

Like other venues, York is still waiting for confirmation about the rules that will be required for racing to take place without the presence of spectators – and whether the Government believes that the risk posed by Covid-19 has receded sufficiently.

Meanwhile no jockey has been more popular, or prolific, at York in the past decade than Paul Hanagan who has set his sights on notching up his 2,000th career winner when he returns from a spell on the sidelines.

The two-times champion jockey suffered fractured vertebrae in a fall at Newcastle in February, but he is eager to return with a career landmark in sight.

Malton-based Hanagan, who is stable jockey to Richard Fahey, said: “This could be a special season because I think I’ve got 24 winners to go before I get to my 2,000th winner, so I’m quite looking forward to that achievement.

“I still think I’m riding better than ever. I got my eighth Lester last year for ride of the year, so my confidence is still up and I’m really enjoying it. I’m looking forward to getting to 2,000 winners.”

However Hanagan is not rushing back into action and is expected to undergo surgery before his return.

He added: “Luckily I’m just down the road from Jack Berry House, so I’m looking forward to when they reopen. I think everyone hears surgery and thinks the worst, but it’s actually going to progress it and speed things up a bit. I’m with one of the best specialists in the country, so I’m in safe hands.

“I’ve been riding 22 years now and this is the worst accident I have had, so I’ve not done too bad.”

Saeed bin Suroor will take his time in making plans for his stable star Benbatl who has been integral to the rise of champion jockey Oisin Murphy.

A triple Group One winner on turf, the six-year-old proved his toughness and versatility earlier this year in switching to dirt, winning a Group Two at Meydan before running a huge race to be third in the inaugural Saudi Cup, the world’s richest race.

Bin Suroor said: “He’s not going to run until the second half of the season in England and we’ll make a plan to see for the future.”

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