York’s Dante Festival cancelled amidst BHA Covid-19 suspension

FLAT racing is to remain suspended indefinitely – and next month’s Dante meeting at York called off – as the Government moves to prolong the coronavirus lockdown.

York's Dante meeting is the latest Covid-19 casualty.

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The British Horseracing Authority had been hoping that some meetings could resume behind closed doors on May 1 at a select number of venues.

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But they now accept this is not possible – and no spectators will be able to attend any meeting until June at the earliest.

The last race meeting took place at Wetherby on March 17. Photo: Bruce Rollinson.

The more conciliatory tone came after the Government was taken aback by racing’s apparent haste – notably the senior Ascot executive who ventured on national radio that its flagship Royal meeting could still go ahead in June even though no guarantees about combating the Covid-19 could be offered.

And while BHA chief executive Nick Rust, who lives in North Yorkshire, hopes racing can restart in May, he is not committing the governing body to a date.

“We stopped racing in March to protect the health and safety of the public and to limit demands on the NHS,” he stressed.

“It’s right to continue this suspension until the pressure on the NHS allows for a resumption and we can assure the safety of those taking part.

Officials at York have called off their four meetings in May.

“We are in touch with government as part of our development of a responsible, co-ordinated plan for the return of sport when it’s appropriate to do so.”

He added: “For now, we are all focused on supporting the national effort, maintaining social distancing restrictions and taking care of our people and our horses.”

The BHA confirmed earlier this month that the first four Classics of 2020 – the 1000 and 2000 Guineas at Newmarket followed by the Oaks and Derby and Epsom – were being pushed in the calendar.

This decision now means that York’s season-opening Dante festival will not go ahead next month – racecourse chief executive William Derby was already resigned to this.

York also confirmed that its popular raceday on May 30 will also be cancelled. Spectators who had purchased advance tickets can transfer them to meetings later in the year or the corresponding fixtures in 2021.

And while National Hunt racing remains in abeyance until July 1, its participants are acutely aware that the health and wellbeing of the wider public comes first.

In its briefing note, the BHA says it is working with stakeholders to ensure that the sport “is ready to resume as soon as is possible and appropriate in consultation with government”.

It adds: “The BHA has been working with trainers, racecourses and other participants to develop a phased plan for resumption which will allow the sport to transition back to its normal fixture list later in the year.

“Our plans continue to allow for a resumption in May, if that is possible. We assume it would be behind closed doors only. Tough biosecurity measures would be in place to keep any risks to a minimum.

“Because of the very strong likelihood that restrictions on mass gatherings will continue, the BHA has decided that racing with crowds will not be possible until June at the earliest.”