Several reports this week are strongly suggesting that horse racing is to be the first sport to restart in the UK once the lockdown restrictions are lifted. It has emerged that trainers allegedly received an email telling them that they could be back up and running in May.
Should races and meetings be allowed to restart, there will still be strict social distancing rules as the Covid-19 outbreak continues to sweep the nation. Fixture list will be vastly restricted in scale, with a maximum of 12 runners permitted per race. On top of this, only senior jockeys are expected to be allowed to contest. All events will also be held behind closed doors with strictly no spectators and only a skeleton team of staff at the tracks. This does of course mean that there will be no on-track bookies and that only online betting will take place. Most races are expected to be broadcast in some way.
As having races with only 12 participants will undoubtedly increase competition for places, the number of races on a card is to be increased and new divisions are to be introduced. According to the email sent out to trainers, the decision to stage races with 12 or less participants was based on “risk modelling”. This has suggested that keeping races to this size is the best possible solution for maintaining social distancing requirements and decreasing the risk to those at the track.
A fixture list for the restart is expected to be drawn up and made available within the next two weeks. Reports have also suggested that it could contain rescheduled versions of Spring events that were cancelled due to the lockdown.
The British Horse Racing Association (BHA) had originally planned to restart on May 1st, but was forced to push back that date indefinitely when the British Government extended the lockdown. As horse racing falls into the category of “non essential business”, the restart will not go ahead should Boris Johnston decide to extend the lockdown under the current conditions. Even if the restrictions are lifted, the BHA will need to seek Government approval before going ahead with the proposed schedule.
Any move to resume horse racing is highly likely to face backlash and strong criticism as the sport came under fire back in March, when the Cheltenham Festival went ahead. The Jockey Club, who own the event, defended its decision to go ahead after it emerged that several people who attended the event reportedly developed symptoms of Covid-19.
Plans to restart will be music to the ears of horse racing enthusiasts and punters however, who have had to turn to Australia for their racing fix in recent weeks. The BHA still currently suggests that tracks won’t be open to the public until “June at the earliest”. However, this looks increasingly optimistic and will no doubt be revised in the very near future.