As the COVID-19 outbreak continued to disrupt the sporting community, plans for the sport to be conducted behind closed doors have been ramped up by the race industry.
Held later today, the tripartite leadership of the sport, including racecourses, competitors and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), will discuss an strategy proposed by the COVID-19 Steering Group of the industry.
The BHA said in a statement: “With race meetings due to happen every day, the intention is to agree a programme that is sustainable in the light of possible staff absences, including in critical roles, which protects industry staff and supports the wider effort to free up critical public services.
“Monday’s race meeting at Kelso is already being run behind closed doors following guidance from the Scottish government. No spectators will be present and strict procedures will be observed to minimise the health risks for staff who do attend, including jockeys, trainers, racecourse staff, stable grooms and officials. The fixture will continue to be televised.”
BHA chief executive Nick Rust, commenting on the proposals, said: “Racing has worked hard to look after our customers and our staff by following the government’s guidance and taking proportionate action.
“We will agree plans to limit attendance to participants and staff only at race meetings from this week and put in place the contingency plans developed by the industry.”
It comes after the chief executive of Arena Racing Company (ARC), Martin Cruddace, called for additional assistance to be provided to the racing industry in order to enable those fixtures that would otherwise be “financially unviable” to go ahead without charging spectators.
Speaking to Sky Sports, Cruddace emphasised that bringing race meetings behind closed doors will have serious financial consequences for ARC, with the chief executive estimating that ARC will lose between £ 500,000 and £ 600,000 if the Lingfield All-Weather Championships Finals Day were held without spectators.
Cruddace declared: “Where we are right now is we’re following the current government advice, but I think it’s safe to say that’s very likely to change imminently. It’s important we are, and we are, prepared for what’s coming our way.
“The only thing we can do as a responsible company and, dare I say it, an industry, is to follow the government’s advice. We are outliers with other parts of the racing world, but I think we should be prepared for an imminent change.
“We’re planning, worst-case scenario, end of June. It is absolutely possible we won’t race again in front of a crowd until the end of June. If it happens before then, great.”
He also added that strong collaboration between racing and bookmakers is important in order to be able to provide a betting commodity for punters to offset the shortage of betting markets due to sporting cancellations and postponements.
He went on: “It’s going to be very difficult financially for us to race unless we have some support from elsewhere. For us, many of those meetings would not be financially viable for us to put on [without crowds] unless we have relief.
“We also need to support the bookmaking industry as it’s a symbiotic relationship. Right now we could be one of the few sports that is there every day for people to bet on and we have a responsibility to work with them to know what we can do for them and the ecosystem of horseracing.”
This comes after the Board of Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) announced that all race meetings will be held behind closed doors, despite limits on over 500 people’s outdoor gatherings.
The Irish decision is supposed to be in effect until March 29, which contains limits on the number of service providers and the size of the industry. Bookmakers on-course and Tote programmes will also be excluded from the classes while the limitations are in place. For present, however, racing is to be made open to broadcasters.