Jumps racing – and owners – returned to Britain on Wednesday, with Southwell hosting the first fixture over fences since the sport was suspended in mid-March due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Flat racing resumed a month ago, with all meetings staged behind closed doors and heavy restrictions introduced to reduce the number of people on track and to minimise interactions.
As such owners have not been able to attend race meetings – but a trial held at Southwell was the first step to reintroducing them to racecourses ahead of the Investec Oaks and Derby fixture at Epsom on Saturday.
A maximum of two owners per runner were permitted on course, where they then had access to a secluded enclosure with basic hospitality and Tote betting facilities.
Owners were not able to access the parade ring or winners’ enclosure, but a viewing area and well-positioned screens ensured they were able to follow their runners and a railed-off section allowed them to debrief with their trainer at a two-metre distance.
“Owners have been able to talk to trainers and jockeys at a distance, there is that level of contact,” said Sam Cone, PR and communications manager for Arena Racing Company, who own the racecourse.
“It’s all run smoothly and they have that area where they can sit, have some food and watch the race. Presentations are held down at the winning post so they aren’t missing out on that, everyone’s been very good with distancing and sticking to the guidance.
“It’s very different, but this is one of the courses where it’s easier to accommodate it because it’s so spacious. We’re at Uttoxeter on Monday which will be different again, so it’ll change from track to track, but it’s a step in the right direction to get owners back on courses.”
One owner was taken ill during the afternoon and treated by an ambulance, later being moved off-site for treatment.
“An owner was taken ill and we opened the turnstiles to let an ambulance through so they could receive treatment,” said Mark Clayton, executive director of the racecourse.