Racing in Britain is set to go behind closed doors this week, initially until the end of the month, as a result of the escalating coronavirus outbreak.
The four-day Cheltenham Festival went ahead as planned last week, as did meetings over the weekend, but that now looks like changing, with the sport’s leaders preparing to hold fixtures without spectators and under strict conditions.
Fixtures in Ireland were closed to the public from Friday evening and it is a similar situation in Scotland, following guidance from the Irish and Scottish governments regarding the banning of mass gatherings with over 500 people.
A statement issued by the BHA read: “Racing industry leaders are preparing to hold race meetings without spectators and to ensure that the competitors and participants attending only do so under strict conditions.
“The sport’s tripartite leadership, including racecourses, participants and the governing body, the British Horseracing Authority, will tomorrow discuss an approach recommended by the industry’s COVID 19 group.
“It is likely to mean that racing moves behind closed doors later in the week, initially until the end of March. Racing’s fixture list will also be considered.
“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.”
Aintree’s three-day Grand National meeting is due to take place on April 2-4.
The statement added: “The BHA has been closely following official guidance on public health. Details of contingency plans have been shared with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
“Racing has continued to observe the Government’s request for a proportionate response that takes into account public health and the impact on jobs and businesses.
“The UK Government has also been briefed on the issues involved in staging the Randox Health Grand National. A decision will be announced as soon as possible.”
Nick Rust, chief executive of the BHA, 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.”
Officials Kelso are prepared and ready for the first Scottish race meeting behind closed doors on Monday.
Management at the Borders track are confident they will be within the maximum of 500 people on site and are following guidelines and advice from government and racing authorities.
“It will seem a bit strange, but we’re trying to follow all the advice from the Scottish Government in terms of numbers and also for the best practice coming from the BHA and RCA (Racecourse Association),” said Kelso’s clerk of the course, Anthea Morshead.
“We’ll have a lot of hand sanitisers and so on, and we’ll be checking everyone who comes in so we’ll know exactly how many we’ve got on site and that they are in good health and hopefully keep the show on the road for the industry and keep everybody safe.
“We’ve still got some applications from owners coming in, but we are confident we are going to be comfortably short of the 500.
“We’ve counted up the numbers to include jockeys, trainers, stable staff and all the operational staff to actually stage racing.
“That is coming to about 222, so we know we have a system for owners to come racing and we should be well within the guidelines for 500.”
There were 35 horses declared for the six races, with the first race scheduled for 2.10.