Racing will go behind closed doors at all meetings in Britain from Tuesday, initially until the end of March, because of the coronavirus outbreak, the British Horseracing Authority has announced.
The fixtures at Wetherby and Taunton will be the first in England to be staged without paying members of the public – a move that had been anticipated following a statement on Sunday evening.
Horse Racing Ireland had already taken the decision to run behind closed doors – a move which took effect at Dundalk on Friday – while Monday’s meeting at Kelso in Scotland was run in similar fashion, following advice from the Irish and Scottish governments.
A statement issued on Monday afternoon read: “Racing industry leaders have confirmed a plan to continue racing behind closed doors from tomorrow.
“Any fixtures that take place in England, Wales and Scotland, initially until the end of March, will take place without spectators and with restrictions on the number of attendees.
“The race meetings at Taunton and Wetherby on Tuesday will be the first in England to take place behind closed doors, following the approach taken at Kelso this afternoon. Customers are being asked to contact the individual racecourses for further details.
“The intention is for scheduled race meetings to take place wherever possible. However, the situation is very fluid at present and decisions may have to be made to cancel meetings.
“Every effort will be made to notify customers and the betting industry at the earliest opportunity.”
It added: “With race meetings due to happen every day, the aim is to agree a programme that is sustainable, in the light of possible staff absences, including in critical roles, in order to protect industry staff and support the wider effort to free up critical public services.
“The plan was agreed today by the sport’s tripartite leadership, including the Racecourse Association, The Horsemen’s Group and the governing body, the British Horseracing Authority.”
Following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s press conference later in day, the BHA added: “British racing’s COVID-19 steering group will contact Government for further guidance as to any implications of the press conference held on the afternoon of 16 March, and will issue a further update tomorrow.”
Earlier, BHA chief executive Nick Rust said: “Racecourses and racing yards are embedded in their local communities and we are acutely aware of our responsibilities to protect public health.
“The restrictions we are putting in place to close racing to spectators and limit attendees will reduce demand on public services. We also have a range of measures in place designed in response to the government’s guidance on public health and we will continue to update these as appropriate.
“We acknowledge that today’s decision will also impact on local businesses, especially hotels and restaurants, who are struggling at this time. We are following the Government’s advice to strike a balance between protecting public health and maintaining business activity and will continue to do so. We thank our customers and staff for their support.”
Asked on what basis fixtures might be cancelled, Rust said: “Based on availability of staff and the practicalities of staging events with no income from spectators.”
No decision has yet been made regarding the staging of the 2020 Grand National, which is due to take place on April 4, with the BHA referring back to Sunday’s statement, which read: “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.”
As the sport continues to feel the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, authorities in France have announced racing has been suspended from Tuesday until April 15. Meetings there have been run behind closed doors since the beginning of the month.
A statement issued on behalf of Jean-Pierre Barjon, of LeTROT, and Edouard de Rothschild, from France Galop, said: “The moment we are living in is exceptional and of unprecedented gravity.
“We know that we can count on everyone’s commitment to contain the pandemic as quickly as possible; you can also count on our commitment and determination: no one will be abandoned.”