Clerk of the course Jason Loosemore is anticipating a “soulless” atmosphere at Taunton on Tuesday, when the Somerset circuit will become one of the first tracks in England to go behind closed doors because of the coronavirus outbreak.
The British Horseracing Authority announced on Monday that from the following afternoon, all meetings in Britain will be staged without paying members of the public, initially until the end of March.
The fixtures at Taunton and Wetherby will be the first in England to be run behind closed doors, with access to the racecourse strictly limited to “essential participants only”, including jockeys, trainers, racecourse staff, stable grooms and officials.
Loosemore said: “Taunton is going to be a pretty soulless place tomorrow, as the public are the beating heart of the sport, but it is what it is.
“We’re allowing an allocation of two owners per horse. We’ve got 46 horses declared to run, so we could have close to 100 owners, then you’ve got trainers and staff, so the numbers do start to creep up.
“This is what has been agreed between the Racecourse Association and the BHA to run until the end of March and we’ll just have to take it week by week.
“At least we’ve got racing on, which gives horses opportunities to run and it’s good for trainers, owners and jockeys.”
Wetherby will also allow entry to two owners per horse declared to run in West Yorkshire.
Racing at Taunton and Wetherby will be televised on Racing TV.
“The whole day is going to be scaled back significantly,” said Wetherby’s chief executive, Jonjo Sanderson.
“We’ll have extra hand towels and sanitiser available and we’ve decided to allow entry to two owners per horse maximum. We spent some time considering how many owners we should allow to attend – whether should allow six per horse or none at all.
“After looking at the field sizes and considering the day of the week, we felt two per horse was appropriate. Obviously, it is up to those owners to make their own decision on whether they wish to attend or not.
“It will be a very different offering for owners – one facility in one room, essentially – but it will at least allow them to come and watch their horses run if they wish to do so.
“It will be scaled back a racing operation with a lot of the fluffiness removed, for want of a better word.
“Obviously the Government haven’t put a number on mass gatherings as yet. We’re aiming for as few a people as possible and I would think it will be significantly below 500.”
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.
Musselburgh’s next two meetings – on Friday, March 20 and Tuesday, March 21 – will both be run without the general public in attendance, with those who are allowed entry asked to sign a self-declaration form that they do not have a temperature or symptoms of coronavirus.
Musselburgh general manager, Bill Farnsworth, said: “Behind closed doors racing will comply with the guidelines set out by the Scottish Government and a meeting of less than 500 people, which includes participants, connections and staff, will not add any additional stress to emergency services.
“The racing industry, like many other sectors, is facing unprecedented challenges and is fighting for its future. We are keen to do whatever we can to support jobs and to mitigate loss of income and holding meetings behind closed doors seems a sensible approach.”