A provisional outline programme for the resumption of racing has been published by the British Horseracing Authority ahead of what is set to be a crunch weekend in plans for the return of the sport.
The BHA unveiled some details of its planned “phased” return to racing, with 13 fixtures to be staged over the first seven days – comprising one card on the opening day followed by two meetings a day for the subsequent six days and tracks categorised by geographical regions of North, Midlands and South.
However, in a note to trainers, the cross-industry Resumption of Racing Group emphasised Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s statement on Sunday regarding the proposed route out of the current lockdown in Britain will be crucial to ending the racing shutdown, and will need to be considered before a further update, which will not be expected until Monday.
It said: “On Sunday, May 10, the UK Government will outline the next phase of its response to the coronavirus pandemic, which may include changes to its current social distancing restrictions and, potentially, a timeline for the resumption of sport.
“Racing industry leaders will then meet on Monday, May 11 to discuss the Government’s announcement and its implications for our own resumption planning. We understand that everyone across the industry wants to know the date on which racing can resume.
“We are continuing to have positive conversations with government, including public health officials. However, the reality is that the industry will need to understand more about the UK Government’s approach for the return of sport, and the operational implications of any continuing restrictions – and equally the plans from the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales – before we can provide a clear date for resumption.”
It added: “At this stage, the race programme – and particularly the date on which it can commence – is still subject to guidance from the relevant public health authorities and the conditions in place during a phased return to racing.
“Once this information is known, we will be able to confirm which racecourses will be included in the first seven days following resumption. As explained last week, an application process has been completed for racecourses to express interest in participating in the initial phases of resumption. The response from racecourses was overwhelmingly positive, with all courses expressing interest in being included.”
Trainers are also told the group continues to have “positive conversations with Government, including public health officials” and it remains “strongly focused on ensuring that we are prepared to resume at the earliest possible opportunity” with sufficient flexibility “for a range of different scenarios, which can be adapted and implemented in line with the gradual easing of Government restrictions”.
The group says it has “demonstrated to Government the work being done to ensure a safe and responsible return to racing”, including planning around social distancing and infection control measures, along with engaging local communities “to provide information and reassurance about our plans”.
Racing last took place in Britain at Wetherby and Taunton on March 17, with both cards staged behind closed doors – a situation which will remain until at least the end of June when racing does resume.
The BHA last week announced provisional plans for Classic trials to be run on the last two weekends in May, with the Guineas meeting pencilled in for the first weekend in June under a “best case scenario”.
Elsewhere, Horse Racing Ireland will “continue to engage with Government” as it tries to secure an earlier resumption date than June 29 for Irish racing.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine confirmed on Thursday that racing, as a behind-closed-doors sport, would fall into the third phase of the Irish Government’s plan to ease lockdown restrictions.
However, HRI has been consulting with the Irish Government on the possibility of an earlier return, with chief executive Brian Kavanagh underlining the fact racing was staged without spectators before it shut down in March.
He said: “Horse Racing Ireland and the Irish racing community are fully supportive of the Government and the Chief Medical Officer for the way in which they have handled this unprecedented public health emergency.
“Through the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine there has been constructive engagement with various Government departments this week on the basis that racing will only resume behind closed doors when it is deemed safe and appropriate.
“Prior to March 24, race fixtures were among the last group of Tier 2 commercial activities to continue with 10 fixtures staged safely behind closed doors with only key personnel permitted on site.
“Horse Racing Ireland’s Covid-19 protocols which were in place for those fixtures have been further strengthened in the meantime and we feel that the industry can safely resume sooner rather than later and will continue to engage with Government on that basis.”
Racing last took place in Ireland at Clonmel on March 24.