HORSE racing bowed to the inevitable today, Monday when the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) followed other major sports in shutting its doors to the public, writes David Hucker.
However, unlike top-flight football and rugby, the sport will continue behind closed doors, with fixtures in England, Wales and Scotland taking place without spectators and with restrictions on the number of attendees.
The race meetings at Taunton and Wetherby on Tuesday were the first in England to take place behind closed doors, following the initiative taken voluntarily by Kelso the day before.
This brings British racing in line with Ireland which took the decision last week while France has cancelled all racing until at least 15th April.
The intention is for scheduled race meetings to take place wherever possible, but cancellations to reduce the programme and the call on public resources such as doctors and ambulances haven’t been ruled out.
The decision will cover all meetings to the end of month but, on Sunday, one leading industry figure, Martin Cruddace from the biggest racetrack operator ARC, said that the worst case scenario would see the situation last until the end of June.
“Racecourses and racing yards are embedded in their local communities and we are acutely aware of our responsibilities to protect public health,” said BHA chief executive Nick Rust.
“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 the 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.”
Locally, both Warwick (Thursday) and Stratford (Saturday) are scheduled to hold meetings next week.
If the position is short-term, then both courses should be able to see the problem through. Warwick is part of Jockey Club Racecourses, so has the financial backing of the second-largest operator after ARC, but Stratford is more vulnerable as an independent course.
But, if Cruddace is right, and it lasts until the end of June, then they will both lose valuable revenue from some of their major fixtures, including Warwick’s increasingly popular May Racing Carnival, due to kick-off with Victory In Europe Raceday on Bank Holiday Friday, and Stratford’s Hunter Chase Evening on 29th May.