AFTER 24 hours of fast-moving developments, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) announced yesterday, Tuesday, that racing had been suspended until the end of April, writes David Hucker.
The story began on Monday when the BHA said that it was coming into line with the decision taken the previous week in Ireland and France for racing to take place behind closed doors.
The meetings at Taunton and Wetherby on Tuesday were to be the first in England to be held without the public, following Kelso’s voluntary shutting of the doors that day.
The measure was expected to last until the end of this month.
However, by the evening, the picture had changed with, firstly, France confirming that it had gone a step further with all meetings being cancelled until 15th April and then the Prime Minister’s announcement of increased measures to combat the coronavirus, prompting The Jockey Club, owners of Aintree, to call off next month’s three-day Randox Health Grand National meeting, one of the jewels in the racing crown.
Then, on Tuesday, came another announcement from the BHA signalling the cessation of racing in Great Britain until the end of April.
“This is a national emergency, the like of which most of us have never seen before,” said BHA chief executive Nick Rust.
“We’re a sport that is proud of its connection to rural communities and to the local businesses that support our industry.
“But our first duty is to the health of the public, our customers and to racing industry participants and staff so we have decided to suspend racing following the government’s latest advice.
“Racing is a family and I know we will pull together over the coming days, weeks and months and support each other.
“By stopping racing, we can free up medical resources, doctors and ambulances, be they private sector or NHS, to assist in the national effort to fight this virus.
“And we can support racing industry participants and staff as they face up to the personal challenges ahead and care for their own families.
“There will be difficult months ahead for many of us.
“We need to focus now on ensuring that we can continue to look after our horses as the virus affects the thousands of participants and staff who dedicate their lives to caring for animals.
“We need to do what we can to support businesses inside and outside racing and the many people whose livelihoods depend upon this £4billion industry.”
Whether the beginning of May sees the resumption of racing is a matter of some debate in the industry.
Speaking on Sunday when racing behind closed doors was being mooted, Martin Cruddace, boss of ARC, the biggest racetrack operator, said that the worst case scenario would see the situation last until the end of June.
Locally, both Warwick (Thursday) and Stratford (Saturday) were scheduled to hold meetings next week. Now, both of these will be lost, together with the April fixtures which would have seen Warwick race on the 14th and 23rd and Stratford’s first Sunday meeting on the 19th.
But, if Cruddace is right and there is no racing until the end of June, then both courses will 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.