Having been off since Mar. 18 due to COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, racing in Britain has officially been given the go-ahead by government to return on Monday behind closed doors. British racing’s much-awaited return will take place in the form of a 10-race all-weather card at Newcastle, where all 10 races have been fully subscribed with 12 runners.
Oliver Dowden, secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, said, “I’m delighted to announce today that the government has published guidance which allows competitive sport to resume behind closed doors from Monday at the earliest, and crucially, only when it is safe to do so. It’s up to each individual sport to decide exactly when to resume competition. They know their sports best. But football, tennis, horseracing, Formula One, cricket, golf, rugby, snooker and others all are set to return to our screens shortly, with horseracing first out of the gate in the North East next week.”
The British Horseracing Authority, through its Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Jerry Hill, has been working with public health officials in recent weeks to develop appropriate guidelines for racing’s safe return, which includes social distancing measures and a three-stage screen process including medical checks for personnel upon arriving at and leaving racecourses.
Dr Hill said, “Our approach to screening and surveillance has been developed following discussions with Public Health England as part of the Chief Medical Officers in Sport Group. It is based on the low level of background risks at an outdoor event in a non-contact sport with attendees from mainly rural areas. It is responsible, makes sensible use of medical resources but is flexible so we can adapt in accordance with changing government policy and as our knowledge of COVID-19 increases over time.”
Nick Rust, chief executive of the BHA, said, “This is an important stage towards a complete return for our industry and will help protect livelihoods and businesses. The timing is crucial for the breeding sector and we thank the government and officials at DCMS and Public Health England for their assistance in planning a safe return to racing. There is still a tough battle ahead before we can get fully back in business but this is a resilient and world-leading industry and we are ready for the task.
“Our plans for returning safely have been developed with the assistance of all the representative bodies in our sport and I believe the public can be reassured by the measures we will have in place. People understand how important it is for industries like ours to get back to work. Our participants know what will be asked of them when they attend a raceday. Together, we’ll stick to social distancing rules and prevent the virus spreading.
“I’m sure the return of racing will be welcomed by all those who’ve missed the excitement of live sport and the majestic sight of racehorses running at full gallop. We hope it will lift the nation’s spirits in difficult times and look forward to seeing our owners and racing fans back at racecourses as soon as that’s possible.”
The BHA has released a series of videos to help horsepeople and personnel navigate the health and safety restrictions. An overview of the protocols can be found here, while there are specialized videos on horse arrivals, the weighing room, social distancing, screening, the trainer’s perspective and jockeys on course.