GB: Racing planning for behind-closed-doors comeback on May 1

Horse Racing Tiger Roll Grand National
Grand National: cancelled when racing in Britain was suspended. Photo: Aintree Racecourse

By Nicholas Godfrey

GB: With racing in Britain suspended owing to coronavirus, the sport’s governing body have confirmed they are working towards a planned resumption of the sport on May 1.

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In a letter to racing’s ‘partners’, Brant Dunshea, who is heading the ‘Resumption of Racing’ Group, outlined latest developments in the face of the worldwide pandemic and suggested a phased return to action was probable, kicking off with a limited programme of Flat racing behind closed doors. ‘Jumpers’ bumpers’ may also feature in the earliest stages.

Dunshea, the British Horseracing Authority’s chief regulatory officer, also reported that a revised COVID-19 operational plan will be published next week. “The focus of this planning is on the conditions that would need to be met in order to ensure resumption of racing at the earliest opportunity,” he said.

“We want to assure you that our main priority is to be ready for a resumption of racing as quickly as possible,” added Dunshea. “The current suspension of racing runs until the end of April and the Group is planning for a resumption from May 1.”

Dunshea’s latest communication was shared by trainer Ralph Beckett on his Twitter feed. Beckett and Seamus Mullins are part of what Dunshea described as the ‘Resumption of Racing workstream’, also featuring Richard Wayman and other BHA executives plus Caroline Davies and Andy Clifton of the RCA, Charlie Parker of the ROA and Levy Board representative Tom Byrne.

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“We are already anticipating that the initial return to racing is likely to be phased and almost certainly behind closed doors,” wrote Dunshea. “This reflects the likelihood that any easing of the COVID-19 situation, and any associated restrictions and pressures on medical services, will also happen progressively.

“With that in mind, we also expect any return to begin, at least initially, with Flat racing principally for reasons of safety and to minimise demands on emergency services.”

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All racing in Britain was suspended on Tuesday March 17 until the end of April as a precautionary measure amid the coronavirus pandemic. There has been widespread scepticism that the May 1 deadline was achievable given the virus’s stranglehold on the country.

Brant Dunshea: says racing is planning for a resumption from May 1 after COVID-19 suspension

Dunshea said he and his colleagues are looking at a range of options for the resumption of racing. “The Group is focused on innovation and creativity and are considering any and all options that could be implemented quickly under a range of possible scenarios,” he said.

Major race meetings lost include the Aintree Grand National meeting and the Scottish Grand National, Doncaster’s season-opening Lincoln meeting and Classic trials cards at Newmarket’s Craven meeting and its counterpart at Newbury featuring the Greenham.

Dunshea’s BHA colleague Ruth Quinn, with support of the Flat Pattern Committee members, is to lead a separate group looking at the Pattern and international engagement, in consultation with industry bodies.

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May 2, the day after any possible resumption, is the first day of the QIPCO Guineas weekend at Newmarket; entries for both the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas have been cancelled and both will now provisionally be programmed to close at the five-/six-day stage. Prize-money is likely to be affected for all early-closing races, which have also been suspended.

In addition to the update on a possible resumption, the BHA also revealed that it is planning to save £1 million a month under a financial emergency plan that involves 200 of its 260 staff on furlough under the government’s job retention scheme.

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