When will British horse racing get underway again?
March 17th – the last time any horse racing was held in the UK. Taunton and Wetherby were the final two race courses staging any action. In fact, it’s mad to think it was just four days previous that fans were revelling in the final day of the iconic Cheltenham Festival. Friday 13th saw the Blue Riband event, the Gold Cup at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Al Boum Photo made it back-to-back wins in the meeting’s showpiece – and soon attention turned to the next big race, the Grand National at Aintree on April 4th.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be, as the coronavirus pandemic put paid to any horse racing – and any other sporting action – for the foreseeable future. Of course, fans were treated to a Virtual Grand National, televised on ITV, but it wasn’t the same. Similarly, those that long to check yesterday’s racing results will be sadly disappointed to see the words ‘cancelled’ and ‘abandoned’ on every race card.
But with German and French governing bodies both announcing a return to the track, on May 4th and 11th, respectively – albeit, behind closed doors to begin with – surely it won’t be too long before the UK and Ireland follow suit?
The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) have announced there will be further updates in the coming weeks, including a revised schedule for the next two months, with the view of horse racing returning by the end of May. Of course, much like the immediate races prior to the suspension, races will be staged behind closed doors with the health and safety of those involved paramount. It’s believed that spectators will be able to return to racecourses around the country from June, provided that government guidelines suggest it is safe to do so. But what else do we know so far?
- Races will be rescheduled with a maximum of 12 runners per race, which are to be contested by senior jockeys only. This will help with the issue of social distancing, as well as to reduce the risk of injuries with a strain already on the NHS
- With fewer horses per race, there will be more races per meeting. With the field restriction measures in place, there will competition for places and as a result, lower-rated horses may struggle to get a run-out to begin with
- The Flat season was scheduled to end on November 7th. It will be extended and while a date hasn’t yet been announced, it’s likely to run to the end of the year
- Like in France, attendance will be limited to reduce the risk of infection. No-one will be allowed to attend more than one fixture in a day, and attendance will be restricted to those that are necessary in fulfilling the fixture
The first two classics of the year, the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket, were set to take place on the weekend of May 2nd and 3rd. Following the postponement, it is hoped that these races will be rescheduled for June. Royal Ascot, which is due to take place on June 16–20th may well still go ahead, but behind closed doors – dependent on government guidelines and the green light from the BHA. Additionally, earlier in April, the BHA confirmed the best-case scenario would see the Epsom Derby and Oaks resumed in July. At the time, their statement said: “We would also be looking to stage several key Classic trials, and other trial races feeding into Royal Ascot, during the second half of May. We emphasise that a later restart would require these plans to be adjusted accordingly.”
Chief regulatory officer Brant Dunshea is set to meet representatives from other nations to discuss how they all plan a comeback. While it is a waiting game for announcements and confirmation, the racing season surely isn’t too far away – and while fans won’t be able to get an immediate live-racing fix, we’ll be a step closer to returning to normality.