When will horse racing resume in the UK?
Judged on bookmakers current odds, June 2020 is the favourite month for when horse racing will resume in the UK!
The official line from the BHA who suspended UK racing on the 18th March is that all horse racing is suspended initially until the end of April.
The BHA issued a further statement on 2nd of April stating National Hunt racing was postponed until at least the 1st July 2020.
So, when is it most likely that horse racing will return?
If you are considering a bet on this market, or if you have been involved in the process of pricing it up, then good luck. There are so many unknowns to be able to have a confident view.
QIPCO Guineas meeting rescheduled
The Jockey Club Racecourses has recently announced that the QIPCO Guineas Festival (2nd and 3rd May) and the Investec Derby meeting (5th and 6th June) will not be run on the scheduled dates and they will be looking to rearrange the first 4 Classics for later in the year.
Royal Ascot behind closed doors?
Ascot Racecourse has announced that Royal Ascot (16th – 20th June) will not be able to take place as an event open to the public. There is still a possibility it could take place behind closed doors, this will be dependent on Government restrictions and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) approval.
“Keep Off The Grass” flickr photo by reidrac https://flickr.com/photos/reidrac/5481565705 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license
What needs to be considered before horse racing can resume?
At present the UK is in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic, all social activities have been closed down. Horse Racing comes under this umbrella and is certainly a ‘non-essential’ activity.
There is zero hope of Horse Racing returning while the UK is seeing an upward curve in people testing positive for COVID-19, increasing hospital admissions and the desperate increase in the loss of lives.
For the short term, until this curve starts to decline there is rightly absolutely no chance of horse racing returning in the UK.
Safety of horse racing staff
It will require a Government relaxation in the social distancing restrictions to allow staff working in horse racing to be allowed to do their jobs. This impacts stable staff, jockeys, trainers, racecourse staff, medical support and many others.
Even with horse racing behind closed doors with no general public present, keeping a minimum 2-metre exclusion for those that needed to be involved would be impossible. That goes as far as jockeys in a race itself, how do you keep a 2-metre distance in a race? There would be a few interesting Stewards Enquiries!!!
Putting any of these groups at unnecessary risk would be irresponsible.
On the 16th March, the Government announced restrictions on mass gatherings and the withdrawal of the support of emergency workers from events. This announcement marked the end for horse racing and meetings being attended by the public.
It’s very likely that when horse racing resumes it will be behind closed doors and a phased return. The BHA has outlined a resumption plan but ultimately it will be aligned with any lifting of Government restrictions around social distancing.
Medical support for horse racing to take place
Critical to a resumption of horse racing will be the availability of medical support. Horse racing cannot go ahead without medical staff and ambulance presence on the racecourse.
Common sense says that medical support for non-essential horse racing is very low down the NHS list at present. While coronavirus cases escalate and hospital submissions remain high it would be madness to expect otherwise.
The reason National Hunt racing has been sidelined until the 1st July at the earliest is the increased risk associated with jumps racing compared to its flat racing counterpart.
More jockeys get injured in jump racing, it’s not only the use of medical staff on the racecourse but should a jockey require hospitalisation then it would impact much-needed hospital resources too. There is no need to potentially add to the NHS burden.
Order of Malta Ireland
Ambulances are hired when they attend race meetings in the UK, while in the main this is private hire, some are hired from the NHS. This is different in Ireland where racecourse medical support is provided by the Order Of Malta, a National Charity.
This could mean that we see horse racing resume in Ireland first. However, Irish racing has said that they will make their services available for use by the Irish Government if it becomes necessary.
The ability of horse racing stakeholders to recommence
The BHA has a plan in place to facilitate a swift return as possible for racing once Government restrictions are lifted.
Many operational issues need to be aligned, availability of medical, stewarding and veterinary staff alongside all the resources required to run the racecourse facilities.
Administrative support, fixture and race planning – will some of the key races missed be rescheduled? It looks like the intention is to reschedule the first 4 Classics, but when and possibly where? Epsom, who stage the Derby and Oaks has raised concerns about the Downs in the middle of the racetrack being public ground, they would need to manage a mass gathering!
Then there’s broadcasters, media and bookmakers’. Their readiness and availability to provide content coverage and betting facilities, all these will need to be coordinated.
These are just a few of the spokes in the wheel that need aligning to get the show back on the road.
A phased or regionalised return?
It seems likely that to facilitate a return at the earliest possible date and with the available resources, we are likely to see a phased or regionalised return.
It could be that certain parts of the UK are harder hit by the coronavirus than others, a regionalised return is on the table as an option. Similarly, with the availability of the essential medical support and non-key workers, it could be that a phased return would be probable given limited resources.
Quite rightly, as we step into the unknown, the BHA have these options on the table for consideration but at this stage, no one can know for sure how this will pan out over the coming months.
When will horse racing resume?
For now, impossible to say, while every part of society is hoping for a return to relative normality at the earliest possible date, it’s not that important given the current challenges everyone faces.
June as the bookmakers favourite month for a return?
I’m not sure, I would be delighted if it was but there are a lot of things that need to happen before this becomes a reality.
When horse racing returns, it’s likely to be behind closed doors initially, with the distinct possibility that it will be a phased and regionalised programme to start with.
If I was betting on it, June would not be my favourite, but I’m very happy to be proved wrong.