By Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw
Plans have been announced to get owners of racehorses back on track in England and Scotland by 29 March 2021, line with Government ‘road-maps’ for easing restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Racecourse attendances, from early January, have been restricted, following the announcement of a national lockdown to curb the spread of the virus. During this time, owners of racehorses have continued to support their horses in training but have not been able to see them in their yards or on racecourses.
This return to racecourses will constitute an important step in a return to ‘normality’ and be welcomed by the entire horseracing industry.
Under the current plans, owners - key investors in British horseracing - will be able to attend race meetings in England and Scotland from 29 March 2021, as part of a phased risk management approach, in accordance with Government timetables.
As with other elite sports, horseracing has continued to operate but ‘behind closed doors’ with strict infection-control measures in place to reduce the risk of the virus being transmitted on racecourses.
Consequently, owners will be required to follow the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) Covid-19 requirements and the specific owner protocols.
From 29 March to 12 April, unless agreed otherwise with the Local Authorities, access to racecourses will be restricted to a maximum of two owners per horse as was the case in July 2020 when owners returned to racecourses.
At the present time, racecourses are not allowed to provide hospitality, under current Government restrictions, but light refreshments are permitted, and there will be no time limit for owners of racehorses to remain on the racecourses.
The BHA aims to increase access to racecourses up to a maximum of six owners per horse as from 12 April 2021, following a further planned easing of Government restrictions.
As of this date, racecourses will be allowed to reintroduce outdoor hospitality.
The planned new arrangements are not only subject to Government guidance but also to the decisions of Local Authorities. Accordingly, the rules may vary from racecourse to racecourse, depending in which Local Authority they are located. Racecourse officials are, therefore, liaising with their respective Local Authorities in order to comply with the rules.
In Wales, racecourses are awaiting guidance on the rules for the return of racehorse owners to racecourses in the Principality.
It is thus a case of festina lente regarding the return of British horseracing to some degree of ‘normality’ in the near future.