Following the publication on Monday 22 February 2021 of the UK Government’s plan (The Plan) to ease lockdown restrictions in England the industry Covid-19 group has carefully studied the implications for racing in England. Similar analysis will be undertaken on plans for Scotland and Wales as they are published by the respective Governments.
The Plan is a four-step process, whereby certain limits of social interaction are removed no earlier than a given date, the first of which is Monday 8 March. Each step will be assessed by government against a number of tests designed to monitor the spread of Covid-19 before restrictions are eased. Any changes to racing protocols will move in parallel with the steps set out in the roadmap and are therefore dependent on the government’s timetable.
For brief reference, those steps are:
- Step One A – Monday 8 March*
- Schools open. Outdoor after-school sports allowed
- Two people allowed to sit together outdoors
- Care home residents allowed one regular visitor
- Step One B – Monday 29 March*
- Six people or two households allowed to meet outdoors
- Outdoor sports facilities open, organised sport allowed
- Travel outside local area allowed
- Step Two – Monday 12 April*
- Non-essential retail and personal care open
- Hospitality outdoors open o Indoor leisure e.g. gyms, swimming pools open
- Self-contained holiday accommodation open
- Step Three – Monday 17 May*
- Most social contact rules lifted outdoors
- Six people or two households can meet indoors
- Indoor hospitality and hotels open
- Step Four – Monday 21 June*
- All legal limits on social contact removed
*Earliest possible date
Since the plan was published on Monday 22 February, the BHA and senior racing executives have engaged with Government to agree how racing can unwind its own restrictions. We have set out below what the industry Covid group hopes to achieve at the various steps including the return of amateur riders, the resumption of Point-To-Point racing, the return of owners to racecourses and the return of spectators to racecourses.
Return of amateur riders and Point-To-Point racing
In line with Step One B, British Racing will reintroduce races at race meetings for amateur riders, an important aspect of the Jump Season. This will coincide with the commencement of Point-To-Point races, our grassroots, amateur Jump racing.
Amateur riders have been unable to take part in race meetings since January. The assessment of the industry Covid group is that Government policy permitting the resumption of organised grassroots sport from Monday 29 March allows for the return of Point-To-Point racing and amateur riders only from this date, subject to individual race conditions agreed by the BHA and the relevant racecourse.
Return of owners to racecourses
The return of owners will represent a significant development in the return to normality and will be achieved in stages, beginning with Step One B’s date of Monday 29 March. British Racing remains extremely grateful for the ongoing support of owners while they have not been able to attend race meetings during the national lockdown.
Monday 29 March is the earliest date at which their return can be facilitated in line with the current government guidance. While Step One A begins on Monday 8 March, allowing people to leave home for recreation and exercise outdoors with their own household, support or childcare bubble or one person from another household, the ‘Stay At Home’ restriction does remain in place.
From Monday 29 March, the government intends for up to six people/two households to be permitted to meet outdoors. We intend for owners to be able to return to race meetings in line with these regulations. At this stage, racecourses will not be able to provide hospitality and strict attendance rules will remain in place, including, including a health screening process.
Further enhancements to the owner experience will be permitted from Step Two, which comes into force from Monday 12 April at the earliest. In line with the resumption of outdoor hospitality on that date, our goal is for racecourses to be able to re-introduce outdoor hospitality for owners, in line with Government guidance. This step will allow owners to further enjoy the raceday experience.
The government has said it is continuing to review the data on which this timetable is based. We will continue to be in close touch with officials, monitor the situation and work as an industry to ensure that owners return to racecourses at the earliest possible date.
Return of spectators to racecourses
The return of spectators to racecourses becomes an option when we reach Step Three, which begins on Monday 17 May at the earliest. British Racing is keen to play a role in pilots organised through the government’s Events Research Programme. This covers not just sport but other leisure and entertainment events involving large gatherings of people. Through the RCA, racing has already played an important role in previous pilots and by contributing to the work of the Sports Technology Innovation Group.
Step Four is due to begin on Monday 21 June at the earliest when increased crowd numbers, based on the pilots can be implemented.
British Racing will be making representations for racecourses to be allowed to host up to 10,000 spectators at Step Three, in line with the guidance on other spectator arenas, instead of the 4,000 for outdoor events.
Other ongoing work
On behalf of the industry group, the BHA will continue to engage with Government on other matters, including the exemption for international travel for elite athletes and further financial support packages, which will be needed to support the industry.
As of the Government’s announcement on Monday 22 February 2021, there are no changes to current guidance on overseas travel for jockeys, trainers and racing staff, while details of further financial support for the economy are expected to be given in the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Budget announcement on Wednesday 3 March 2021.
The BHA’s Chief Medical Advisor, Dr Jerry Hill, said:
“Since racing resumed, the BHA has worked hard with stakeholders to implement strict protocols designed to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus. As we approach these crucial coming weeks, these actions have been agreed upon in line with Government guidance in order to ensure our racecourses remain safe environments for all throughout the gradual easing of lockdown restrictions.”
The BHA’s Chief Operating Officer, Richard Wayman, said:
“We are all eager to open up our racecourses once again to owners, spectators and our amateur jockeys. Owners have continued to support racing through the difficult winter months and we will work together as an industry to get them back as soon as possible, recognising that the government timetable is still subject to conditions being met.”
David Armstrong, Chief Executive of the Racecourse Association, commented
“We are grateful for the Government’s route map out of national lockdown and the opportunities this presents our sport with. Our immediate attention now turns to addressing what implications this has for racecourses and the subsequent protocols that will need to be written in collaboration with DCMS and the relevant safety authorities. We look forward to welcoming back owners and subsequently racegoers, which will signal a return to a more familiar raceday experience.”
Charlie Liverton, Chief Executive of the Racehorse Owners Association, said:
“Owners have continued to support the industry unwaveringly through this period of lockdown. The financial contribution of some £30m a month that owners make to trainers, jockeys, racing staff and all those in the rural economy who are indirectly supported is critical to have enabled the industry to derive the majority of its income streams since 1 June 2020. We thank you for that support. Owners have not been able to watch their horses on the racecourse of late and we wholly recognise the desire to be able to return to the racecourse at the earliest opportunity. Working with industry stakeholders these discussions remain ongoing.”
2021 Fixture List and funding
The Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB) has today published a fixture-related funding package to support British racing’s fixture list in May and June.
This has allowed the BHA to now publish a full Fixture List for 2021, as well as confirming the minimum prize money values that are intended to remain in place for the remainder of the year.
The funding package which has been confirmed by HBLB, underpinned by racecourse contributions to prize money, will see minimum prize money values return to their pre Covid-19 levels for all tiers of races for the remainder of 2021. Previously this had been the case for all races at Class 2 and below, while Class 1 races and heritage handicaps had been operating at 75% of their pre-Covid levels.
The Fixture List has been developed with a view to maximising revenue for the sport and participants, while safeguarding participant wellbeing and taking account of the horse population. The size of the Fixture List through the remainder of 2021 is in line with recent years. Given the continuing absence of spectators and other revenue streams, however, the Fixture List and the timing of races will continue to be designed with a view to supporting betting revenues. In addition, in order to safeguard the competitiveness of races when field sizes are traditionally at their lowest, there will be a reduction in the number of races that will be programmed in July and August.
Finally, it has been determined, alongside the PJA, that the restriction that sees jockeys riding at a maximum of one meeting per day will continue at present, with a review as to whether this should be made permanent planned when Covid-19 protocols are no longer required.