Update on resumption of racing planning

20 Apr 2020 BHA Features Racing/Fixtures

Resumption planning

Current planning for resumption is based on a phased approach, which will allow the sport to transition back to a normal fixture list in a controlled way that is consistent with what is likely to be a gradual easing of Government restrictions.

A full range of possible scenarios is being considered, from the very strictest public health and quarantine measures, through to racing behind closed doors, and finally a return to racing with no specific measures in place.

These models can be adapted as circumstances require and will allow for horses to race under strictly controlled conditions, at locations which meet specific criteria. These criteria are in the process of being finalised by the resumption Group.

A key consideration in this planning is minimising the risk of injury and incident so that we do not increase the burden on local NHS and medical services.

Fixture list and race planning

Our current planning, informed by the decision of the BHA Board on Wednesday, is being done on the basis of ruling no date out, so we can be ready to return at the earliest point conditions allow. This is our clear aim and ambition. One of the scenarios being considered would allow for the resumption of Flat racing behind closed doors with a revised fixture list of a reduced number of fixtures, once the lockdown ends.

The constraint on fixture numbers is a result of the likelihood that not all racecourses will be able to race behind closed doors or meet specific criteria around risk mitigation. Moreover, with no income from crowds and betting shops potentially still closed, there will be a greater reliance on the Levy Board for prize money. This will both limit the fixtures we can afford to stage, and also inevitably impact on prize money values.

Aside from the major races (see below for more information), we will aim to keep things as close to normal as possible, with a standard mix of handicaps and weight-for-age races for all horses.

We anticipate that in the early stage of resumption, field sizes will need to be restricted to support the logistics of social distancing on a raceday and to minimise the risk of incidents. For the same reason, it is possible that for a while we will avoid races for apprentices.

We recognise that a restricted fixture list will limit early opportunities to race. To help overcome this, we plan to extend fixtures beyond the normal number of races, possibly by staging more divisions than usual.

In addition, we are looking at other ideas, including:

  • Framing handicap races with non-standard rating bands (e.g. instead of staging handicaps with a maximum rating of 70 and 75, also having some with a maximum rating of 71, 72, 73 or 74)
  • Changing handicap eligibility rules so that more horses can be eligible for a rating after two starts
  • Possibly staging some maiden races for unrated horses who keep finding themselves being eliminated from standard novice and maiden events.

Plans are also being developed for a Jumping programme from July 1st, which will be largely based on the original programme book. Trainers are currently being asked for details of the horses they expect to have ready to run at that time so that appropriate revisions to the programme can be made.

Finally, to reflect this fast-moving situation, we have suspended production of the Racing Calendar for now and expect to produce an online version with details of the revised programme as soon as the resumption of racing begins to look possible.

2020 Flat Pattern Programme

As with the wider race planning, we are developing a plan to ensure a suitable Pattern programme will be in place. This will involve prioritising the scheduling of the Classics, as well as the other key races which are aimed at horses most likely to provide a future fundamental role on behalf of the breed. We will of course be looking to ensure that our best horses have suitable opportunities to develop and to demonstrate the best of their ability within an appropriate and meaningful structure of races, but this will require the cooperation, flexibility and mutual understanding of many parties.

Our best-case scenario planning would allow for the Guineas to be run in early June, and the Derby and Oaks in early July, with Royal Ascot still scheduled to take place in its existing slot commencing on 16 June. In this scenario, 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.

Some of the principal Group 1 races for older horses may be required to move to a slightly different date, especially in order to accommodate the early Classic races, and it may prove sensible to alter one or two of them to 4+ (from 3+) if their proximity to a key 3yo event is closer than ideal.

It is unlikely that the entire black type programme will be staged this year.  However, regardless of the circumstances, we will ensure that the key generation-defining races will be run, as well as safeguarding the Group 1 programme as much as possible.

Again, this outline structure (and its likely condensed nature) will need to be based on what is collectively best for the thoroughbred and the industry as a whole. And as with the wider race programme, it is contingent on external factors and will need to be adapted based on what’s feasible in terms of when racing can commence and in what form.

Government relations

It is important to emphasise that while these plans are being formulated with a view to recommencing racing at the earliest opportunity, the timing of this decision will be dependent on an easing of Government restrictions.

By planning effectively now, we can demonstrate to Government that the sport has a coordinated and practicable strategy for resumption; one that is deliverable and mitigates risk.

The BHA, acting on behalf of the industry-wide Public Affairs Group and alongside other sports, is liaising with Government on a daily basis to show how racing can resume in a safe and responsible way, when it’s appropriate to do so.

We hope that the information included in this note provides reassurance about the work being undertaken to make sure racing is in a position to resume as soon as external conditions allow.