Senior officials are optimistic about prospects of a return to racing in the near future, following an important week of talks with government figures.
While much hinges on the national lockdown exit plan, racing’s bosses found ministers open to their message that the sport is well placed to resume within days of any ease in restrictions and to be the first major sport back in action. There remains a chance of racing behind closed doors within the next fortnight but trainers say they have not heard from the British Horseracing Authority about the earliest possible date for a return, with Friday 15 May understood to be the day.
The BHA has declined to say anything about this week’s meetings, when its chief executive and chair, Nick Rust and Annamarie Phelps, met the sports minister, Nigel Huddleston, while the BHA’s chief medical officer, Dr Jerry Hill, was at an all-sports summit with officials from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on Friday. But one well-connected source said the mood was “getting hopeful” in the aftermath of those talks.
However German racing has cancelled its planned return at Dortmund on Monday after failing to secure approval. In Ireland it remains unclear whether racing can resume from 18 May or 29 June, a difference hinging on interpretation of the phased return outlined by Leo Varadkar on Friday.
When British racing returns, it is expected it will be under tightly controlled conditions. “I know Jerry Hill has been working tirelessly within racing and with other sports at pulling together what measures are needed and establishing the relevant protocols,” said Paul Struthers, the chief executive of the Professional Jockeys Association.
“I think there’s widespread confidence in Dr Hill within our ranks, and complete confidence from the PJA in Jerry and his colleagues working on racing’s return, that when we do return it will be as safe as it possibly can be for all the people putting the show on the road.
“But equally, jockeys can take individual decisions if it’s something they’re not comfortable with or if they have personal circumstances where they want to minimise the risk of their exposure to coronavirus. You might have someone whose partner is well into pregnancy, for example.”