Racing’s ruling body is aware of possible Covid-19 cases in the sport’s workforce and issued a plea for anyone affected to come forward immediately, to minimise the spread and avoid derailing the sport altogether. “We have had some reports of potential cases,” Nick Rust, chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority said on Sunday, though he stressed those cases had yet to be verified.
“We have to be very, very careful in our personal lives if we’re to help ensure that racing maintains its positive position,” Rust told RacingTV. “Come forward if you have a case and let us know, so we can isolate things as best we can to keep the show fully on the road.
“I know it affects your own livelihood but for the good of the sport overall, you must come forward and give us the news so we can help track and trace and manage the environment. We will do all we can to make sure any outbreaks we do have are kept separate from the rest of racing’s herd so that we can continue.”
He suggested some fixtures might have to be moved or trainers suspended from making entries as part of that process. “I don’t think we’ll stop altogether unless we have a real, real escalation across the country and we don’t manage the situation very well ourselves.”
Rust’s warning came on a day when senior racing officials took to broadcasting studios to explain how the sport was responding to the news that crowds might not be allowed back for six months. This was described as “devastating” and “tragic” by the BHA chair, Annamarie Phelps, on Sky Sports Racing, and she added of the government’s announcement: “They’re not basing it, as far as we can see, on the science.”
But she also defended the government’s position, saying: “This is about trying to encourage people to follow the rules. They don’t want people’s private lives to be so constrained, funerals and weddings are really limited, and then for them to be able to see people in great big crowds [at the races]. This issue now is bigger than racing, this is government trying to do its best to control infection rates across the country.”
Phelps offered the first BHA acknowledgement of the existence of a Newmarket-based group of trainers holding discussions about racing’s future, which, as the Guardian revealed, recently met Priti Patel, the home secretary. “They’re influential, interested trainers,” she said. “I’ve spoken to many of them and it’s right that they take an interest and have an opinion and I would encourage them to continue to work and continue to press.”
Asked if this group was acting because the BHA was perceived to have failed, Phelps replied: “I wouldn’t say that. They need us and I think they appreciate that they need us to bring people together and work out what it is that we are asking government to do.”
But the BHA’s approach to dealing with the crisis continues to be doubted by influential insiders. The trainer Ralph Beckett said: “The BHA have consistently approached government in conjunction with other sports and that may help us when sport is looking for handouts but it hasn’t helped us in any other respect.
“I was against that approach during lockdown and I’m against it now because it has resulted in us falling behind. You can go and sit in a pub without a mask on but you cannot stand in a paddock on a racecourse without a mask on. Where is the sense in that?”