BHA Plans Owner Return to Racecourses

The BHA is planning to allow owners to return to racecourses in England and Scotland from March 29th, in line with the government’s easing of lockdown restrictions. Spectators have been prohibited from attending races since January, as the UK went into lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19. Now the BHA is preparing to allow owners to see their horses perform on courses for the first time in months.

Jockeys race horses around a racecourse.

Owners haven’t been able to watch their horses race in person since the current national lockdown measures came into place at the beginning of the year. ©Absolute Charm/Pexels

Owners Set For April

The British Horseracing Authority’s announcement means that owners could be allowed to return to racecourses by April. Since the beginning of the year, owners have been allowed to watch their horses in training, but not at yards or the racecourse. If the BHA’s plans run smoothly, it means that owners will be able to catch the Grand National at Aintree. Unfortunately, the return will come too late for the Cheltenham Festival, which ended on March 19th.

Last year’s Cheltenham Festival marked the last big event of the racing calendar to take place with spectators present. Despite warnings that it could become a spreader event, the festival went ahead. However, cases of COVID-19 in the town were linked back to the event, as it came under fire from critics. This year’s festival took place without spectators, and was the first time in nineteen years that punter Paul Dean and his father weren’t at the track in person.

Paul Dean caught the attention of the nation earlier this month when he revealed that his acca bet could win him more than £500,000. The bet, which only cost him £5, was reliant on Envoi Allen winning the Marsh Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham. In a shocking twist of events, the horse fell at the second hurdle. Having opted for a partial cash-out before the race, Dean still took home a staggering £250,000.

The return of owners to racecourses is sure to be welcomed by the industry, and will mark an important leap in progressing back to normality. While social distancing and safety measures are likely to remain for many years to come, it is hoped that spectators will also be allowed to return to tracks to watch their favorite horses compete.

Roadmap Out of Lockdown

Spectators are a vital component of the racing industry, bringing in important streams of revenue. From the cost of entry to events, to casual spending on food and drink, visitor spend underpins racing events. Bookmakers have also felt the pinch while spectators have been away, although novel solutions like last year’s Virtual Grand National have helped to keep punters entertained.

However, the return of owners must come before crowds of casual spectators are allowed through the gates. Horse owners are key investors in British racing, so they will be allowed to visit races first, as part of a phased approach. They will be allowed to attend race meetings in England and Scotland from Monday, March 29th.

This is a decision that has been deliberated over by the BHA and closely follows the government’s own roadmaps out of lockdown. The effects of owner attendance will be monitored and continually risk-assessed to ensure that it does not contribute to the spread of coronavirus cases. As an elite sport, racing has been allowed to continue behind closed doors since the current lockdown was brought in at Christmas.

Owners returning to tracks will be required to follow the BHA’s set of COVID-19 requirements, as well as specific Owner Protocols. From March 29th until April 12th, the number of owners per horse allowed access to a racing event will be limited to two. This rule also applied when owners were allowed to return to tracks after the lockdown last July.

For those attending, the experience won’t be quite the same as before the pandemic. Racecourses won’t be allowed to offer hospitality just yet, as government restrictions are still in place. However, according to the BHA, light refreshments will be made available to attendees. There won’t be a limit on how long owners can spend at the racecourse either.

Welsh Racecourses Still Restricted

From April 12th, it is hoped that the number of owners per horse allowed to attend can be increased to a maximum of six. This would be in line with the government’s easing of its lockdown restrictions, provided that can still follow the schedule initially set out by the Prime Minister. From April 12th, it could also be possible to bring back outdoors hospitality.

In its announcement, the BHA made it clear that these plans are subject to local authorities, as well as government guidelines. For this reason, there could be some variation as to how restrictions are eased in different parts of the UK. In preparation, racecourse officials have been in talks with local authorities. Officials will contact owners with any additional local requirements ahead of fixtures.

Owners are reminded that pre-registration is still necessary. Once a horse is entered into a competition, its owners will be contacted via email with information on how to register. For further details, owners can look at the Racecourse Association’s Guide for Owners. This provides important information on returning to racecourses during the pandemic.

For horse owners and racing fans in Wales, the wait may take a little longer. Racecourses in Wales are still waiting on guidance as to how spectators and owners can return. Owners can contact racecourses to find out more about arrangements. For now, owners of horses entering races at Ffos Las and Chepstow this Spring will likely have to watch remotely.

Closing the press release, the BHA extended its thanks to all owners that have cooperated with the special measures put in place to protect against the spread of COVID-19. 2020 was a year of disruption for racing schedules, but it is hoped that 2021 will see the return of more regular fixtures. It is important that this process isn’t rushed, as a rise in cases could lead to more lockdown measures.

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Two racehorses wearing bridles at a stable paddock.

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