UK's racing shutdown to go on until next month due to the Covid-19 pandemic
Racing in the United Kingdom is to be suspended into May and not resume as previously hoped on April 30 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the British Horse Racing Authority (BHA) announced on Wednesday.
The BHA said it would not set a fixed date for any resumption but expected it would be behind closed doors if it did resume next month.
Racing has been at a standstill since March 18.
"The suspension of racing, which is due to finish at the end of April, is to be extended after a decision today by the Board of the British Horseracing Authority," said a BHA statement.
"The BHA has not set a new date for ending the suspension, but plans are in place so that the sport is ready to resume as soon as is possible and appropriate in consultation with government."
The BHA said, with mass gatherings banned due to the British government's social distancing rules, June would be the earliest they could foresee paying spectators coming to the tracks.
That might open up the possibility of the historic five-day Royal Ascot meeting being open to the public.
"Because of the very strong likelihood that restrictions on mass gatherings will continue, the BHA has decided that racing with crowds will not be possible until June at the earliest," added the statement.
"When there is greater clarity about the duration for which restrictions on crowds will apply, the BHA will communicate this to the sport, to customers and to fans."
Racing authorities will be mindful of pressing ahead with bringing back paying customers. They attracted heavy criticism for going ahead with last month's showpiece four-day Cheltenham Festival, which attracted over 250,000 spectators.
They defended that decision, saying they were following government advice at the time - other sporting events such as the Six Nations matches between England and Wales, as well as Scotland hosting France, had gone ahead the previous weekend.
Even before Wednesday's announcement, high-profile meetings such as the first two classics of the season - the 1000 and 2000 Guineas at Newmarket on May 2 and 3 - and the Epsom Derby and the Oaks (June 5 and 4 respectively) had been postponed.
The further extension of the sport's lockdown threatens to hit people working in the industry hard. Dawn Goodfellow, chief executive of Racing Welfare, the charity that looks after the British horse racing workforce, spelt out last week what a suspension could mean.
"May 1 is pivotal as already we have had genuine cases of hardship but, if it does not resume, it could become a torrent," she said. "There will be many more businesses in distress and that will impact on their employees, who will also seek help from us.
"Owners may take their horses away from trainers to reduce their costs in training fees, and staff who are hanging on in there just for the moment may well be let go." - AFP