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Coronavirus: racing set to go behind closed doors as other events cancelled

Racing looks set to run behind closed doors from this week owing to coronavirus, while national and international endurance rides have been cancelled.

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) is today (16 March) to discuss the industry’s approach, with racecourses and participants, as it prepares to hold fixtures without spectators, and to ensure those attending do so under strict conditions.

A BHA spokesman said this is “likely to mean that racing moves behind closed doors later in the week, initially until the end of March”. Racing’s fixture list will also be considered.

The aim is to ensure a racing programme that is “sustainable in the light of possible staff absences, including in critical roles, which protects industry staff and supports the wider effort to free up critical public services”.

Today’s card at Kelso is running behind closed doors, in accordance with Scottish government guidance, with strict measures to protect staff and participants.

“The BHA has been closely following official guidance on public health,” the spokesman said. “Details of contingency plans have been shared with the department for digital, culture, media and sport. Racing has continued to observe the government’s request for a proportionate response that takes into account public health and the impact on jobs and businesses.”

BHA chief executive Nick Rust added: “Racing has worked hard to look after our customers and our staff by following the government’s guidance and taking proportionate action.

“We will agree plans to limit attendance to participants and staff only at race meetings from this week and put in place the contingency plans developed by the industry.”

The UK government has also been briefed on the issues involved in staging the Randox Health Grand National. A decision will be announced “as soon as possible”.

Endurance GB (EGB) has cancelled the FEI King’s Forest ride, due to take place on 10-12 April, following the FEI’s recommendation that international events not run for four weeks from 13 March.

An EGB spokesman said: “Both national and international classes had been scheduled up to FEI 2* 120km and in addition, organiser Dianne Luke had been aiming to accommodate a request by British and French riders for an FEI 3* 160km class following the cancellation of the Grand Parquet Endurance CEI 3* Fontainebleau Ride scheduled for a fortnight’s time.”

Ms Luke said she was “devastated” to have to cancel.

“But given the circumstances, and in the light of the FEI recommendations, we had no choice but to cancel the whole event,” she said. “I just feel so sorry for the riders who were looking forward to competing, but I am glad that the decision has been taken now, for the sake of all concerned.”

The FEI King’s Forest summer ride, due to run on 26-28 June, will feature an FEI 160km three-star class as well as the national and young rider championships. It will be the final qualifier before the World Championships in Pisa in September and has been chosen as the selection ride for Team GB.

EGB operations director Esther Young said: “In relation to other fixtures over the coming weeks, we have been contacting ride organisers to discuss the position at each ride and review options. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and where possible will look at rescheduling rather than cancelling rides altogether.”

Riders, crew and volunteers are asked not to attend a competition or training event if they are feeling unwell, with cold-type symptoms and a temperature.

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“We are asking everyone involved with the sport and attending rides to follow all government guidance in terms of washing hands and not touching your face as well as practical social distancing,” Ms Young said.

EGB chairman Phil Nunnerley thanked Ms Luke and her husband Paul for their hard work.

“In addition I must pay tribute to our whole team, fellow board members and ride organisers who are working very hard to deal with this unprecedented situation and thank all our members for their patience as we work through the implications of the changing national picture and the challenges coronavirus presents,” he said.

“As we review and monitor the impact on the sport we will provide regular updates in relation to the latest advice and keep you as members in touch and involved in the decision-making process. Our shared priority as a sport and community will remain to protect and safeguard the welfare and interests of everyone involved.”

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