Racehorse owners will be barred from all British tracks for the duration of the latest national lockdown while the closure of all betting shops for the first time since June 2020 will mean “a direct hit in the low millions per month” to racing’s betting levy income, according to Alan Delmonte, the Horserace Betting Levy Board’s chief executive.
While the next few weeks will be costly for racing, however, the overwhelming mood among the sport’s senior figures on Tuesday was relief that the disaster of a fresh suspension of all racing has been averted.
Racing’s levy income from off-course betting, both online and in high-street shops, usually averages around £8m per month, while shops also pay significant sums in media rights payments direct to racecourses.
“It’s a direct hit to levy revenue in the low millions per month,” Delmonte said, “but at the moment we’ve got the reserves to withstand that and maintain what we’re doing [to support prize money]. But the longer the restrictions are in place, the more that flexibility is removed.
“The Levy Board has paid quite a bit of money towards helping to make racecourses secure locations to give the public confidence that the sport can continue with low to negligible risk, and the industry has then behaved extremely well in following all of the protocols.”
The efforts made by all participants and attenders to adhere to the Covid-19 protocols were also acknowledged on Tuesday by the British Horseracing Authority. However, a tightening of the rules to ensure they are “reflective of the wider national situation” will mean an earlier ban on owners attending meetings in tier 4 areas will be extended to all racecourses.
“Our protocols must be particularly stringent at this time,” a spokesperson for the BHA said. “Attendance must be limited to the most essential personnel only. We are aware that this will be disappointing news for a number of owners. We will work with the necessary bodies to ensure that, as soon as possible following the end of the national lockdown, we will be able to welcome some owners to attend meetings once again, under appropriate controls.
“In the meantime, our priority must be to focus on the continuation of racing behind closed doors, to ensure the sport can continue to support the many livelihoods which are dependent on it.”
The BHA is also seeking further clarification from the government on whether runners and riders from abroad will be allowed to compete while the current lockdown is in place.
There were just 150 runners from Ireland on British tracks in January and February last year, but the BHA will be mindful that the lockdown could extend into March, when several hundred Irish-trained horses would normally arrive to compete at the Cheltenham Festival.
“We are also working closely with DCMS [the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport], Public Health England and other appropriate bodies to determine whether there are any further impacts on the sport’s operation, for example in terms of the participation of international runners and riders,” the spokesperson said. “We will provide further updates as and when we have clarity on these issues.”
Horses trained in Ireland are unable to compete in Britain in any case after the Irish government banned all non-essential travel to the UK until 6 January. The ban is expected to be extended on Wednesday, which would almost certainly rule out two entries from Gordon Elliott’s yard – Duffle Coat and Quilixios – in the Grade One Coral Finale Junior Hurdle at Chepstow on Saturday.