Owners with runners entered later this week should find out on Monday whether they will be allowed into courses to watch their horses race after Nick Rust, the chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority, promised on Sunday to “fight hard” to keep them on track when the latest national lockdown begins on Thursday.
Owners were barred from racecourses for just over a month after racing resumed on 1 June at the end of the first national lockdown. Their return from 4 July – Derby day – was seen as an important step as racing does what it can to maintain its ownership base at a time of immense economic uncertainty, in particular for smaller-scale owners. The scheduled racing on Thursday includes the first jumps meeting of the new season at Newbury, where a total of 140 horses are entered for the seven races.
“There will be meetings tomorrow to work everything through, because there are arrangements which are different in Scotland and Wales,” Rust said on the Luck On Sunday programme on Racing TV, “but fundamentally, on first assessment last night, the only query is going to be participation of owners.
“Obviously we’d love to keep them coming, but there have been some tough restrictions reimposed on hospitality, so there are no guarantees on that. We will fight hard on it, but the main thing is that we comply and we keep racing going for the next month.”
An important revenue stream that will definitely be lost during lockdown is the media-rights payments to racecourses from England’s 5,700 betting shops. Even the British Horseracing Authority is not privy to the detail of the agreements between off-course betting firms and racecourses, but the payments are understood to be at least £10m per month, while, for the moment at least, about 30% of Britain’s betting turnover is still over-the-counter on the high street.
The impact of the new lockdown on the Levy, which returns a percentage of bookmakers’ profits from racing to the sport, is likely to depend on how much retail betting turnover moves online, David Armstrong, the chief executive of the Racecourse Association, said on Sunday.
“During the tier 3 lockdowns in the north there was definitely a switch, and during the first two weeks in June [when racing was on but betting shops were shut], when we had the playing field to ourselves, so to speak, we did incredibly well,” he said. “Since the re-opening of betting shops there’s been a significant switch from betting shops to online anyway, and that should continue, we hope, but we won’t get a feel for that for a week or two.”