• Betting shops closed during Cheltenham Festival and Randox Aintree Grand National

By Andrew Atkinson

Racecourses and bookmakers in England are scheduled to re-open on April 12 – if the coronavirus vaccination programme continues to be positive.

“The turnstiles of our sports stadia will once again rotate, subject in all cases to capacity limits depending on the size of the venue,” said PM Boris Johnson.

“We will pilot larger events using enhanced testing – with the ambition of further easing of restrictions in the next step.

“With every day that goes by this programme of vaccination is creating a shield around the entire population – which means we’re travelling on a one-way road to freedom and we can begin to resafely start our lives and with confidence.

“Thanks to the vaccinations there’s light leading us to a spring and summer, which I think will be seasons of hope, looking and feeling incomparably better and from which we won’t go back,” said PM Johnson, highlighting the timetable for leaving COVID-19 lockdown.

Non-essential retail, which has for most of the pandemic included betting shops, will form part of Phase 2 of the plan.

Betting shops will remain closed during the four days Cheltenham Festival (March 16-19) and The Randox Aintree Grand National (April 10).
Betting shops will remain closed during the four days Cheltenham Festival (March 16-19) and The Randox Aintree Grand National (April 10).

The return of spectators to sports grounds is possible from May 17, with up to 4,000 or 50% per cent of capacity attendances.

The Epsom Derby meeting that gets underway on June 4; Goodwood’s two-day May Festival and the Temple Stakes meeting at Haydock Park on May 22 could see a return of spectators.

The final wave of measures is scheduled to be introduced on June 21, two days after the end of the Royal Ascot meeting.

A BHA spokesperson said: “On behalf of British racing and all those who work in our industry, we very much welcome the government’s announcement of a roadmap for the removal of the current Covid restrictions.

“The whole sport has worked hard to abide by our raceday protocols to allow racing to continue behind closed doors and support the many livelihoods that depend on our industry.

“British racing’s classification as an elite sport made this possible. But we do miss owners and we do miss spectators whose presence at meetings contributes so much to the thrill of our sport.

“We have already introduced additional measures to reduce the risks of transmission of the virus and have further options under consideration.

“We will now engage with government to highlight our ability to move beyond the current limitation on essential staff only as soon as that is possible and allow the return of owners.

“Racing continues to benefit from the incredible loyalty shown by owners. We will clarify as soon as possible when they can return to race meetings, and when amateurs can resume riding.

“The government has also published details on the potential timings for the return of spectators to elite sport. We have further discussions with officials scheduled, which will enable us to draw up specific proposals for race meetings, including potential pilot events.

“We also expect to hear further details of the plans for Scotland and Wales, which are not covered by the announcement.”

The Levy Board has committed to continuing its increased contributions to prizemoney until April 30 and will meet to consider the situation for May and June.