Racing could return within a week of being given go-ahead – BHA chief Nick Rust

Thousands of racehorses have remained in training

Racing could return to action within a week of being given the go-ahead to resume, according to the British Horseracing Authority’s boss.

But Nick Rust says the sport, suspended since 17 March, does not expect special treatment in the coronavirus crisis.

“We can be one of the first to go,” Rust told BBC Sport.

“We don’t want to make the case ahead of public opinion. We’re saying we’re ready when you’re ready, when the public health advice is ready.”

Racing has continued behind closed doors in Australia and Hong Kong and some British trainers have urged their governing body to push harder for a return, criticising the sport’s leadership.

”The conditions are different in different places. People cite Hong Kong, that’s government-owned and all the horses are stabled right next to the racecourses,” said Rust.

“They’re able to make the case of continuing the economic activity. We have to try harder to make the case.

“But we don’t have Premier League footballers training for six weeks in our sport – our equine and human athletes are ready to go within a week to help bring live sport back.”

Rust says about 12,000 racehorses in Britain have remained in exercise throughout the lockdown period, but stable staff must adhere to social distancing rules and minimise the risk of spreading the virus.

At Amy Murphy’s yard in Newmarket, staff have stopped sharing equipment and no longer congregate in communal areas.

Staff at Amy Murphy’s Newmarket stables observe social distancing

”We’ve been used to riding out in big bunches of 10 amongst each other, suddenly you need to be three or four metres apart,” she said.

“It’s been a massive learning curve. We’re thankfully so far all very fit and healthy and that’s all we can pray and hope keeps happening.”

Trainers are dependent on owners continuing to pay the fees to keep horses. There is no immediate source of other income until racing resumes.

Dates in late May have been suggested for a restart but Rust insisted he would not be disappointed if the sport had to wait longer.

“Our industry employs 20,000 people in rural economies, most of them just earning a basic living – of course we want some revenue to start flowing to make sure they’re looked after and they’re not a burden on the national purse,” he said.

“We have to keep working away with government and try to ensure we can bring racing back when it’s safe to do so.”

Rust accepts any return would be behind closed doors, and insists the sport behaved in line with government guidelines despite criticism of the Cheltenham Festival going ahead in March.

”That week Crufts took place indoors, millions of people still went on the Tube each day in London, Liverpool’s European football match took place,” he said.

“Goodness knows how difficult it is to manage the curve whilst trying to balance the public and economic situation.

“I’m sure the Government’s advisors will look back and there are some areas they would have done differently but all we could do genuinely was to keep in touch with Government all the way.”

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