Jockeys will today wear face masks when horse racing returns behind closed doors in light of government easing through the coronavirus locking measures.
With a racing industry worth £ 4 billion, Newcastle will be the venue for the first meeting – with the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) taking hefty precautions to ensure everyone’s safety.
The sport is one of three returning to England today, alongside greyhound and pigeon sport.
Horse racing returns to England today with strict measures for the competition in Newcastle
Earlier today, more than 4,000 pigeons flew when the pigeon sport returned – and that was held in Kettering
Greyhound races are also back with the first race to take place in Perry Barr, Birmingham
Pigeon racing was the first return – with over 4,000 birds from members of the Barnsley Federation of Racing Pigeons released from a park in Kettering this morning, ahead of a 90-mile sprint back to South Yorkshire.
That was quickly followed by greyhound racing in Perry Barr, Birmingham – with the first meeting at 10:21 a.m.
Horse racing returns later this afternoon and only limited personnel are allowed in Gosforth Park, with detailed hygiene and social distance measures.
This includes personal protective equipment where necessary – including jockeys wearing face masks. The use of face masks has been combined with protocols in force in France and Germany – where the sport has already returned.
Jockeys before and after racing should not shower or have a sauna on site to minimize the chance of spreading the corona virus.
In addition, course participants will be required to answer health questionnaires and undergo temperature testing upon arrival.
Other security measures for the foreseeable future include one-way systems around the track, no presentations, no bookmakers on the track, no crowds and no owners.
BHA CEO Nick Rust said, “Our focus is clearly on returning safely and protecting all participants behind closed-door racing, while also reassuring communities that racing occurs because the risk of virus transmission is minimized .
Face masks are mandatory for horse racing jockeys – who will be behind closed doors. Imagine an employee wearing a face mask while leading a horse to the stables today.
“We are all very passionate about racing and just like the participants and everyone involved in the sport, we missed it all.”
Martin Cruddace, chief executive at Arena Racing Company, speaks today of Good Morning Britain and is confident that the Newcastle meeting will go smoothly.
“It is a burden to be first, but also a privilege to be first, but I have faith in it,” he said.
“Everyone who is present today must have taken an online course, which I did and I actually learned a lot about PPE, who should wear PPE, who shouldn’t.
In addition, they must complete an online medical questionnaire.
‘When they arrive, they also have to be briefed and of course there are signposts everywhere.
“I think we’re lucky because we’re not a contact sport and I think that gives us confidence to go first.
“But of course, you know, we pay particular attention to every detail we can think of, and I’m sure we’ll get there.”
Today’s horse races meet at Gosforth Park, Newcastle will be behind closed doors
The meetings were last held on March 17, when Wetherby and Taunton were in action behind closed doors, before racing was immediately halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The return of mainstream sport begins with a 10-race bumper map in the Northeast, ahead of a high-profile weekend with the 2000 and 1000 Guineas at Newmarket.
A total of 369 initial submissions were reduced to just 120 runners before any dropouts.
Horse racing was scrutinized during this pandemic, with the annual Cheltenham Festival scheduled to take place in March – just before the government introduced the foreclosure measures.
More than 250,000 people attended the spectacle and admitting the event has since sparked criticism. However, Cruddace believes that Cheltenham Festival simply followed the advice of the government.
“I think the government was absolutely clear at the time and I think it was made clear again that the advice was for the festival to continue.
“I think it is very difficult for a racecourse, Cheltenham is not one of our racecourse, but it is very difficult for a racecourse to make a decision against government advice.”
Martin Cruddace is confident that the Newcastle game will go smoothly with his security measures
The return of the pigeon sport has been praised by organizer John Greenshield as a blessing to many in his community.
Greenshield, 72, said: “This is a very strong ex-mining area and I’ve worked in the pits for 41 years.
“So many people have lost people in the mines or are living with diseases.
“The whole current situation has brought people down and there are many mental problems.
“Racing is something people have to get out of bed for. People are really looking forward to it.
“I think it would have killed some if they didn’t race next year. It is like giving oxygen back to the area. ‘
Meanwhile, Im Sophie took the victory over Perry Barr in the first of 12 greyhound encounters on the calendar across the country.
The 6/1 shot defeated Peachstreet Jack and Dungarvan Hobo.