An update from BHA Chair Annamarie Phelps
Look after each other
A week can feel a long time, can’t it? It’s only seven days since Boris Johnson announced the government would not support mass gatherings that relied on emergency services and called for non-essential contact to stop. Racing stopped a day later after behind-closed-doors meetings at Taunton and Wetherby, and our colleagues in Point to Point racing – who we are in contact with – also called an end to their season.
Now we are in lockdown. We are now working out what the new restrictions mean for our industry, our racecourses and those who care for our horses. Our team have been in ongoing contact with Government and were in touch again yesterday evening seeking to clarify how the new rules apply to the training and exercise of horses and that will be communicated when clear. The submission to government and our operational plan will be adapted accordingly, and I know the industry team will update on progress as soon as they can.
Nick Rust spelt out the essentials of the industry plan to Nick Luck on Sunday, but here are the key themes; people, horses, money and resumption. Across all areas, we are working with the industry to put leaders and teams in place to coordinate the response and be ready to resolve issues as they arise.
Money refers to the need to maximise the support racing can receive from government help, as well as using our own resources from the Levy Board, The Racing Foundation and other sources as wisely as we can and to resource the various industry teams leading the response.
Then, people. We must maintain the physical and mental health of those who work in racing – whether at racing yards, racecourses or any of the many other businesses who rely on our sport – and ensure we can fund immediate hardship. It is great to see the work that Racing Welfare, the Injured Jockeys Fund (IJF) and others are doing and more is going on across the whole industry, I know. Amidst all the anxiety we feel, we mustn’t forget the public health advice as well as following the guidelines on social distancing, which I know will be difficult in many of our workplaces. Maintaining a healthy workforce is critical for the care of our horses and the continuation of our individual businesses and industry.
We need both money and healthy people to look after our horses. In happier times, we celebrate them and their special place in our national life. Now the focus is on maintaining our incredibly high standards. The sport is developing financial solutions internally and with government and is blessed by the tremendous loyalty of our owners and dedication of our trainers and stable staff. As a result we are optimistic that our horses will continue to receive the remarkable levels of care they are accustomed to throughout this period. However, at the same time our team at the BHA is working alongside Retraining of Racehorses, World Horse Welfare, and trainer and owner representatives on how to protect any horses that may become vulnerable. Their plans too will be communicated once they’ve taken shape.
Resumption. No one can say when that will be. But we are making sure that government is aware that the need for financial help diminishes the sooner we can restart and generate some revenues. Now isn’t the time for that, as the country and racing tries to stabilise around the new rules and make sense of what our lives will look like for the next few weeks and possibly months. But our industry leaders have come together to develop plans and they’ll be ready to implement as soon as it’s safe for our participants and workforce to resume.
I want to add one more theme to those Nick mentioned. Recovery. It is not too early to think and plan for how to come back as an industry, making sure that when we do resume, we are in the right shape to compete for interest, investment and customers, even if the sport must take place behind closed doors at first. It’s not top of the list right now, but we need to ensure that we resource this too
At the BHA, our Board will be meeting this week to consider how we maintain the most appropriate team, consistent with our role in the industry’s immediate response – that’s across money, people and horses – making sure we engage effectively with government and have the right resources in place to start racing again when we can. We are working alongside industry colleagues whose own organisations face the same serious impact on finances. We’ll work on recovery too.
The BHA is dropping fees where it can and refunding any entry handling fees paid since last Wednesday. Our staff were briefed on Monday by Nick Rust on the financial outlook and the impact of the government job retention scheme, which we are still working through. By the end of the week, we are aiming to announce to our team what size and shape of organization we will need to become for now. I hope that the BHA Board will approve that plan and they are already actively involved.
I’ve been in sport for a long time but I’ve never seen so many people come together so quickly and work as hard as everyone is at present, on racecourses, in yards, at studs, and, of course, at home.
We are all supporting one another through this difficult time: through shock, in some cases anger, and fear, and whilst we are all under so much pressure it is hard to find time to fully understand the impact of this on each of our colleagues personally, on their families, parents, grandparents. So please, stay safe and look after each other.