Racing’s leaders did the best they could to persuade the government to allow a May resumption, according to Charlie Liverton, the chief executive of the Racehorse Owners Association.
Liverton spoke up on Tuesday after a couple of trainers argued through Twitter that their cause had not been properly presented to government and that a better outcome than 1 June had been possible.
Ralph Beckett, a serial critic of the British Horseracing Authority’s recent work, said the ruling body “never had any intention of going to government with a plan” and contrasted the situation with the one in France where a busy programme of racing began on Monday. The Kubler Racing account, representing the Lambourn trainers Dan and Claire Kubler, added: “Effective lobbying beforehand would have led to a different statement.”
Countering that view, Liverton said: “I don’t think we could have done anything material that would have got us back racing any earlier.” If racing is one of the first sports allowed to resume behind closed doors next month, he believes that will represent success.
“Could racing have taken ourselves out of the wider conversation around resumption of sport? I would hesitate to think there was ever an opportunity for us to do that.
“I’m not disappointed. Would we have liked to start earlier? Of course. But the realisation was that it was not going to be possible, given the health of the nation. When the government is comfortable with it we will be able to resume in a manner that is safe for participants and the wider public.”
More than 800 horses have already taken part in French racing since the sport resumed there, prompting fears some owners will be tempted to move British-based horses across the Channel to be sure of racing opportunities.
“I think there is a risk,” Liverton said. “I think when we locked down before Ireland there were some jumps horses that made their way over the Irish Sea. It very much is a risk and we need to mitigate that and ensure that on 1 June we are resumed.”
Prize money will certainly be less, with no paid attendance and no media-rights income from betting shops for the time being, leading to one suggestion last week that the Derby would be worth a third of its normal value this year.
“In the resumption phase, we’re going to have to live with less prize money,” Liverton said but pointed to an ROA statistic that owners of British-based racehorses pay £32m towards training fees in an average month and May will now be the second consecutive month in which they will get no action in return.
“It’s a lot and we mustn’t forget that, like a lot of others, owners have been financially impacted by the crisis and are in some cases really struggling to keep their horses in training. So we’ve got to be incredibly grateful to owners, who are continuing to work with their trainers, on a weekly basis in some cases, to support their horses in training.
“This is not about a day at the races any more. The landscape’s changed dramatically. This is about the retention of owners and horses in the sport and the retention of employment of thousands of people in rural areas.”