embers of stable staff will not be forced to go racing if they have concerns about possible infection when the sport resumes, possibly as soon as a week on Monday. An agreement in principle has been hammered out between the staff trade union and trainers, in case some are still concerned after the sport’s detailed protocols on safety are published next week.
Those protocols will not include a requirement for staff to take Covid-19 tests before attending the races, according to George McGrath, chief executive of the National Association of Racing Staff. Instead, there will be several precautions designed to reduce risk to a minimum, including online education and temperatures being taken on arrival at the track.
“We have an agreement with the National Trainers Federation and I’ve also heard it from numerous trainers, that no member of staff will be made to go racing against their will,” McGrath said. “Nobody’s going to be in a position where they’re going to have to walk into an environment that they feel is unsafe.
“By the same token, those that may feel unsafe do not have a right to dictate to others, who do feel safe, that they shouldn’t go racing. We’re still working on some wording with the NTF but every trainer I’ve spoken to and every engagement I’ve had with the NTF has been positive in that respect. They’re absolutely willing to make whatever concessions they can, so that the staff feel as safe as possible.”
Doubts about the accuracy of the available Covid-19 tests, together with the logistical difficulties of a testing regime, have steered racing’s power-brokers away from using them, McGrath said. “Can you imagine a travelling head lad, at the races five or six days a week? You’d have to take a test every day and that’s going to be difficult if you’re leaving the yard at 6am and not getting back until 10pm.”
Instead, staff must complete an e-learning course about safety protocols and complete a questionnaire. On arrival at the track, their temperature will be tested. “Anybody’s who’s above the level, I think it’s 37.8C, will not be admitted and nor will anyone travelling with them.”
McGrath believes the same regime will apply to all attendees of racing behind closed doors. “We were keen to have a consistent approach, so you didn’t have a scenario where maybe jockeys were getting an antigen test but maybe the BHA staff weren’t. The only way to achieve that consistency was to take the route that we have.”
He pointed out that, with overnight stops at the races currently impossible, staff face very long days if taking a horse from, say, Lambourn to Newcastle. “But, to be realistic, everybody’s going to take a hit to one degree or another. There isn’t an awful lot we can do about it. We have to play our part in the resumption as well.
“No canteens will be open, no bars, no betting, no showers. It’ll be hard work. I’m confident that the vast majority of staff are as keen to resume racing as any other stakeholder, but we’re going to have our concerns, just as others will.
“It’ll be safe in terms of minimising the risk. Safe, once upon a time, meant no risk and no danger. Safe in Covid-19 times means we’ve minimised the risk and I’m confident that we’ve done that. We’ve done everything we can reasonably do. I can’t wait to get back racing.”