British horse racing returns Monday, coming back to the sporting forefront with a 10-race Newcastle card that opens the gates for the rest of the country’s 59 racetracks.

1000 Guineas at Newmarket
The 1,000 Guineas on the Rowley Mile at Newmarket is next Sunday. The English Classic provides a betting and racing highlight during British racing’s first week back in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Image: Mark Westley)

Newcastle’s Monday card, which will run spectator-free, maxed out with all 10 races starting the full complement of 12 runners. The meet is the first live racing in England since March 18, when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down sporting events throughout the world.

British racing’s shutdown came less than a week after the Cheltenham Festival provided race fans a “last hurrah” of sorts. It was the last major race held with fans.

“I’m delighted to announce today that the government has published guidance which allows competitive sport to resume behind closed doors from Monday at the earliest, and crucially, only when it is safe to do so,” said Oliver Dowden, the secretary for digital, culture, media, and sport in a statement. “It’s up to each individual sport to decide exactly when to resume competition. They know their sports best.”

British Horse Racing Returns With a Three-Stage Process

Bringing horses back to the starting gate involved work between British Horseracing Authority Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Jerry Hill and public health officials. The group developed a three-stage screening process listed in a 33-page document titled “Guidelines and operating procedures for racing behind closed doors for all attendees in context of COVID-19.”

That document lays out a blueprint for health and wellness protocols that “must be followed by all attendees at race meetings held behind closed doors, from 1 June 2020 and until further notice.”

The BHA and the chomping-at-the-bit horsemen aren’t wasting time. Not when the industry lost upwards of £50 million during the shutdown, according to the BHA. After Monday’s Newcastle debut, that track and Kempton race Tuesday. Kempton and Yarmouth run Wednesday before Newcastle returns, and Newmarket joins the parade with its loaded weekend meet on Thursday. Lingfield comes on-board Friday and Haydock Sunday.

Newmarket draws most of the attention. Its Friday card features the Coronation Cup, which was moved from Epsom, along with the Abernant and Paradise stakes. Lingfield, meanwhile, plays host to Derby and Oaks trials on Friday.

English Classics Highlight Next Weekend’s Newmarket Meet

This builds up to next Saturday’s 2,000 Guineas on the Rowley Mile at Newmarket. The 1,000 Guineas runs the Rowley Mile next Sunday.

Running those two classics, along with Royal Ascot’s meet beginning as scheduled on June 16, helps get the industry partly off the financial mat. But the financial impact of not racing for nearly three months left a mark that isn’t going away anytime soon. Tracks cut purses by as much as 50% for some of the big Group 1 races, and the lack of fans leaves a dependable revenue stream out of reach for the foreseeable future.

“It’s going to be very tough for them and it isn’t just smaller racecourses,” David Armstrong, the chief executive for the Racecourse Association told The Guardian. “In many ways, the larger ones have larger problems. About 1,400 of 1,800 staff have been furloughed and there’s been a reduction of rates, but racecourses are still losing £8.2 million a month until fixtures become profitable. So if each course could make £10,000 in profit per fixture behind closed doors, we’d have to run 27 fixtures a day to break even.”

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