Newcastle to stage Britain’s racing comeback after coronavirus suspension

Newcastle will stage British racing’s coronavirus comeback fixture next Friday – government say-so permitting.

The British Horseracing Authority yesterday put some meat on the bones of its provisional post-COVID-19 strategy, revealing that 13 meetings will take place in the first week of the sport’s resumption.

The BHA has consistently held back from putting a date on the restart, but last night stressed: “We remain strongly focused on ensuring that we are prepared to resume at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to ease the coronavirus lockdown restrictions when he addresses the nation at 7pm on Sunday.

And BHA chiefs, who meet with industry leaders the following morning, have inked in Newcastle as the first action in Britain since 17 March – followed by six days of two cards each.

A spokesman for Newcastle’s owners, Arena Racing Company, said on Thursday evening: “We have been working with BHA and other stakeholders on the various plans to resume racing and have made sure that everything is in place for our racecourses to get back in to action as soon as we are given the go ahead.”

Race planners have divided Britain into geographical regions – North, South and Midlands – with Haydock Park tipped to stage Newbury’s Guineas trials, the Greenham Stakes and Fred Darling stakes, a fortnight on Saturday.

But Irish racing was dealt a hammer blow with the news it cannot make its restart from the COVID-19 blackout until 29 June.

Horse Racing Ireland has sought clarification from the Irish government since last Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced his five-phase roadmap for the relaxing of controls last Friday.

The document schemed “behind-closed-doors sporting activities” for phase three, due to begin on 29 June.

And the delay – the Irish 2,000 Guineas (23 May), Irish 1,000 Guineas (24 May) and Irish Derby (27 June) were set to be run in the interim – was confirmed by the Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine last night.

“It’s a fair chunk of the season but we are dependent on the ministers,” said Irish Racehorse Trainers Association chief executive Michael Grassick.

“The present situation could improve. We might get a reprieve.”

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