Top BHA exec 'incredibly confident' racing will return on June 1

Brant Dunshea, the BHA's chief regulatory officer, has publicly expressed what appeared to be total confidence that racing will be allowed to resume on June 1 and suggested the government has recognised its unique circumstances compared to other sports.

Earlier this month, the government confirmed professional sport, even behind closed doors, could not be staged until the beginning of June at the earliest in line with its easing of lockdown restrictions.

"I'm incredibly confident," Dunshea told Luck on Sunday.

"We cannot control the government's decision-making but we've been working continuously to make sure we're in a strong position. We're very excited and positive we'll be ready to go from June 1."

The government has a three-part plan for the return of elite sport and Dunshea anticipates the third stage, which focuses on its ability to take place behind closed doors, will be published next week.

The BHA's provisional protocols for racing behind closed doors, released on Saturday, are contingent on this government guidance and Dunshea has stressed the importance of remaining agile. 

This week, the secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Oliver Dowden said he hoped elite sport could return by mid-June when answering a question on the return of football.

"All the way through this process the government has recognised racing is different to other sports," said Dunshea. "The sport takes place in an outdoor environment and poses a lower level of risk to close-contact sports such as football and rugby. 

"I'm comfortable our sport is viewed as being different and I'm sure that broader comment [by Dowden] was focusing more on contact sports rather than sports such as racing."

When does racing return? Updated schedule including Royal Ascot and the Guineas

If the government does not release its latest guidance early next week, the BHA still plans to take advanced entries from Tuesday and maintain 72-hour declarations to help with its planning.

Its protocols for racing behind closed doors do not include testing but Dunshea argued its risk-based approach, which includes a screening process for participants, training and raceday checks, is appropriate.

"The government isn't instructing that people without symptoms be tested," added Dunshea. "Our layered approach is in line with its latest guidance and we believe it's appropriate for our sport."

Haggas: we've got to hold our nerve

William Haggas also appeared on the programme to discuss the resumption of racing and spoke positively about the BHA protocols.

"I hope they will not be quite as relevant as the weeks go on," said Haggas. "The protocols are common sense and in line with what the government has said. We'll manage and will adjust to them.

"We just have to be sensible for the first period when we come back. Hopefully after Ascot things will ease and the country can get back to relative normality so we can get on with our business."

On the possibility of a June 1 resumption, Haggas added: "We've got to hold our nerve. It's a trying time. Let's just hope his [Dunshea's] wishes come to fruition and we can get racing again.

"There's a little bit of anxiety in Newmarket but a lot of excitement. The new Royal Ascot programme has been universally well-received. Everyone has been waiting a long time for this moment."

That view was shared by fellow Newmarket trainer James Fanshawe, who welcomed having a clear programme of races to work towards.

"There's a sense of excitement in the town but it's still all about being given the green light to resume racing and everybody will feel very relieved when that happens," said the trainer. 

"We've got something really clear to aim at now with meetings like Royal Ascot. There's now an order of races in black and white, which is good for everyone. The new consolation races are great, too."

That Britain is on course to move to phase two of leaving lockdown was indicated on Sunday by prime minister Boris Johnson.

His announcement covers England only but means primary schools opening from June 1, a move he said showed government acting "cautiously".

Across the UK, the total of deaths from the coronavirus rose by 118 to a new total of 36,793.