PLANS TO welcome back spectators to Scotland’s horse racing circuit towards the end of September have been cancelled.

Following the recent rise in Covid cases across Scotland, Scottish Racing's plans to pilot restricted attendance at up and coming events have been placed on the back burner.

"The racecourses that were actively planning for a pilot event cannot carry the financial liability involved for the pilot to then be cancelled at short notice," said Scottish Racing manager Delly Innes.

"We have had a large amount of support from both racegoers and our local communities, and hope they understand our desire to carry on with our responsible way forward throughout the pandemic. In the meantime, racing shall continue behind closed doors and we will maintain the strict hygiene protocols to protect all our staff and participants."

According to race yard owner and licensed trainer James Ewart, racecourses have become an ‘empty, soulless place’ without the usual crowds cheering home the horses.

“We need to start getting punters back into racecourses, they need the money and we don’t want them to be forced to close," said Mr Ewart. "It will be good for racing to get people back as soon as it is safe to do so."

Despite Covid-19 halting play in the racing industry for a number of months, at Mr Ewart's yard outside Langholm in the Scottish Borders, life has very much carried on behind the scenes, with his team busy training up horses ready for the autumn races – but doing so in accordance with Covid restrictions.

“When lockdown was announced in the middle of March, we decided to reduce the number of horses on the yard and we brought them in earlier so we could have runners ready and fit to race as soon as we got the go-ahead to race again.”

He explained that Scotland has been a minimum of two weeks behind the rest of the UK throughout lockdown in terms of guidance over racing and social distancing measures, which has proved difficult in allowing them to plan ahead.

“We are back up and racing which is fantastic, but we feel our competitors always have the edge as they are two weeks ahead and northern trainers need time to prepare to travel South for races,” Mr Ewart continued.

At his own yard – where Mr Ewart looks after around 50 horses – there have been lots of rules and regulations to abide by as set out by the British Horseracing Authority, but so far he has been lucky that there have been no cases of Coronavirus to report.

“We take temperatures every morning of our staff members and anyone coming into the yard and everyone is urged to wash their hands regularly,” Mr Ewart explained. “Alcohol gels are placed at all stations, particularly around the tack rooms and feed room where people are likely to congregate – which we try to avoid.

“Amazingly Covid hasn’t impacted our routine too much, most of our staff live locally and socialise within the group – it helps that we are such a close-knit family.”

James Ewart Racing employs 17 full time members of staff, as well as being supported by a much larger community of farriers, physios, vets, and part-time staff – priding itself on supporting jobs in the local community.

“There has been difficulty in planning ahead for the season due to the BHA only publishing guidance or dates a month in advance,” Mr Ewart added.

“Some of the local racecourses have also announced that they won’t be opening for the rest of the season, such as flat racing at Carlisle - so options for races are looking thin on the ground.”

For Mr Ewart and other trainers in Scotland, they are taking every day as it comes given the current climate and the focus, he concluded, has to be on making sure they survive the season.