Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Racing's Battle to Restore Our Faith; Racing

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Racing's Battle to Restore Our Faith; Racing

Article excerpt

Byline: LYDIA HISLOP

THE racing industry now has a desperate fight against time to convince the public that it is safe to resume in the midst of an escalating foot-and-mouth crisis.

Racing in Britain was suspended last night and the plan is to resume a week today, with the Cheltenham Festival - Europe's most prestigious National Hunt fixture - proceeding in just 13 days' time.

But why, within a mere seven days, will the sport be any better placed to deal with problems presented by this disease? And how can racing convince dissenters, even within its own industry, that it poses no threat of exacerbating the situation?

British Horseracing Board (BHB) and Jockey Club members have been repeatedly reassured by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) that all scientific evidence indicates continuing the sport has no impact on the spread of foot-and-mouth. But a lack of confidence - and perhaps understanding - led to increasing pressure on racing's chiefs to throw out official advice.

The Jockey Club admits to receiving overwhelmingly negative public opinion on whether to keep racing.

Many trainers and racecourses based in areas of dense farmland expressed discomfort about continuing their operations while restrictions were being imposed on their neighbours' movement and their community quaked to think it could be next to contract the ruining disease.

Dorset handler Robert Alner's remarks are typical. "I am almost embarrassed to have runners. I've got three dairy farms near me and, if one of those got foot-and-mouth, I'd be the obvious one to blame," he said.

Even though vets have no quarrel with the sport, the problem racing faces if it is to resurrect this jumps season within a week is avoiding having the government take the matter out of its hands by banning racing altogether until they declare the crisis over.

BHB racing director Paul Greeves and communications manager Alan Delmonte believe that, although they have a difficult message to sell, it is a responsible and reasoned one.

They view the suspension as necessary only to give space to eradicate uncertainty and misconception.

"Since the outbreak of foot-and-mouth until now, there has been a lack of clarity and confidence. The industry needed a strong lead and that is what it will have from us in the next seven days," said Greeves.

Embryonic plans centre on the establishment of a code of conduct.

These mandatory precautions will be taken by all sections of the industry - from trainers to tracks, spectators to stable staff, reporters to racecourse employees. All must verify they have read, understood and abided by the code.

Its measures are enforcable under the rules of racing for and by licensees. Trainers will be responsible for carrying out the rules at their yards. Racecourses can demand all entrants abide by them. …

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