Trainer says BHA stopped racing too soon

Trainer Mark Johnston says British authorities acted too soon to close racing down over the coronavirus pandemic.

While racing continues to take place behind closed doors in Ireland and Northern Ireland, the ruling body of British racing last week announced a shutdown in the rest of the UK until the end of April in an attempt to slow down the spread of Covid-19.

Johnston feels the British Horseracing Authority acted too quickly.

"I wasn't supportive of the decision," Johnston told Sky Sports Racing TV.

"Who knows what's going to come? There are many people worse off than us - look at the catering industry and so on, that have been closed down completely.

"That could happen to us at any time and we'll just have to comply with whatever government tells us. I think it was a grave mistake to pre-empt that.

"All the talk and all the work now is on getting us back racing again, probably behind closed doors. Any practice run or trial we could have had of racing behind closed doors, even if it had been for a few days, would have helped us get back racing again.

"To just stop overnight when we didn't have to, and to see Irish racing and South African racing on our televisions instead, seems a terrible thing to have done."

Johnston believes that any extension to the suspension of racing in Britain could lead to owners moving horses abroad.

"If you start thinking about the implications for the breeding industry and the sales and so on, if racing was off for a prolonged period, people are going to have to think about alternatives," he said.

"Some owners will have no choice.

"It's not a headache in terms of the day-to-day running of the yard. We've actually got a surplus of staff.

"We had a sudden influx of people wanting to come for the summer. On Tuesday and Wednesday morning we had 12 applications for temporary work from people whose jumps yards had closed down and they were left without work.

"We've got jockeys coming in. They are obviously one of the most immediate sufferers - their income has been cut to zero overnight."

If racing is delayed further, Johnston would be in favour of rescheduling the Classics for later in the year, rather than cancelling them.

"The Classics will obviously be very different, by pushing them back - one of the important things about the Guineas and the Derby is that they do come early in the year, so they're a test of precocity as well as ability.

"At the same time, these are exceptional times, and I think I'd rather see them rescheduled than not run."