Rac­ing re­volt as Le­ices­ter match gets green light

Staff snub race meet­ing and train­ers with­draw horses Premier League fix­ture still on de­spite Covid-19 spike in city

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Tom Mor­gan and John Percy

Le­ices­ter Race­course be­came Bri­tain’s first sport­ing venue to face a staff re­volt over Covid-19 safety last night af­ter rac­ing pro­ceeded de­spite a re­newed city­wide lock­down in the wake of a coro­n­avirus spike.

The re­gion’s foot­ball and rugby teams were given the green light to con­tinue yes­ter­day, with Le­ices­ter City’s Premier League match at home to Crys­tal Palace on Satur­day al­lowed to go ahead and Le­ices­ter Tigers turn­ing up for train­ing as nor­mal.

Rac­ing re­turned just hours af­ter the new lock­down mea­sures were im­ple­mented, prompt­ing an­gry scene as all but four han­dlers on the race­course start­ing stalls re­fused to turn up. A host of train­ers, in­clud­ing Alan King, Graeme McPher­son and Mick Ap­pleby, also with­drew their run­ners, amid crit­i­cism of the Bri­tish Horserac­ing Au­thor­ity for risk­ing the rep­u­ta­tion of the sport.

Matt Hancock, the Health Sec­re­tary, had warned on Mon­day night “against all but es­sen­tial travel to, from and within Le­ices­ter” af­ter it emerged that the pro­por­tion of tests re­turn­ing pos­i­tive were as high as 10 per cent, sig­nif­i­cantly up on the two per cent UK av­er­age. Of­fi­cial fig­ures show 866 pos­i­tive tests in the city in the fort­night to June 23, 29 per cent of all pos­i­tive tests in Le­ices­ter since the pan­demic started.

“Given the Gov­ern­ment’s ad­vice overnight and how it was clar­i­fied this morn­ing, I was frankly as­tounded that the BHA con­sid­ered it ap­pro­pri­ate to race at Le­ices­ter,” said McPher­son, who was due to run Hom­ing Star.

The BHA said later that it was fol­low­ing the ad­vice of lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to pro­ceed, and ve­he­mently de­nied any sug­ges­tion it had de­fied safety ad­vice.

David Maykels, the race­course gen­eral man­ager, says he was given the green light by the lo­cal health au­thor­ity to con­tinue for the nin­er­ace Flat card, which started at 4.40pm. With no staff on the start­ing stalls, rac­ing got un­der­way with old-fash­ioned flip starts, in­volv­ing tape across the track and a flag.

“I heard the news last night at 9pm and was ex­pect­ing calls, but none came,” Maykels said. “We got an email from Dr Jerry Hill [BHA med­i­cal chief ad­viser] ask­ing about lo­cal staffing lev­els. But since the BHA put its strin­gent mea­sures in place, we feel we’re the safest place in Le­ices­ter. We thought it was im­por­tant for rac­ing and for Le­ices­ter that we went ahead.”

The lo­cal health au­thor­ity, he said, “were com­fort­able with the de­ci­sion from the start”, but “I to­tally un­der­stand peo­ple not want­ing to come – it’s a se­ri­ous de­ci­sion”.

Hancock said the seven-day in­fec­tion rate in Le­ices­ter was three times higher than the next high­est city. Le­ices­ter ac­counts for around 10 per cent of new in­fec­tions in the coun­try.

In the Premier League, Bren­dan Rodgers’s prepa­ra­tions also re­mained un­af­fected, with his squad train­ing yes­ter­day as nor­mal at the club’s base, si­t­u­ated just over three

miles away from the city cen­tre, ahead of the match at Ever­ton tonight. The Premier League, Gov­ern­ment and safety ad­vi­sory group unan­i­mously agreed Le­ices­ter’s game does not re­quire to be played at a neu­tral venue on Satur­day.

The club said in a state­ment: “All par­ties re­main en­tirely sat­is­fied that, through the con­tin­ued im­ple­men­ta­tion of our Covid-19 op­er­a­tions plan, the club can con­tinue to safely func­tion un­der ex­ist­ing pro­to­cols and, in do­ing so, there will be no greater risk posed to club per­son­nel, vis­it­ing teams or sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties. Con­se­quently, first-team train­ing will con­tinue at Belvoir Drive and our forth­com­ing Premier League games re­main un­af­fected.”

Le­ices­ter Tigers rugby play­ers also at­tended a train­ing ses­sion yes­ter­day at their train­ing cen­tre at Oval Park in Oadby. There were more nervy scenes at the race­course, how­ever. By noon yes­ter­day, the course was in­formed eight of the team’s 12 stall han­dlers were not pre­pared to work. Lo­cal trainer Ap­pleby, whose trio of horses were

Key lo­ca­tions: The sports grounds in­side Le­ices­ter’s lock­down bound­ary

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