Mark Johnston calls decision to cancel racing a 'grave mistake'

Mark Johnston

Britain's most winning flat trainer Mark Johnston yesterday spoke out about the decision the BHA made to cancel racing and the Scot believes the governing body made a “grave mistake” in suspending racing due to the on going pandemic.

Racing still continues to take place behind closed doors with the racecourses and HRI taking every precaution to make sure that everyone involved at the tracks are fully up to date with what is acceptable with hand sanitisers and other apparatus set up all around the racecourses.

However, even with this being successful the BHA last week announced a shutdown of the sport in the rest of the UK until the end of April in an attempt to slow down the spread of Covid-19.

(Credit At The Races) Mark Johnston has strongly suggested that they acted far too quickly and said: “I wasn’t supportive of the decision. 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.

“I really don’t think the decision should have been made so quickly.”

A key problem that could come from the lengthy absence of British racing that Johnston believes is that owners could move their horses abroad.

He said: “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.

“Some owners will have no choice. We’ve had just one horse who has gone home and another one is moving to Ireland, where racing at the moment continues. Those numbers could change dramatically as things evolve.”

He added: “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 – Paul Mulrennan, PJ McDonald, Joe Fanning – who would have been coming in anyway – and Andrew Mullen. We’ve got a whole list of jockeys, as they are obviously one of the most immediate sufferers – their income has been cut to zero overnight.”