Trainer Mark Johnston says British authorities were too quick to shut down racing over the coronavirus pandemic, claiming the sport could have continued behind closed doors.
The Scottish-born trainer based out of Middleham, North Yorkshire who has produced more than 200 winners a season since 2012 is one of the UK’s leading trainers with over 4,000 victories to his stable’s name.
However as racing continues without crowds in Ireland and Northern Ireland, Johnston has queried why 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.
Speaking to Sky Sports Racing TV, Johnston feels the British Horseracing Authority were hasty in their approach.
“I wasn’t supportive of the decision,” Mark Johnston added.
“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 also fears that due to the new measure in place, it could see owners remove horses from his stable and move them abroad if it means their equine athletes can continue to race for prize money.
“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.”
While it remains to be seen just how long racing will remain shut down for, Johnston remains adamant that the BRA should be making every effort to reschedule its Group 1 races later in the year rather than canceling 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.”